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.


9 Responses to “Dry as a bone…”

  1. 1 leila January 26, 2014 at 11:09 am

    I have been thinking along the same lines Fred. On the approach to the small housing development I live in is approximately 100 acres of private land which was just sold to two gigantic “farmers”. They are both planting, building water green houses for organic, and moving the earth (read dust) around with a vengeance. Yesterday the dust was so thick it was impossible to go outside, yet we are told “reduce water usage”.
    I do believe there are two layers to everything—just don’t know if we are in there somewhere.


  2. 2 George January 26, 2014 at 11:28 am

    As I read this Fred, I said to myself this is Fred at his best. Nothing on the left, nothing on the right, just whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me God.You did not write this over night, maybe a week, but a lot of though. I hope God gets to read this, maybe he will say, anybody that can write this good, should have rain. Grampa George.


  3. 3 Jon Lambert January 26, 2014 at 2:42 pm

    The dichotomy between those of us who worry about the increasing scarcity of water and those who continue to use it with abandon will soon come to bite us in the proverbial touchas. Attempting to utilize methods for water conservation has resulted in a measureable drop in personal water use, but when the powers-that-be finally are willing to recognize and declare that we have a major problem and mandate a percentage reduction in current water use, guess who is going to be screwed by that global directive. Makes me wonder if that woman in the central valley knows something we don’t.


  4. 4 Don of Oak View January 26, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    It’s all Bush’s fault.


  5. 5 kaarina January 26, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Superb! I hope you’ll submit this to the Ojai Valley News. It might wake some people up!


  6. 6 Aryna January 28, 2014 at 12:00 am

    So glad you wrote this and I too hope you send it to the OVN. At home we are doing our bit and plan to do more. But two weeks ago I wrote a complaint on the forms provided at the Ojai Valley Athletic Club about their use of water to wash down the pavement and steps surrounding the building. No response from them! Last week when I saw the worker with his water cleaning instrument I said there is a water shortage and he shouldn’t be doing that. He just shrugged. Obviously management has not given any direction to make changes.


  7. 7 Susan Magness January 30, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I promise I shall now be sure to turn the water off while I brush my teeth. There, that should help solve the problem.


  8. 8 kaarina January 30, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Another water saving tip: Quite some time back, saw the following sign posted in a restroom at The Ojai Foundation: If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down.


  9. 9 K Hayward February 26, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Then, on the other hand, there’s our part of the country. Can’t remember snow like this since I was a child. Lot’s of snow and darn cold. Maybe Ca can somehow or other hook up into our snow. It’s got to go somewhere. Some rivers are dynamiting to break up the ice so when we have warm sun the water can move now. Seems no matter where you live there’s problems.


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