Today, June 21, is summer solstice, the longest day, when we invisibly begin turning back toward winter. It makes me think of cycles: of the earth’s rotation and orbit, and how those shape the hydrologic cycle, which affects every aspect of our lives. We’re talking water here, in its many forms, its presence and absence, its power.
I feel like I’ve known the power of water all my life, both good and bad. Growing up in western Washington, on a spit of land sticking out into Puget Sound, it surrounded us. There was Commencement Bay itself, of course, a pocket of the Sound. But it was also in the weather. There was a lighthouse with a foghorn less than a quarter mile from our house, keeping ships safe from the power of fog to blind their pilots and drive them aground. There was the fog itself, cold and hard to breathe, much less see through. There was the ever-present rain, which filled the aquifer from which our small community drew its drinking water, but which also kept our clothing damp and shaped our outside activities, including my father’s work building houses.
I remember one year when I was quite young that Dad was laid off for months because of rain. The four-man crew in which he worked for a contractor named Ray O’Flyng had started a small subdivision that summer. They got the forms built for the foundations, but didn’t get the concrete poured before the September rains came early. All four families went without work for months, until the crew took a chance on it not raining long enough to pour and let the concrete cure. Then, between storms, they laid the joists, framed the walls and got the roofs on so they could work out of the rain for the rest of the year.
There was the joy of first-hand contact with the power of water, whether that was jumping waves in the Bay or wading Lincoln Creek, which ran through my aunt’s place further inland. Winter or summer, one of our favorite activities (which included Dad) was seeing if we could dam up the creek with rocks from its gravel bars. I don’t know how many times we worked all day to pile a wall of fist-sized rocks from one streambank to the other until nightfall made us stop. Sometimes remnants of our dams would still be visible the next time we visited, but most times the water had removed all evidence. It was a shallow little creek, but water has its own mind. You get to learn that when you try to make it mind yours.
And now I find water’s power even in my thoughts. At the kitchen sink a couple of days ago I realized I have stopped being so hyper-careful about turning off the faucet. I had not realized how much I have been driven to conserve water by fear of running out of it—as a state, as a region, as a city, even—until our spring rains came and news of over-full reservoirs began to work their magic on my subconscious mind. I even found myself thinking it might be nice to have a green lawn again—a pleasure I have been denying myself, partly as a statement to the neighborhood that green lawns are optional, luxuries that perhaps we cannot afford here in Lindsay, where we live on borrowed water.
And then, of course, there’s magnetic power of Tulare Lake. Rereading “The King of California” right now, I’m clear how much the power of water excites our dreams of getting power over it. Page after page, the book’s revelations of J.G. Boswell’s love of making water go where he wanted it (or didn’t) isn’t much different than my childhood efforts to dam Lincoln Creek except in order of magnitude and intent. He took it to another level, made an empire from it as well as a fortune, and taught the world about the power of holding water tightly. He showed us what that can do to democracy as well as the lives and livelihoods of those who don’t hold the key.
We need to take this lesson seriously. Water’s power, both good and bad, needs to be managed for the common good. Let us begin to work toward that.
Trudy Wischemann is a lover of water skeeters and wild buttercups who writes. Send her your aqua-stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of the Mid Valley Times newspaper.