“Hier gaan over het tij, de wind, de maan en wij”
(“Here the tide is ruled by the wind, the moon and by us.)
Text on a plaque on the artificial island Neeltje Jans, at the storm surge barrier in Zeeland, the Netherlands.
Water, to me, is the fickle element. An element many properties dissolve in, it can embody life, but can also turn out to be the harbinger of death. To me, she is the Blue Lady, She gives and She takes.
My own relationship with the Lady of the Waters is coloured by my place in the world. In the Netherlands, water is abundant, good quality tap water is safe to drink and quite cheap here. Droughts are rare: they hardly ever become critical, there is usually plenty of rain. Yet, the water looms too. All my life, I have lived on stolen land, close to a river and the sea. It was claimed hundreds of years ago, but it lies below sea level. In my lifetime there has never been a real threat of flooding, thanks to an elaborate system of dams and surge barriers. But as sea levels are expected to rise, the threat is growing. It is possible that the larger part of my home country will cease to exist at some point.
Water is also paramount to my own family’s livelihood: our modest affluence comes from living next to Europe’s largest port. Our dealings with the water have been most profitable: the willingness to accept danger by living on lowlands close to the sea made the Netherlands a prosperous country early on in its history.
The Dutch have in the past often outsmarted the water, but there is hubris in this attitude as well. In recent years, instead of only fighting the water, it seems wise to give the water more leeway and create more room for inundation when water levels rise. The problem is that farmers who have worked this land for generations are forced to let go off their land in order to make this happen. I see both sides of this story, there are no easy solutions. In Dutch we have a term called ‘polderen’. We haggle with each other and the water, hopefully reaching a conclusion that is beneficial to all. In the end, though, I feel our future here will be decided by not underestimating the power of water. A healthy sense of awe will perhaps save us.
At one point, I would not mind moving elsewhere in Europe, to a more remote area, safe from the sea. Yet it remains to be seen, whether I would be able to live there permanently. I would miss connecting with Her: walking in the copse by the river, throwing a stone offering amongst the friendly waves. My fate, and especially that of my children, is tied to Her tides of benevolence.