Life-Giving Waters

Here in the mountains in January – as almost everywhere in winter-- lips and hands have a way of feeling more like sandpaper than skin. We need to preserve and cherish each precious drop of life-giving moisture and remind ourselves to drink deeply (and often) from water’s sparkling cup! Come visit with the Mountain Farmgirl for a spell while she spins a few yarns, and shares some ways we can all enjoy the many-faceted goodness of plain old-fashioned water.

My Aunt Cha-Cha was a pip. She was actually my husband’s great-great-aunt, ancient in years even when I first met her back in high school, but as young at heart as the morning dew. I know you’d all have loved her as much as I did if you’d met her. My first introduction to Cha-Cha (her given name was Charlotte) was at a party at her grand old farmhouse on her dairy farm. I was being introduced to my husband’s side of the family at a party she was giving, and when I arrived Cha-Cha was underneath the dining room table stacking blocks with the latest flock of great-grandchildren. I never forgot that image! She was as down-to-earth farmgirl as you can get, and just as elegant, with waist-long, gleaming white braids tied up on her head. Of course, she would never be caught without an apron on for any occasion … be it while she collected the eggs or was personally offering you one of her specialties, some rich buttered pecans.

She loved to show off the old hand-dug well outside the kitchen window, as well as her milk room, a stone building into which flowed a cold mountain spring. This was where the milk cans were set to stay cool until they could go to market. We never tired of hearing the trickling water flowing around them, or listening to her tell us how, on her honeymoon, she had climbed up to the top of the yet-standing windmill to oil the blades (her husband was afraid of heights). I could almost imagine that she was still capable of such a feat!  But one of my favorite Cha-Cha tales is one I call ‘Wa-ter’, hyphenated in the precise way she would pronounce it. At that point in her life, Cha-Cha (to her frustration) was partially bedridden in the downstairs parlor. Her doctor prescribed many pills for her heart to be taken each day without fail, along with a glass of water. My husband and I loved to ride our bikes over to sit with her whenever we could, and one day she accidentally dropped something under the bed. As I went down to retrieve it, I saw what seemed like an entire pharmacy of pills down there. “What’s all this?” I asked her. “Our little secret, honey. I’ve never taken a pill in my life and I’m not going to start now. I just throw them under the bed where they can’t do anybody any harm and drink the ‘wa-ter’. Her doctor had once tried to discover if she had any ‘bad habits’ so that he could help her eliminate them. “What sorts of things do you drink?” he had asked. “Wa-ter”, she said. “No, I mean for special occasions,” to which she replied “Wa-ter”. “No, I mean what do you drink at parties?” he asked again, to which she had the same reply.  Cha-Cha drank nothing but water from her well and milk from her cows her whole life, and had the longevity and beautiful skin to show for it. Her doctor would have done well to follow her example!

Sometimes I find it’s a little hard to drink enough water in the winter to keep ourselves hydrated, though drinking too much can make some people feel a little nauseous. I’ve been able to get around these things by making what I call ‘spa water’. Every morning I fill a large glass pitcher with ice cubes and a variety of thinly sliced fruits such as lemons, oranges and limes, and fill it to the top with water.  Sometimes I use strawberries , pineapple, kiwis or grapes for variety (be sure to wash fruit well). I also like to freeze mint leaves or freshly plucked wintergreen into the ice cube trays; they give it such a fresh, clean taste. If I can get through my pitcher every day, I find that my chapped winter lips abate. And it’s a delicious elixir, costing only pennies a day and giving us a healthy vitamin boost as well.

