By Eilene Lyon
When you think “oasis,” perhaps it conjures an image that starts out as a rippling, liquid mirage on the horizon surrounded by dunes of hot, red sand. As you get closer, it resolves itself into a cluster of palm trees surrounding a cool, blue pool of crystalline water. You dismount from your lead camel and unload the spices and bundles of silks from your pack train, and you all gratefully take your fill of the refreshing water. Colorful Bedouin tents mingle with the palms, enticing you with aromas of exotic dishes prepared by lovely harems…
Okay, reality check. This is a true American oasis. And it’s nasty.
Located in the Big Basin Prairie Preserve in southwestern Kansas, St. Jacob’s Well is a sinkhole that has never been known to go dry. It’s about 84 feet in diameter and 58 feet deep. It has been used since prehistoric times, and was important for early western-wandering European settlers. Now imagine a wagon train that has not seen water for a couple days, the oxen are about to drop from exhaustion (maybe the horses have already died of dehydration), everyone – man, woman and child – is coated with ten layers of dust and hasn’t bathed in a week or more. Dry tongues lick cracked lips. You manage to arrive at this hole in Little Basin and…
Drink from a stagnant, stinky pool filled with leaves, branches, pond scum, insect larvae, frogs, etc. Yummy. On top of that, the entire pool is surrounded with poison ivy. Now that will really make your day!
I’m reminded of that scene in Born to Run by Christopher McDougall where the young couple gets lost while running the desert canyons. They realize they just might die of dehydration and are forced to dip their water bottles into a tiny, scummy puddle on the trail, infested with god-knows-what to save themselves.
Makes one really appreciate the potable water that comes out of the faucet at the crank of a handle, now, doesn’t it?
Feature image by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash