Excerpt from 'The Fountain and the Furnace'
When I lived alone in the canyon my only source of water was not the stream which ran along the geological fault that formed it, but a spring high up the ridge opposite.
On old maps it was known as "Boar Spring." Certainly the wild pigs, lions, bobcats, and coyotes knew it, and doubtless it had been sacred to the Native Americans as was the clearing near which my cabin stood.
The spring welled out of a crack in an enormous rock; "knockers," they're called by geologists, these rocks that seem to rise singly out of the earth.
In early autumn before the rains the flow was a mere trickle, but in April it gushed from the rock and into the "box" carved from the rock, down the pipe to the redwood holding tank, where the water erupted from under its conical lid like lava from a volcano.
Developing and maintaining a spring is a delicate business. Springs are mysterious. Sometimes they will give their water in greater abundance if they are cautiously tapped. But beware of digging carelessly, or too deep. Beware of removing sentinel trees. It is no wonder springs often have been thought to have their own spirits: they are life-bearers, who guard their own secrets.
When the optimal amount of water is coming from the tapped rock the work is then to develop a box where the waters can collect to build up enough pressure to start moving through the pipe to a holding tank. The box is usually hollowed out of the rock, and the banks on every side lined with timbers. Then the box is covered to prevent contamination by animals and debris.
You run the overflow pipe down the side to the bottom of the tank so the animals can lick the water from its mouth.
Even then your work is not over. The spring has to be protected and cared for. Branches flung from surrounding trees during storms can damage the box cover. Leaves collect, and some slip into the water. Small insects can clog the screened opening where the water enters the pipe; and occasionally a dying creature will find its last refuge in the box, seeking the cool shade and icy water to slake its thirst.
The whole system then becomes polluted and must be cleaned out and purified. This is a difficult and smelly task. With the best effort you must wait until much water has flowed before what pours from the fractured rock is again cold and crystalline.
Sometimes I would go to the spring simply to look at it. I never removed the cover without a sense of awe at the sight of the mirroring pool, and of the water welling into the stone box. I would gaze into its depths for long moments before removing any debris. I was careful never to let anything of my own fall into it, but whether or not I actually touched the water I came away cleansed and purified, and went on my way with liquid flames burning in my heart.