Letting off a Little Steam for Relaxation
My favorite beverage is of course, tea … iced in the summer and hot and steaming the rest of the year. A good cup of tea puts everything to rights, enhancing friendships and adding a touch of civility to a busy day. Be it black or herbal, alone or in company, there is just nothing like a good cup of tea! My future daughter-in-law joked earlier this evening that my tea mug seemed to be an almost permanent appendage at the end of my arm, and she’s right of course! But for me, hot, steaming herbs are not only for drinking.  This time of year our dry skin can benefit from a simple, homemade facial and steam bath. I like to put herbs in a large saucepan on my stove and let them slowly simmer until they come to a boil. Carefully holding my face over the rising steam (being mindful not to burn myself), this is an indulgence that helps replenish moisture big time. Steam is also beneficial as a vaporizer when I’m sick.  I started off my last blog by telling you all that I felt like yelling from the mountaintop here in New Hampshire that the new year had dawned! What I didn’t tell you was that in-between yells I was coughing up a storm with a bout of bronchitis that just won’t quit. I can go 5 years without so much as a sniffle, but when it does hit me, like it has this year, I am laid pretty low. It’sbeen a month and counting now, and I’ve been at my wit’s end, just hacking away, until I remembered that coltsfoot is just wonderful to help break up bronchial congestion. Around here, coltsfoot is one of the first flowers of spring, looking sort of dandelion-ish as it pops up in profusion along the roadsides. At first only the flowers are visible, but they are followed by leaves which are in the shape of a horse’s hoof, hence its name. Picking and drying these leaves make a wonderful herbal remedy for a hacking cough, when boiled in water.  Simply inhale the steam, being careful not to burn yourself.  Wish I had thought of it sooner; I noticed the improvement almost immediately. Humidifiers also help moisturize the air in our homes (and our noses!), whether they are of the store bought variety, or a just pot of water on the woodstove (which works just as well). These things all help us feel better, and I believe keep us healthier, too.

A Sweet Indulgence
One of my favorite pleasures is a foot soak and massage, but we need not feel like we have to spend money on such an indulgence by going to a spa.  My daughter and I like to give each other foot soaks. We start by filling a large ceramic bowl that is lined with smooth river rocks, and then fill it with hot water … as hot as we can stand. I like to put various herbs and salts as well as essential oils in the water, and then curl up with a book and a cup of tea while my feet (and I!) relax. We usually finish off by giving each other a sugar scrub on our calves and feet, then rubbing in some scented oil.  It is just heavenly … you should try it sometime!

Before we moved to the mountains, our post and beam house had a Japanese o-furo tub. These tubs hold as much water as a regular western bathtub, but furos are vertical rather than horizontal, and one can sit in hot water up to your neck; I highly recommend them. A good soak is the perfect way to relax after a long day, or ‘cook’ out a budding illness before it has a chance to take hold. I miss our furo terribly, but I am currently looking for the perfect claw foot tub, to make an outdoor MaryJane bath experience here in my woods. I can’t wait!

All that Glitters is Not Gold
Water in winter takes on many forms.  My morning view today of our sparkling river in the back of our inn has (surprisingly) not completely frozen over yet this year. As I follow its meandering curves during an afternoon of cross-country skiing, I love watching its bubbling purity, which I have been known to drink from more than once without worry of sickness. Winter can be so exhilarating! Who among us hasn’t licked cascading snowflakes off their lips in a silent snowfall in the woods? Jack Frost’s amazing artistry on my car window the other day was truly awesome!  Water takes such wonderful forms in winter.

Where I live in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, our little village of Jackson celebrates winter-water in its many forms, from ice skating to alpine or Nordic skiing. The second week in January we hold a yearly ice-carving competition (this year was the 16th annual). In view of crowds of amazed onlookers, local chefs and artists each have 3 hours in which to carve a 300# block of ice into a wondrous, wintry creation. They use small electric chainsaws, chisels, hand saws and butane torches. Here are a few of this year’s entries.  Judge for yourself … almost good enough to eat, aren’t they?!





