Archive for January, 2014

Dry as a bone…

Dry as a bone.

As I walked along the paths that pretend to delineate the approved lanes of travel around our house, I stared at the vacant spaces that once were occupied by living plants.  Plants that we had carefully selected and studiously placed when we moved here almost fourteen years ago.  Plants that had been carefully nurtured in alien nurseries and then transported to this hostile environment known as the Upper Ojai.

What seemed like miles of drip irrigation had kept them alive for years.  Not enough water to flood them but just enough to make sure they didn’t turn up their toes and seek the great plant heaven in the sky.  Mending breaks in the ubiquitous half-inch tubing caused by critters either seeking water or just something to gnaw on was a weekly adventure that made me a VIP customer at Aqua Flow.

In spite of our careful tending, plants died.  Some of old age.  Some of benign neglect.  We got familiar with the flora that seemed to be semi-self-sufficient and gradually became a bit jaded by the lack of water that came with undetectable plugged emitters and our procrastinated repairs to shredded tubing.  Rock rose and rosemary seemed particularly independent of our poor plant management techniques.  Lavender, in spite of its occasional mysterious die-offs, seemed happy to do without extra moisture.  Even the olive trees seemed to say “Don’t worry, I’m tough.  After all, the Romans planted me all over the world and they never visited Aqua Flow.  A shower or two during the rainy season is enough.”

Two years ago we had about fourteen inches of rain.  Last year, ten.  This year a measly one and one-half inches.  Even the air looks eerily dry and foreign.  Today, fourteen percent humidity.  Attested to by a myriad of static electricity jolts delivered as I exit the car or touch Sweetie.  When I scan the landscape and the Topa Topas, I wonder what the place will look like as a desert.  A place only semi-hospitable to tortoises, rattlers and scorpions.  A place abandoned by those who are uncomfortable living in tents and tending camels.

I wonder what will happen if (when?) our well goes dry.  I marvel at the series of millennia-old underground aquifers that we undoubtedly sit on and, like the world’s supply of crude oil, know can’t go on forever without significant rain.  With no way to actually measure the available life-giving resource in the ground, I stare at the well’s electronic control box that announces the periodic pumping of water and wait for the dreaded red light that announces “sorry boss, but we’re taking a break for a couple of decades.”

I imagine replenishing my five thousand gallon water storage tanks with the aid of a commercial water truck dragging its precious cargo up the hill.  And then I ask myself where in the world that water is coming from and how long it will last.  Forget the exorbitant rates they’ll charge.  That’s of secondary importance.

I think about Lake Casitas and the poor Joes who rely on the stored water in what is fast becoming a gigantic mud hole.  I think about the current misguided effort to allow swimming in what’s left of the lake and marvel at the public’s seeming lack of concern about the larger problem of keeping any kind of water coming into their homes.

I’m no saint when it comes to conserving water.  But I don’t come anywhere close to comparing with the water glutton in central California who bemoaned the restrictions placed on her ability to continue the one hour showers that begin each of her days.

I also blanch at the signs along the thousands of crop growing acres that line Interstate 5 from Bakersfield to points north.  Signs that say “Food grows where water flows.”  An obvious, mildly threatening reminder to keep our hands off the corporate farmers’ ancient rights to all the water they want.

I calculate the water savings that come with the prudent use of low flush toilets, restricted shower heads, turning off the tap while brushing teeth and letting plants other than cactus go belly up.  Ten percent of the state’s water supply is directly controlled by the general public while eighty percent grows the crops along the Interstate.  Dutifully playing my part in this doomsday scenario and reducing my pee breaks by twenty percent will massively impact the overall problem by a microscopic two percent.  Salvation is at hand.

And then yesterday I was reminded that the quantity of water isn’t the only worry.  My e-mail delivered a friendly message from the laboratory that, in accordance with California law, performs monthly tests of our well water.  Tests that determine its drinkability, or in this case, its un-drinkability.  “Hello there, homeowner.  You’ve got a total coliform count that can wreak havoc with your intestines.  You probably should pay closer attention to what you and your neighbors are spreading around.  Have a nice day.”

