Water in Appalachia

mountain water

On Mountain Water by David Templeton

One of Life’s greatest pleasures for me is wading and swimming in some sweet water stream that has come down out of an East Tennessee or Southwest Virginia mountain. I allow that I will also stick my face down to the water and drink until my belly hurts and that I will find some flat rocks and send them skipping over the water, counting how many times I can make each one skip; I got nineteen one time.

Where one ends up is usually not the result of some well-planned journey but more accidental. I don’t get to live in Appalachia any more. My father lost his job of work at the defense plant, he had no skills, he heard about a place in Indiana that would hire him, a new start sounded good, and so we left Tennessee. I was fourteen. A part of my psyche never grew up past fourteen. For sure, I have remained Appalachian, lo these fifty years on.

Here in Indiana the land is so flat that I can almost watch a train coming from tomorrow; see until the Earth curves away. The land is flat. The land is flat and well-farmed. From the land, up here, water comes colored like coffee with cream. And, I can see many rivers and streams but I can’t see clear, clean water in any of them. That’s not to condemn the farmer; it’s just the way it is. But the water is dirty, the streams and lakes. Not poison but unclear, giving the sense of unclean, and uninviting. It doesn’t hurt the snakes but people don’t swim in these waters.

We swam all the time back there in Hawkins County. The water was cold but it was crystal clear and refreshing. As a kid I didn’t think about the water, not philosophically, not scientifically; I didn’t think about it at all…it was there. I was born with it all around…like I was born with skin…as a kid, some things don’t beg reflection.

It is remarkable though that water so abundant in the hills was often a scarcity in our home. Up the dirt road where we lived the water utility didn’t come that far. We had to carry water home or sometimes we had a well. The well wasn’t deep so the water wasn’t clear all the time. Dad tried to dig his own well one time. Took a forked twig from the apple tree and doused around the yard till it pulled hard down and there he dug. When he hit solid rock he covered up the hole and soon packed us up and moved us to a place with a spring and a spring house right there in the yard.

Now there was sweet water. And, fresh-churned butter from a butter mold, kept in a crock in the water in the spring house. And sweet milk, cold. And all the mountain spring water we ever wanted, crystal clear. It ran out and down a little stream with water creesies in it and the cows drank from it and then it finally went murmuring on down to the Holston.

God gave us rainwater, too. Mom had a rain barrel. My four sister’s and Mom’s Cherokee black hair was washed and rinsed in it. And, when there was enough, clothes were washed in it.

I don’t stop missing all that was the mountains. The breathless beauty, the heavenly peacefulness, the simple ways of the folk, and, yes, the clear clean mountain waters. Maybe more than anything, I miss the mountain waters. I miss the mountains and I miss the waters. I know nothing else to drink will ever be as perfect as that.


David wrote this guest post way back in 2009. He now resides in his homeland of Appalachia and I’m positive he’s enjoying that wonderful mountain water that he so beautifully described.


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  • Reply
    Wanda Ellen Starcher
    June 15, 2021 at 7:28 am

    Being born and partially raised in the mountains of West Virginia I value the purity of the springs and the streams, or “the branch” as my grandma used to called the one that ran through her childhood home. I, also, mourn the loss of some of that water due to mining and deforestation.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    August 6, 2017 at 10:09 pm

    They say I’m an old man now; I wasn’t when I first found Miss Tipper’s story telling place. I was in Indiana then. Now, I’m back home. I’m not so old that I can’t lay in this cold clear water that comes down out of the mountains to make the Little River at Townsend. It’s almost a ritual with me and my little brother.
    Our drinking water? It comes from the same stream by way of Maryville’s pumping plant.
    I don’t aim to go to Hell but if I do I will have lived in Tennessee and Appalachia twice and that’s what I’ll remember.

