Archive for the 'Ecology' Category

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.


Big Cat

When we moved to California over forty years ago, I was occasionally asked  “you’ve been to Yosemite, haven’t you?”  For most of those forty years, I’d respond with a certain amount of shame and sheepishly say “no, but I plan to go…eventually.”

We did finally go to Yosemite, were duly impressed, and most importantly I could then say to others “you’ve been to Yosemite, haven’t you?”

Now living in Ojai and occasionally being exposed to rubes from the Big City, I’ll be asked “what kinds of animals have you seen in Ojai?”  I’d reply like I was Marlin Perkins, the now gone, long time host of the TV show Zoo Parade.  “We’ve seen bobcats, snakes, foxes, coyotes and even a bear or two.”  Then I’d qualify my otherwise impressive array of critters by saying ” but we haven’t yet seen a mountain lion.”

That changed last night.

Sitting in the living room and watching the News Hour, I was distracted by a brown shape moving across our just watered lawn not more than twenty feet from me.  At first I thought “maybe a bobcat or a large dog.”  The shape stopped and looked straight at me.  It was at that point that I was grateful for the wall of glass that separated me from the mountain lion that had decided to visit our home.

I grabbed my iPhone and took some frantic photos, fully expecting the lion to leave quickly once he (I think it was a he) discovered that there was nothing to eat or tear to shreds.  However, he was in for the long haul as he spread himself on the edge of the lawn and proceeded to lap up the water that the sprinklers had deposited on the concrete walk.

The iPhone images were much too small to appreciate the creature’s dimensions so I ran for my camera with the long lens and spent the next thirty minutes photographing a very cooperative guest…through the glass doors, of course.

I was even able to call Harry on the iPhone, start a Face Time session and video the live images to Livermore.  I felt even more like Marlin Perkins by exposing Harry to a sight that for even him was a first.

I estimate that the majestic animal was about four feet long, head to rump, with another two or three feet of tail.  I was tempted to take the bathroom scale out to him, coax him onto it and thereby get his accurate weight.  But I thought better of it and asked Sweetie if she would do it.  In the end, I had to estimate his weight at well over a hundred pounds.

He was with us for about ninety minutes, trying out various spots on the lawn, rolling about, dozing and seemingly enjoying the luxurious respite from his less comfortable digs.  It was nearly dark when he melted away.

National Geographic has this to say about mountain lions…

Mountain lions require a lot of room—only a few cats can survive in a 30-square-mile range. They are solitary and shy animals, seldom seen by humans. While they do occasionally attack people—usually children or solitary adults—statistics show that, on average, there are only four attacks and one human fatality each year in all of the U.S. and Canada.

Both Sweetie and I feel fortunate and privileged to have seen this wonderful animal.  We’re also glad that we avoided becoming a statistic.

If you want to see more photos of our guest, click here…


Tony Strickland says we need to wash more often

Tony Strickland is my man.  Wait, don’t run away.  Let me tell you why he should be yours too.

The guy has guts.  What other politician, after an all-out search for a grabber story, would land hard on one that illuminates the evils of cloth grocery bags?  In the process Tony undoubtedly ran through a litany of well-documented Republican standards and then quickly eliminated the following as being too national in scope:

  • Obama was born in Kenya.
  • Hawaii is not a state
  • Obama is a Muslim.
  • Obama is Bella Abzug in drag (although this ran a close second to cloth bags.)

Running for a U.S. House seat that is currently partially occupied by the long-retired Elton Gallegly,  State Senator Tony is up against one semi-Republican and a cast of Democrats led by Assemblywoman Julia Brownley who, it is reported, does not believe that cloth bags cause cancer.

Plastic bags are the current topic of choice in California right after Jerry Brown’s indecipherable (probably as intended) budget balancing proposal.  Several dozen municipalities in the state have already banned plastic bags.  These towns can be easily identified by the roller derby of oranges, lemons and onions chased after by pursuing patrons in supermarket parking lots.  Ojai just passed such an ordinance and I’m attending an adult education class that will help me figure out, among other things, what I’m to do with sopping wet cilantro come July 1.

Tony, in a blatant effort to capitalize on any issue that will separate him from the crowd and cater to the NRA, CSA, AA and other leave me alone and mind your own business voters, created a bill that has no useful purpose other than to endear himself to other morons just like him.  His original bill threatened us with “serious illness, cancer and birth defects” should we fail to wash our cloth bags between uses, and required that a printed warning be affixed to the bag.  Having not yet lost all of his senses, Tony later amended his Senate Bill 1106 eliminating the itemized scary diseases and glumping them into a single less death defying category.

Saner indivduals leaped on Tony.  The most cogent response, sounding almost Republican, came from Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste…If your socks, underwear or reusable bag gets dirty, wash it, Murray said.  Julia Brownley, displaying her skills acquired as Chairperson of the Assembly Education Committee, said…the bill is silly.

On Monday, the bill was rejected by a Senate panel on a 4-2 vote.  4 Democrats and 2 Republicans.  They did, however, suggest that it would be wise to wash our hands, reusable bags and underwear more often.

Where are Ronnie and Clint when you need them?

I love the News Hour with Jim Lehrer.  I especially look forward to Fridays.  When David Brooks and Mark Shields intelligently face off about the week’s disasters.

David’s a button-down kind of guy with a conservative bent while Mark, an old-time liberal, is lucky to have his pants zipped up.  To their credit, and unlike their flamboyant cable counterparts, they are less interested in promoting themselves or scaring us to death, and more interested in giving us a fair take on the news.

When the president speaks, I watch it on PBS.  Principally because I don’t have to suffer the talking heads who populate the other networks.  But also because Shields and Brooks can be counted on to offer an intelligent critique of what President What’s-His-Name said.  Usually.