After locating a five gallon jug of bottled water that we had acquired to stave off the consequences of a potential 7.2 earthquake, and which was several years beyond its expiration date, I relaxed with a glass of wine.  And wondered “they can still grow grapes without water, can’t they?”

But I have hopes.  This Saturday the Reverend Karen Wylie will be leading a Bring in the Rain ceremony at Ojai’s Soule Park.  All of us will be drumming, dancing, meditating and praying for rain.  We’re encouraged to bring either a drum, rain stick or maraca.  Damn, too bad I sold that old trumpet that I played in high school.


I never saw him

I never saw him.  It was like a flash in time.  The sound was unbelievable.   From afar.  A roar, then a scraping of metal.  Then silence.  Except for the thud as his body slammed into my windshield.  He sprawled on the ground, not breathing.  Blood everywhere. The mangled bike’s front wheel upside down and spinning as his life ebbed.  How could this be?

But for the luck of the draw, it could have happened exactly that way.

We had just finished our business at Rabobank.  Nothing complicated.  Nothing out of the ordinary that might distract me from the awesome responsibility of driving a ton of metal safely.

We strapped ourselves into our seats and I cautiously backed out of the parking space.  I tend to be more deliberate about that process than I ever have been.  Partially, it’s a reluctant concession to the ravages of aging.  An innate recognition that my reflexes are not as sharp as they were when our kids were young and I was sure I’d live forever.

When exploring  a parking lot I prepare myself for the worst.  Chances are that a car will be going much too fast through the lot, the driver on his cell phone staying connected, unwilling to give it a rest, assuming  an overblown self-importance that someone really needs to speak with him right now.

I managed to complete the backing maneuver without loss of life or property and proceeded to the exit, stopping and then positioning myself for a right turn, heading south onto Maricopa highway.   I looked once, twice, and made sure there was no one walking imperiously on the sidewalk while assuming they have a natural immunity to injury by car.  I then glanced left to be certain I would not interfere with an oncoming southbound vehicle.  Having assured myself that I would live another day, I began to exit the lot.

Hey!  Hey!!!!  he shouted.  Slamming on my brakes, I looked right to discover a bicycle rider who had been pedaling north in the southbound lane.  He was in his forties.  No helmet.  No fear.  Now stopped dead, almost, in his tracks.

Time came to a halt for what seemed like an eternity.  We slowly began breathing again.  We recognized what could have been.  He looked embarrassed.  “You’re on the wrong side of the road” I shouted with as much authority as I could muster while simultaneously recovering from an overabundance of adrenalin.  He looked even more embarrassed.  “You’re right, I’m sorry, really sorry” he offered by way of an apology.  And then he crossed in front of me and continued mindlessly pedaling down the highway…still on the wrong side of the road.  Not sorry enough I guess.

I rode a bike in the dark ages, when phones were always connected to the wall and when helmets were worn only by soldiers fighting in Korea.  As a kid, I can remember riding down the wrong side of the road, or on the sidewalk, and never ever halting for a stop sign.  After all, only cars needed to do that.  I survived in spite of my ignorance.

A while ago I was screamed at by a helmetless woman biker who chose to ignore her stop sign as I was entering  the intersection.  “Courtesy to bikers” she hollered as she slalomed, Olympic style, through the intersection and struggled with her now unstable bike in order to avoid becoming a statistic.

Two weeks ago Sweetie and I were seated on one of those cute wooden benches in front of Rains when two biking teenagers nearly severed our feet at the ankles as they careened along the sidewalk.  They used the Saturday horde of visiting pedestrians like a set of  pylons at a championship bike race.  I shouted “Hey, you guys don’t belong on the sidewalk.”  As they continued their dare-devil adventure down the sidewalk, I was treated to an ear shattering series of well-practiced phrases better suited to an X-rated feature film.

Yes, I know that the majority of bicycle riders are god-fearing, law-abiding citizens.  And my encounters with those on the opposite side of the coin are perhaps neither representative of the larger biking population nor even worth mentioning.

But it only takes a single exception to cause a whole world of sorrow.




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