  • Reply
    July 20, 2017 at 7:32 am

    I’m so glad the author found his way back home 🙂

  • Reply
    Marg Mackall
    July 19, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    I also grew up with wonderful sweet spring water from our well. The water ran so cold that the faucet would feel icy cold to the touch. The water was sweet tasting and even smelled sweet. My grandmother lived below us but her water was not as good as ours. I remember every time she would come to our home she had a silver aluminum empty pitcher in hand. When she was going home that pitch was freshly filled with our tap water and the pitcher was being held with both hands and you could see the sweat beads glistening from its cold contents. That was in West Virginia, across the road from a hollow. Such fond memories. Years later this area gained national recognition for being the largest coal ash pond in the United States. Once again, Appalachia’s beauty was taken for profit. If you
    are interested please read:

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    July 18, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    How well I remember The Land of a Thousand Springs. Where water was omnipresent and nobody died of thirst, ever. Where finding water was more of a curse than blessing. I remember hearing my mother say, “I don’t to be buried there, every time they dig a grave, it fills with water.” Mommy couldn’t swim. Mommy wasn’t buried there!
    I hadn’t seen a well until I was an adult. I read of them in books and knew how they worked. I pitied the poor people who couldn’t stick a pipe in the ground and fill a glass with the pure essence of life. Then I went away. Not nearly to the flatlands that Dave describes, but far enough to realize what I had given up in the pursuit of happiness.
    I have been on a municipal water supply for only a few months of my 66 years of existence but most of my adult years I have paid to pump water from a bored or drilled well. The water is we have here is abundant, clear and safe but it is not the same. I will always have the feeling that the water that God wants us to drink will come bubbling right out of the ground. That poking a hole in the ground to get water is somehow sacrilegious. But that’s just me.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan (Jan)
    July 18, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    I am like David, having grown up by creek water in Tennessee, and I never thought a thing about it. Now I am far away. I do count by blessings that I got to encounter the clear, wonderful, drinking, swimming, coasting, and fishing water, and I had so much fun. I am glad David is back to enjoy the water, and he is eloquent.

  • Reply
    Leslie Haynie
    July 18, 2017 at 4:31 pm

    That was a good one!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    July 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    What a wonderful post. It would be hard to leave the area that I’ve known my entire life. These mountains with all their mystery and beauty are so ingrained in me that I would be lost if I had to give it up. I’m happy the writer was able to come home again!

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    July 18, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    I loved this post and remember reading it before..
    I too, love me some mountain water. There is something so refreshing about that mountain water rushing down clear and cold…
    I don’t reckon I ever remember seeing a muddy pool or mussy water hole in the mountains….only if someone just stirred it up, prancing thru it….Of course, I am sure one of those torrential downpours gushing down the mountain will certainly mess it up for a bit…but doesn’t usually last long…
    Enjoy while you are young, able to jump over the rocks, dip your feet in the creek and rock sit in the middle of the creed and enjoy the quiet rushing little falls as they trickle and then rush along…Old age gets here too soon…I used to wet my feet good, then see how many dry rocks I could jump to and leave my footprint on before the first one dried off…
    I am not that nimble footed anymore or could I even get to the mountain creek again! How I miss it! I guess I should be happy just to pull up and take a good look and listen, trying to separate the automobile noise from the rushing creek!
    Thanks Tipper….and David!

  • Reply
    Lisa Snuggs
    July 18, 2017 at 11:45 am

    How sweet to know David made his way home. He’d likely enjoy “I Hear the Mountains” by Balsam Range:

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    July 18, 2017 at 10:15 am

    The water in the mountains is beautiful, hope big industry can be kept away

  • Reply
    July 18, 2017 at 9:39 am

    I’ve sure missed David Templeton’s writings and I’m glad he has returned to the mountain waters of Appalachia. I have Mountain water too and when my girls come in, they like to drink the water. I use to live in Atlanta and Asheville, to further my education, but there’s no place like Home. Nice post, Tipper and David. …Ken

  • Reply
    July 18, 2017 at 9:03 am

    Way back before EPA, all the folks dumped their trash in the creek. We never had much trash as all food not eaten by the family was fed to the hogs. Every piece of fabric was saved for quilting, jars were reused and things such as salt or oatmeal containers were saved as well. The creek water was carried to the house on wash and canning day. We were not allowed to swim in the creek was because all toilets were built at the creek’s edge. My drinking water came from a hand-dug well or spring until I married and moved hundreds of miles away to a big city.
    David, I hope you are enjoying the beauty you missed for so long.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    July 18, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Every time I think of water at the old homeplace I think of the future King David when he looked down on his hometown of Bethlehem and said, “Oh for a drink of water from the well at Bethlehem which is before the gate.” Somehow I think part of the longing was for the care-free days of childhood of which the water was a symbol. As the old song has it “I would like to go back”.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 18, 2017 at 7:10 am

    That’s just beautiful! Thanks, again, David. I have spring water in my yard now, it’s very good. There is sure something different about mountain water, clear and cold.

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