A spring—or its Spanish equivalent, ojo, widely used in the southwestern United States—is a natural flow of freshwater from the Earth’s surface, generally issuing strongly under its own pressure onto land or into a body of water. (Where the flow is not distinct but dispersed, it is more correctly termed a seep.) Springs are characterized by temperature, prevalence, and mineral content (as well as taste and smell), and their presence often informs place-names: Hot Springs, Arkansas; Thousand Springs, Idaho; Altamonte Springs, Florida. In his memoir This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, Ivan Doig recalls his childhood spent near White Sulphur Springs, Montana, and describes springs both potable—“across our entire empire of pasture, there was a single tiny spurt of fresh water for us at a trickling spring near the ridge base”— and sulfur-tainted—“the spring always was coated with this sickly whitish curd, as if something poisonous had just died there.”

Kim Barnes