Later this month is another annual Jackson event: the New Hampshire Snow Sculpting Invitational. Winners of this event go on to the Nationals, held at Lake Geneva, WI, where ¼ million visitors will view these amazing temporary works of art. Unlike the ice sculpting, this competition is entered by teams rather than individuals. They have from Friday afternoon until Sunday noon to complete their sculpture, each of which begins as a 4’ by 8’ high cylinder of packed snow. But Friday afternoon is where the similarities end. By Sunday they are as different as each of the photos below:









And so, in the dead of winter, as our hair stands on end from static electricity and sparks fly each time we put on a sweater or turn on the lights, it is comforting to know that there are many simple and pleasurable things we can do to reintroduce the life-enhancing properties of water into our daily lives. I've covered a few of them, some practical, some whimsical. Winter is truly a wonderful season! Any farmgirls out there have any secrets or tips that have worked for you? Until next time, stay warm, healthy and hydrated!


Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from
The Mountain Farmgirl, Cathi Belcher


By: Shari
On: 01/24/2011 08:55:14
Bravo! Water is wondrous! Cha Cha sounds lovely. People like that are such an inspiration.
By: Janice K.
On: 01/24/2011 08:59:19
Thank you so much for the wonderful ideas! I had that awful bug, too. Didn't it just seem to last forever!?!?!?
Now comes the quest to find some coltsfoot..
Have a wonderful day!
By: Margie Smih
On: 01/24/2011 09:22:43
Hi Cathi,
I enjoyed your wa-ter commentary. Did the great aunt pronouce it wa-ter with a short a or war-ter like so many people do. I hope witha short a.
By: Florence Muma
On: 01/24/2011 09:33:00
Loved your story and love your stories, thanks for sharing fellow farm girl. Florence
By: Keleen
On: 01/24/2011 09:42:27
Cathi, thanks so much for reminding us how important life-giving water is to us, and how stimulating the beauty of it can be. I love your citrus-flavored water for winter drinking--what a great way to take in some much-needed Vitamin C! In summer I sometimes add mint sprigs and slices of honeydew melon and lime to a pitcher of water, and other times I put in lightly crushed blueberries and freshly bruised rosemary sprigs to infuse. The melon especially gives water a delightfully refreshing and different flavor! I do hope your bronchitis has left you by now. In addition to your coltsfoot steams, soak some chopped elecampane roots in warm honey and add to your cup of tea while you're enjoying that hot foot soak! Chewing the little bits of the root is also a wonderful expectorant. And speaking of hot foot soaks--I think I need one RIGHT NOW!! Thanks again for a wonderful article.
By: Mary Ann Newcomer
On: 01/24/2011 10:10:34
Absolutely glorious post! Perfect remedy for a gray winter's day. I especially love the photo of the tracks through the snow. So very serence. Then, the watercolor (?) of the aprons? Charming. Thank you so much for the bright spot today.
By: meredith
On: 01/24/2011 10:29:38
Hi Cathi- I've just returned from the biggest chore on our farm in winter- getting the animals water! We have about 75 head of cattle separated into three groups this time of year. Twice a day we must break the ice in their tanks (no electricity there to heat them)and refill them. While I am restoring their supply of life-giving water, I am admiring the scenery and the wonderful animals we are privileged to care for. I am appreciating the fact that as I care for them, they care for our family. I am appreciating that they can live outside in this weather, while I am lucky to have a warm home. I am especially appreciating that the frost free hydrants supplying the water, are in fact, frost free on this day! Water gives my farm its ability to sustain life, both human and bovine. I am grateful!
By: Kathy Suhr
On: 01/24/2011 12:16:02
MY Cha Cha was my Grandmother. She schooled me in many things..preserving, cooking, baking, gardening, and looking to God for the answers. She too would be on her knees under the tent of blankets playing with my sister and can mature..yet you do not have to grow old..Thank you for your reminder via Cha Cha about Grandma...
By: Marjorie McDonald
On: 01/24/2011 13:55:22
Reading this brought tears to my eyes. Cha-Cha must have been related to my great-aunt May. As a child I lived with my grandparents for a few years and my great-aunts lived a few miles away. It didn't matter whether or not we were at their house or my grandparents, May always brought games out and sat on the floor with us kids for hours playing and laughing up a storm. As to the wa-ter. My grandmother was always at her sink with her pretty little glass drinking cold well wa-ter. She got me a little glass and throughout the day we would have wa-ter breaks together. I still pause everyday to have a wa-ter break with my cold well water. Thank you for such lovely memories.
By: Denise
On: 01/24/2011 13:56:31
Thanks for sharing your tales about Cha-Cha. I really appreciated the steaming advice also. The ice sculpture and snow sculpture were wonderful. I want to go fill my pitcher with lemon-flavored water, steam my face, and soak my feet. I had never heard of coltsfoot prior to your blog. Thanks for sharing!
By: bonnie ellis
On: 01/24/2011 14:53:22
Shari Beautifully written. Water is so vital to everything. She is so lucky, like I am in Minnesota to have enough. I can just picture you sitting by your stove in the kitchen sipping a cup of tea and musing on what your next blog will be about....can't wait
By: Peggy
On: 01/24/2011 17:23:50
Cha Cha sounds like such a great person! I wish I could have known her.
By: Wendy Brown
On: 01/24/2011 18:34:11
My Grama is gone now but she used a mustard plaster on me whenever I got chest congestion. It always worked and felt slippery, hot and so much better when she took it off and I could breathe again.
I love all of your articles.They are written so well that I can see Cha-Cha and the kids building blocks, coloring and probably eating cookies under the table. I'm a Grama of 10 and I love to play under the table too. It's a magical place where memories are born. I hope you feel better soon.
By: Kristina
On: 01/25/2011 03:25:14
I enjoyed reading about Cha Cha, and everything else. Here, water is most thought about, because we have to bottle it up in cat litter jugs, for when the pipes freeze in our old farm house. Thanks for sharing.
By: Paula
On: 01/25/2011 18:22:23
I love reading your blog, Cathi...especially this post. I will certainly try the wa=ter pitcher and foot soak ideas. A good hot cup of tea in the afternoon is also my idea of a wonderful thing.
By: Pat
On: 01/26/2011 19:33:51

