OFF-THE-GRID LIVIN’ PART 7: DROUT

We were living in Los Angeles for the first part of this most recent California drout. We like many others considered ourselves responsible citizens, with green concerns like many others. So when the city signs, and the utility services sent out their notices to cut back on water usage we did of course comply. We paid more attention to not letting faucets run, shorter showers, took bigger gaps between car washes, and “tisk-tisked” when we saw unnecessary run off in the gutters from over watering. But never once did we ever expect to turn on the faucet and NOT have water come out. After all water was a right.

I realized water was not a right my first week here. It was Sunday, we were headed to church and not five minutes from climbing in the car I heard my wife say “Love… There is no water”

“what?”

“Love… There is no water.”

You see, we now live on a well. Now by a well I don’t mean a stone lined trench covered by a quaint wood roof a bucket hanging on rope complete with clinging roses and sparrows singing “Some day my prince will come”. By a well, I mean a hole. This hole is drilled 500 feet deep and about 8″ wide. One dosnt hit water till 300 feet down. It is sealed by a electric pump which pulls the water up 300 feet then pushes it into a 2000 gallon holding tank, which is small compared to some of our neighbors.  1000 gallons of that water is for our use. The other 1000 gallons is for the fire department just in case they might ever need to blow out a fire on my property. If the fire requires more than 1000 gallons, then it is time to grab the marshmallows and skewers and make the most of the opportunity.

This well is a straw sticking into an underground river. About 10 miles from us this river flows into an underground lake. We are lucky enough to be the first straw in this river.  The straw is about 2″ wide sticking into an 8″ hole. And it is sucking water out through rock sand and dirt. If it sucks faster than the land can pour it back into the hole then we hit bottom. Typically I will then need to give the well  at least a week to refill itself. If I keep running the well to the bottom, eventually the sides of the well will get clogged with silt… And it will never refill.

Frankly, the land dosn’t care whether or not I get a shower. It has bigger concerns. There is no bill to pay here, nor a service to negotiate. If I suck to much water out of the ground. Then the ground will be done with me and I will be the proud owner of a house without water utilities.

“Love… There is no water”

“Excuse me Babe’, I have to go outside and make a heart felt apology to the hole in our front yard.”

OFF-THE-GRID LIVIN’ PART 8a: DROUGHT

I have been on this property 3 years now. 3 years to watch the seasons change and the land change with it. For those not familiar with Central California, we do have seasons, though the colors don’t follow the traditional calendar I see on my kid’s grade school walls.

The summer is golden, the hills and valleys are leafed with the thin tissues of dry grasses over ochre-yellow clay. The color all the more punctuated by the dark terra-vert of oak trees and sage bushes.

The Fall turns the earth Naples yellow, a lighter hue than the summer especially as accenting foliage slowly go grey and strip down to their naked twigs.

Early winter is a light umber. The long awaited rains churn the dehydrated flora into topsoil. A rich mulch mixed with seed, which slowly and tenderly emerge. The rolling late winter is emerald green. Not explosive. The arrival is gentile. Like the young plants are slowly stretching their new muscles, careful not to exert themselves too quickly unless the rains end suddenly and their over-exertion ends in withering. But still the green is potent, the sleepy trees and shrubs are the last to green, so for a while the elfin grasses are able to celebrate their color without the interruption of the more hue-conservative giants above them.

Spring is a gradient of hues. For a few weeks the green ground is exploding with the yellows of the mustard mingling with the whites and violets of the wild flowers, each competing for the attention of the bees and tarantula hawks for their pollination. The grasses send up their fox tails, adding the sound of gentile baby rattles to the whispers of the winds in the tall reeds.  A two day bacchanal of the mosquito hawks, yellow brown waves massing about porch lights and cascading over the hills marks the end of the bright mating season. And then the land slowly soothes from green, to yellow green, to the gold of summer.

The only marked difference between late spring and early summer is the white pods of the fox tails, dancing empty on the tops of their stalks. Their contents now safely dropped to the soil. These little fox-arrowheads, will use morning fogs to guide their trajectories into the mother soil below, or will become the bane of dog toes and human socks. But the white pods will dance and sing in the wind for a few last weeks. A last parental lullaby to their sleeping seeds below.

OFF-THE-GRID LIVIN’ PART 8B: DROUGHT

Awareness and consequence. The lesion this land keeps bringing me back to. Awareness and consequence.

“Listen.

Listen.

Hush my child.

Listen.

Pay attention or you may miss this…”

So far, the drought has taught me that the land does not submit to victimization easily. The land is opportunist. It is determined to be fecund, to make love, and to create the next year’s generation. Gluttonous well pumpers and climate change be damned!

I had a sense of this my first year here. As winter rains turned the umber earth green, my eager hands twitched on the handle of my industrial strength weed whacker. I knew from past experience the grasses would luxuriate in slow supple growth, giving me plenty of time to mow them down before their pollen would mix and mingle, and the dreaded foxtails would be unleashed. I would clear the earth, have loads of compost, and have the land prepped for a large weed-less garden in the spring.

It took two weeks of regular hacking and mowing. I made use of every spare minute between jobs, family and studio. Learning to mow on steep hillsides and learning the basics of lawn & garden equipment repair. But in two weeks I managed to clear 2.5 acres. It was lovely.

It was less than a week for the grasses shot right back up to the level they were at before the mowing, and then promptly pop out their needle point foxtails. The love had been made all around me as I had been mowing, and the next generation was ready for launch. Right on schedule. That was 2.5 acres of green grass all flippin’ their long, thin, green fingers at my industrial strength weed whacker.

OFF-THE-GRID LIVIN’ PART 8C: DROUGHT

Last year was the worst so far in the California Drought. Our area averages about 21 inches of rain annually, and in 2015 we got 6.

Most of that came late winter in the form of pathetic drizzles. Short merciful acts of charity on the part of skinny clouds limping across the sky in late March. By the time they did show, the hills and trees had long since given up their gold/green hues, Battered grey by the dry wind and cold winter sun.

Still, the land proved opportunist, and resilient. I don’t understand the awareness of land, or how it weighs consequence, but it does. Those 6 inches would be all it would get, and the land would not loose the opportunity to live, love, and produce.In the months before, when rain should have been there but wasn’t, the trees self pruned. Pulling their juices as deep within themselves as possible, fruitless branches of luxury were drained and left to snap off in the fall breezes. Also in a preparation, last years parental grasses crumbled, bowed lower than its grandparents or great grandparents, to self dry mulch.  Making the earth-cradle for their seedlings as well made as possible.

Then everything waited… waited… waited for those 6 inches.

Then snap.

Instead of the luxuriant two to three months of green, it was compressed into two weeks.  The grass shot up young and green, touched, pollinated, thrust out their foxtail seeds, and quickly and graciously faced their martyrdom in robes of gold.

The trees likewise raced to construct new banks of chlorophyl solar panels. Leaves shifting from fresh viridian to stubbornly mature green umber. Then settled into a conservative summer of drawing life from the light of the severe summer sky.

There was chance to make it happen. One chance to grow. One chance to love.  One chance to make legacy.  It wasn’t a lovely chance, but when the land took it it took it head first.

Awareness and consequence. The lesson this land keeps bringing me back to. Awareness and consequence.

“Listen.

Listen.

Hush my child.

Listen.

Pay attention or you may miss this…”