Friday, February 6, 2009
Rain O'er Me *
From the outset, I expect no sympathy from anyone in the rest of North America, much of which has been having an unusually rough winter. Here in Northern California, it's been unusually nice--absolutely springlike many days--which presents its own problems. For example, we've had less than half the rain we usually get by this time of the season, and we're starting to run out of season.
People elsewhere worry about blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanoes, tsunamis. In this part of the country, we've only got three things to worry about: floods, earthquakes, and drought. Although I live near a creek and a few miles from a river that has a "hundred-year flood" about every six or seven years, my house is reasonably high and dry. I don't fret about flooding.
With earthquakes, everybody within a few hundred miles is in the same boat we are. However, I do have a friend who grew up near my home, back when my subdivision was all prune orchards, who swears he remembers seeing the rows of trees offset by a fault that split the field. "In fact," he said while standing in my backyard, "I think it ran right through here." I always laugh when I tell that story, although there's no good reason to. As a bonus, my city fathers managed to place three big hospitals on a north-south axis perfectly aligned with a fault that'll rupture from Fresno to Oregon when it finally slips. I mean, they're all within a quarter mile of it! It's as if they asked themselves, "What could we possibly do to maximize casualties?" and then did it. After a while you adopt a sort of fatalism, counting on The Next Big One to hit 10,000 years from now instead of today. Which aren't really bad odds.
Yesterday it began to rain. Not enough, but it's very welcome. Unless it deluges for weeks, we're still looking at water rationing in the summer. Karen and I both lived in California for the last big drought in the '70s, and remember dead lawns and bricks in the toilet tank ("If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down."). So last weekend we did something we've wanted to do for a while: installed a rain barrel.
This thing is pretty cool. Water from a downspout flows through a screen into the heavy plastic barrel, which has a hose attached near the bottom for dispensing water into a bucket or watering can, and an overflow outlet at the top that drains excess water through the green plastic tail below. It can be plumbed to link to as many other barrels as you want, so that when one gets full the overflow goes on to the next. All I had to do was build a little platform and shorten up my downspout.
It holds 54 gallons, and we weren't sure how long it would take to fill. After one day of light-to-moderate rainfall, I learned that the answer is: one day. I couldn't believe it. All this water I once wasted--all this liquid gold landing on my roof--and now it's mine! I feel like Jed Clampett out shootin' at some food when up through the ground come a'bubblin' crude. Water, that is. Clear gold. California tea.
I think I'm gonna need more barrels.
My first newspaper editor wasn't notably bright or good at his job, but he taught me one thing that's always stuck with me: if you want to understand how money and power flow in the West, follow the water. From such humble beginnings as my little rain barrel are future tycoons born.
*Yeah, I know The Who song is "Reign O'er Me." I like bad puns. Sue me.