On the west flank of South Mountain, water emerges from beneath the roots of a gnarly old sycamore tree.
Later joined by other springs, it runs glistening over stones and fallen trees, into a cow pasture, crop fields and two backyards. It is a small stream and falters a little under the hot sun. It meets a road and runs beside it. Here it joins another stream.
Strengthened, the water flows out into the valley. The path meanders through pastures, fields and yards. New streams join along the way. It flows into the Little Antietam, Antietam Creek, the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay, where it mingles with streams and rivers of six states and water from the Atlantic Ocean.
Once, this land was forested. By the late 1800s, it had been largely cleared for agriculture. As the region became more urbanized, abandoned fields sometimes returned to forest, making the patchwork of forest and field we see now. During this time of reestablishment we have learned much about the importance of forests. They are essential for clean air and water. And there are too few of them.