Going to the Source…

When I was a young man, one of my favorite summer past times was backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I especially enjoyed hiking east of Courtright Reservoir in the John Muir Wilderness along the Le Conte Divide, where there are many lakes and streams filled with clear sweet water. Although the trails are well marked and easy to follow, it is an area not as commonly backpacked as so many others, and I have gone days without seeing anybody from outside of my own group. This makes for litter-free trails and pristinely clean creeks and streams from which to drink. Even in the wilderness you always want to be cautious in determining from whence you draw your water. You need to know your source, and to know your source you have to go to it and take directly from it. The closer you are to the origin of the water source, the safer it is to drink, and oh, the sweet taste is beyond anything you can get from a plastic bottle at any price or of any shape.

Danny Malcolm dipping his Sierra cup to drink sweet alpine water from Fleming Creek in the John Muir Wilderness, Summer 1980.

I was first introduced to this area when I was 14 years old by a good friend and scout leader Ken Wood (Make a Joyful Noise…, August 25, 2022). He taught me what I know about backpacking and surviving in the wilderness, following trail markers, respecting the ecology, and also an appreciation for those grand open spaces among tall trees and gentle breezes. One of the important lessons I learned from Ken was to never drink from creeks and rivers below trail crossings.

Today we never leave home on a long hiking adventure without some sort of water filter, but in my youth filtration systems were less common, bulky, and not easily used, so we would have to be very careful when we drew our water to drink. Ken taught me how to read topographical maps from the U.S. Geological Survey. Not only is it important to know where your trail is headed so that you do not get lost, but it was also imperative to refer to the map in order to see where trails might cross water and contaminate the supply. The water may look refreshing and drinkable at one point along the trek, but if you observe on the map that there are human or even horse crossings a mile or so upstream, you need to keep hiking until you find water closer to the source.

Danny Malcolm sipping sweet alpine water from Fleming Creek in the John Muir Wilderness, June 1981.

Once you hike beyond potential contamination, as close to the source as possible, your water will not only be potable, but sweet to the taste and safely refreshing to the needs of your body. I have followed creeks and brooks through alpine meadows and over mountains to their sources, springing out of the earth, or melting from glaciers and snow, filling my Sierra cup and sipping to my satisfaction and pleasure, and there is no water I have found comparable to supply hydration and refreshment.

When Monica and I visited the Holy Land in 2018, we were excited to see a special spot on the River Jordan, near the place where it is recorded that John baptized Jesus. This location is just a few short miles from where the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea, far from its northern neighbor the Sea of Galilee, and even further from its source. Although we were happy to see it, pleased to be in the general area of such historical and spiritual significance, we were disappointed in the color of the water. It resembled more the chocolate river from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” than the pristinely clear waters I had known from my backpacking trips high in the Sierras. There was little chance we would want to drink at one of these crossings.

The River Jordan, near the location where Jesus was baptized of John, March 2018.

In contrast, when we journeyed to Cæsarea Philippi we were blessed to see Hermon River Springs, a headwaters of the Jordan, the river’s source, where the water seemed to flow out of rock. The water was crystal clear and cool to the touch. Amidst a light breeze and the sounds of trickling waters, I listened to the story of what occurred there from the lips of our host Larry Gelwicks, and felt that all confirming Spirit of truth fill my heart as I watched my Monica’s hands, the cool water flowing through her fingers.

“When Jesus came into the coasts of Cæsarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, ‘Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?’ And they said, ‘Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.’ He saith unto them, ‘But whom say ye that I am?’ And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:13-16).

Danny & Monica Malcolm at Cæsarea Philippi on Hermon River Springs, a headwaters of the Jordan, March 2018.

When I heard those words spoken in true context I indeed felt an overwhelming and confirming witness as did Peter. Not only did that glorious affirmation occur there, but that it is true, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. That light burns brightly within me still. It is a witness I cannot deny. I dare not, nor would I ever desire to. I will never forget the sweet waters that I tasted there, for they quench my thirst, even still, though never moistened my lips, for they are the waters of eternal life and will keep giving in rain or in drought, so long as my heart is willing to receive and to give.

“And Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven’” (Matthew 16:17).

Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” — Jesus Christ

Nearly 2000 years ago at Cæsarea Philippi, near a trickling spring, a source of the mighty Jordan, Peter received the great truth, from the very source of all truth, the Mighty God and Father to us all, that Jesus is the “Christ, the Son of the living God.” This he received by revelation, the rock upon which the Lord would build His church.

I stand today as a witness of these truths. Jesus is the Christ and this can be known to all who seek from our Father, which is in heaven, through His Holy Spirit. Just as we are guided in our search for pristine waters for the health and benefit of our bodies, the scriptures and teachings of living prophets are a map by which we can trace the source of all that is most pure and beneficial for the health of our spirits. As we see by their fruits and clarity that the water which flows thereof is pure from the source, we can dip our cups and drink to our delight and refreshment.

Hermon River Springs at Cæsarea Philippi, a headwaters of the River Jordan, March 2018.

Even as the cool waters of the Jordan flow still, so is the word of Lord Jesus Christ ever-flowing from the source of all truth, and through His servants today. The truth that Jesus is the Son of God distills upon all who will have ears to hear and hearts to receive this divine revelation, just as did Peter at Cæsarea Philippi. This is my personal witness, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Daniel Malcolm is an entrepreneur, journalist, photographer, husband to Monica and father of twelve. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.