In Search of Water

… after walking for three days found myself in a landscape of unparalleled desolation.  I camped near the skeleton of a deserted village.  I hadn’t had any water since the previous day, and I had to find some.  Although the houses, huddled together there like an old wasps’ nest, were in ruins, they made me think there must once have been a spring or a well nearby.  And indeed there was a spring, but it had dried up.  The five or six roofless houses weathered away by the wind and the rain, and the little chapel with its fallen tower, were arranged like the houses and churches in living villages.  But in them no life remained.

It was a find day in June, very sunny, but on those bare heights, open to the sky, the wind blew cruelly,  The sound of it raging through the carcasses of the houses was like the snarl of a wild beast disturbed over its prey.

I had to move on.  But after walking for five hours I still hadn’t found water, and there was nothing to suggest I was going to.  Everywhere the same dry land, the same tough grass.  Then I thought I could see a little black figure standing upright in the distance.  I took it for the trunk of a solitary tree.  But on the off chance I set out towards it,  it was a shepherd.  Thirty or so sheep lay resting on the baking earth nearby.  He gave me a drink from his flask, and then, a little while later, took me to his fold, which was hidden in a hollow.  He got his water, which was delicious, from a very deep natural well …

The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

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