There is something about a landscape shaped by and around fresh water - lakes, rivers, streams. The green that comes from an abundance of naturally occurring water is different than that produced by regular irrigation, no matter how generous. Cities shaped by water have trees in micro-forests and groves that are marked by a natural symmetry unmatched by the most skillful of landscape architects. The sloppy randomness which characterizes nature is beyond computer simulation.
I noticed this flying out of Chicago recently. It was my first time in the city – and I only saw the inside of the airport – but the abundance of trees out the window caught my eye. The city I grew up in was, likewise, given form by water as two mighty rivers, birthed in the Rockies a hundred miles away, joined and gave shape to the city. Everyone knew what "north" and "south" were defined in reference to. Life around water has a different texture, a different feel. Having spent most of my adult life in place where fresh water is less naturally occurring, where almost every tree is a strategic decision, where circles of green mark the reach of irrigation, where brown is backdrop, it is striking to be so viscerally reminded of home.
The city is shaped by water in another way as rivers form natural barriers which development has to take into account. From the air, even an untrained eye notices the ways in which infrastructure takes its cue from the ancient waterways. The city exists because of its proximity to water, the ancient ways giving shape to the modern ways. Rivers are like that, it seems – you have to take them into account, they tend to be unconcerned about the urban plan. They define the real without regard to the ideal - and their life spreads in broad, meandering paths.
And flying over a mostly brown landscape, it is very easy to trace the paths of underground streams by the ribbons of green slicing across the landscape. One look, and even the casual observer knows where there be life - and the source of life.
No wonder the psalmist likened the one immersed in the word and words of the Lord to a tree, planted by a stream, roots going down deep, bearing fruit in due season, leaf without wither. Water, even deep underground, brings life to the surface.