Living close to the land like I do, I can’t bear this lack of rain. This unprecedented, frightening, woeful lack of rain that has gripped Cali. Here on the North Coast, the wells are beginning to run dry. The lakes and reservoirs are disappearing. We ended 2013 with about ¼ of the usual amount of rainfall for this time of year. The Catholic bishops of Sacramento have called for people of all faiths to pray for rain. A formal call was not necessary: people are holding spontaneous rain chants, prayer circles for rain, and rain dances. There has been less rainfall in Cali this winter than any winter since weather recordkeeping began. The snow pack in the Sierra Nevadas is 17% of the normal measure for this time of year. The bears at Mammoth Lakes are coming out of hibernation already (three months early), and man will they be hungry when they discover no food out there. The Coho and Chinook salmon are trapped in the Russian River, cut off from access to major waterways, stuck in the small streams where they have gone to spawn. Willits, just to the north of Ukiah, has established a mandated limit of 150 gallons per household per day because the city’s reservoirs contain only enough water to last for three months. But the meteorologists predict little or no rain until at least March. Whoa.
The hills, usually green this time of year, are dead gray. I often walk behind Lake Mendocino and it has been surreal watching it vanish. Maybe about 25% of the lake is left right now. People are able to walk across much of the bottom of the lake; but we wish we couldn’t. (Akili keeps begging for photographs of Lake Mendo because he can’t wrap his head around the idea of it emptying out like this.) There is a possibility that Lake Mendo could dry up entirely by mid-summer. This lake supplies drinking water to many surrounding communities. Obviously I am not planning a veggie garden for the coming summer. What do we do when the water runs dry?
I have heard the drought blamed on a high pressure system off the coast, which is preventing sweeping winter storms over the Pacific from making landfall, but the real cause, the one no one will speak about, is climate change. Can we actually convince ourselves that this unprecedented lack of rainfall is not the new shape of life as we know it?
Perhaps I’m taking the drought too personally. Today I find myself wondering about the fact that this drought coincides with the year that I have chosen to take a break from my creative writing projects. From one perspective, I’m on sabbatical. People do that from time to time; they give it a rest. But from another perspective, I’m living a year of creative drought. Come a little deeper into this Twilight Zone with me, my friends. The name of the novel I set aside for my sabbatical year is Guardians of Water. Seriously. It’s an ecological post-apocalyptic sci-fi romance. It would have been visionary if I had completed it soon after I started making notes for it in 2005. The way things have gone in the world has detracted from the scope of the visionary aspect since the imagined future I invented for the book is beginning to unfold for real in some respects. Water is the new gold. The water theme is only one piece of the larger novel, but this drought has me pondering the wisdom of pausing in my work on Guardians of Water to complete this nutrition certification program at this point in time.
Maybe it’s just that I’m feeling particularly drought-stricken today both literally and figuratively. Although I am kept busy with things I enjoy (I love my nutrition studies), I miss writing fiction. And I feel ill for the want of rain. Am I picking up a vibe from the thirsty trees and scorched greenly growing things now dry and gray? Maybe I need find a way to make time to resume work on Guardians of Water. Especially so if this drought is the new normal. In that case, I need to work on my novel to exorcise my fears for the future. Oh please let it rain. Quench my thirst.
Snow pack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 2013 compared to 2014. Yikes.