Thank you for sharing your lovely and profound thoughts on the importance of that wonderful natural liquid, water. My father was born in North Dakota on a farm. They were quite poor and didn't have a lot, but they had good water. He knew, like you, how important it is to a healthful life to stay hydrated. Every since I was a child my father instilled in me to not let a day go buy without drinking many glasses of water. To this day I still hear his voice and follow his example.
By: Christine
On: 02/02/2011 06:30:12
Enjoyed your read. I drink a gallon of water a day. I would be like Cha Cha, I won't take prescription pills either, just lots of vitamins and herbs.
The ice sculps are beautiful. When my daughter was in grade school she had her picture takin with a Mikey Mouse ice sculpture. Its so amazing how they can make them. God Bless. Christine
By: Aurelia Gabouer
On: 11/25/2011 06:19:08
Many thanks for your blog! I’ve just subscribed to it.

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Cathi Belcher

Cathi Belcher,
an old-fashioned farmgirl with a pioneer spirit, lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. As a “lifelong learner” in the “Live-Free-or-Die” state, she fiercely values self-reliance, independence, freedom, and fresh mountain air. Married to her childhood sweetheart of 40+ years (a few of them “uphill climbs”), she’s had plenty of time to reinvent herself. From museum curator, restaurant owner, homeschool mom/conference speaker, to post-and-beam house builder and entrepreneur, she’s also a multi-media artist, with an obsession for off-grid living and alternative housing. Cathi owns and operates a 32-room mountain lodge. Her specialty has evolved to include “hermit hospitality” at her rustic cabin in the mountains, where she offers weekend workshops of special interest to women.

“Mountains speak to my soul, and farming is an important part of my heritage. I want to pass on my love of these things to others through my writing. Living in the mountains has its own particular challenges, but I delight in turning them into opportunities from which we can all learn and grow.”

Column content copyright © 2010– Cathi Belcher. All rights reserved.

Mountain Bounty

“Keep close to Nature’s heart ... and break clear away once in awhile to climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, to wash your spirit clean.”
– John Muir

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