Last night Sweetie and I watched Obama speak from the Oval Office.  All about the oil leak.  I think he said…it’s a bitch of a problem, folks are suffering, I’ve made some changes to improve things, BP is going to pay through the nose, we’ve got to stop sucking on foreign oil, and the leak is more than Joe the Plumber can handle.  Simple stuff that even my grandkids can grasp. Much as I hoped for it, I didn’t hear any magic bullet solutions.

On to David and Mark.  “Nice speech but where’s the beef?” David said.  “Remember when FDR spoke about the war?  He told the public to spread a map of the world on the floor and then he walked us through all the places we were headed to beat our enemies brains out.  Island by island and beach by beach .  Now that was a speech.  That was a plan.”

Mark chimed in. “David’s right.  Good speech but same old stuff we’ve been hearing for weeks.  No four score and seven, no damn the torpedoes, not even an ich bin ein Berliner.”

Crestfallen, I looked over at Sweetie.  Asleep.  How could she abandon me when I needed someone to share my belief that what I had heard from the commander-in-chief was a ray of sunshine in a sea of goo.  Another glass of wine didn’t take away the pain.

I began this morning by skimming the NY Times on the web.  Maureen Dowd has become an ardent critic of Obama.  It’s as though she has leftover brickbats from Bush’s tenure and needs to hurl them before she loses her frequent flier miles.  Today was no exception.  Mo begins with…

Of the many exciting things about Barack Obama’s election, one was the anticipation of a bracing dose of normality in the White House.

and ends with…

Nobody needs to see the president yelling or pounding the table. Ronald Reagan could convey command with a smile; Clint Eastwood, with a whisper. Americans need to know the president cares so they can be sure he’s taking fast, muscular and proficient action.

Great.  What we need is another right-wing actor who was upstaged by a chimp or a fictional hero with a big gun.

Ronnie would smile while regaling us with memorable quotes like…

A tree’s a tree. How many more do you need to look at?

Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement.

And Clint, my all-time guy.  Bet if Obama plagiarizes these pearls, the Louisiana shrimpers will be like putty in his hands…

If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.

I tried being reasonable, I didn’t like it.

As one responder to Ms. Dowd put it…You might prefer Captain Kirk, but we’ve got Mr. Spock, and that’s fine with me.

Water, water, everywhere

I didn’t get a chance to watch all of Obama’s press conference on Wednesday.  Too busy wrestling with our well booster pump, visiting Dr. Thacher for our annual inspection, and soaking up the beautiful Ojai spring wonderland.

Our booster pump went south about ten days ago.  For the uninitiated, a booster pump forces water up the hill to storage tanks where it is eventually gravity fed back down to our house.  Since water has yet to learn how to run uphill, once your storage tanks empty you’re done, fini, over, dry.

When I tell people that we get our water from a well, their first reaction is “Wow, lucky for you that you don’t have to pay those rates charged by Casitas Water.”  Then, I recite the litany of costs associated with owning a well and they quickly move to a new subject.  Booster pumps are the least of it. 

Ralph has been struggling with the pump for over a week.  Dragging it from its cozy home, analyzing why it failed, looking for replacement parts (which aren’t available) and finally, admitting failure, ordering a new pump from Fresno.  Now we wait patiently for the UPS man to arrive with reinforcements.

We’ve got this high tech gizmo that tells us how much water is left in the storage tanks.  It’s in our laundry room and I pass it twenty times a day.  My head snaps 45 degrees to catch a glimpse of the digital readout every time I walk by that green eyed monster.  It’s a habit I can’t break.  Seven feet of water in the tank.  Then six, five…   During the day I mentally calculate the remaining available water.  “Let’s see, one foot of water in an 8 foot tank holding 5,000 gallons equals about 600 gallons per foot.  There are three tanks.  But one-third of the tanks is reserved for firefighting.”  My head spins.  I wonder when Ralph will arrive with the new pump.

Even when the well behaves, we don’t take water for granted.  I regularly wonder if/when the well will give up its last drop.  I review the consequences of living in a waterless environment.  I see sprinklers caressing the grapevines over at Dwayne’s ranch.  I think about county officials urging us to stop flushing toilets…while 80% of California’s water is guzzled by agriculture.  I wonder why we need strawberries that look great but taste like the Ojai Valley News.  I think about life without oranges, avocados, and, god forbid, wine.  I muse about Kevin Costner’s Water World and that lonely tomato plant.

We haven’t turned on the irrigation for almost two weeks.  A lifetime.  The olive trees seem happy.  But you never know with those guys.  They can look beautiful but then refuse to bloom or set olives.  Not enough water?  And even if they do, the fruit fly lurks. Our tiny, guilt ridden, patch of lawn hangs in there.  Wonder if we need it.  I think about crushed aggregate, mulch, astroturf…ugh.

Funny how being being cut off from something that’s always been there makes you sit up and pay attention.  I begin to understand why folks go to war over water rights.  Two hundred and sixty three rivers either cross or demarcate international political boundaries, in addition to countless aquifers.  According to the Atlas of International Freshwater Agreement, 90 percent of countries in the world must share water basins with at least one or two other states. Major conflicts such as Darfur have been connected to water shortages, and lack of access to clean water.  Israel and Jordan took time off from calling each other names to forge an agreement over the Sea of Galilee. Oil is a minor irritant compared to drinking water.

Much of the world is allocated the grand total of 2.5 gallons of water a day.  As usual, the United States gulps more than its fair share at 1,430 gallons per day.  But don’t feel overly guilty.  Personal consumption is only about 100 gallons of that amount…and most of it is used outdoors.  We turn the spigot on and wait for a gusher to emerge.  What if it just drips…slowly?

I’m thirsty.




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