When I was young, finding water was fairly easy. An old farmer would take a forked apple branch, some of the younger fellows used a wire coat hanger bent into the requisite “Y,” and head out to the area one proposed digging a well. It was called “dowsing.”
Holding the branch by the short legs, the long end poking out in front, the dowser would begin to walk around. Eventually, the tip of the divining rod would dip toward the earth. At the point the rod dipped deepest – hopefully, pointed straight down – the person in need of water started digging.
I woke early Tuesday morning, to the sound of July thunder, and the splattering of humungous raindrops on the roof above my pillow. In my childhood memories, the lake ice is becoming unsafe to walk on. Soon it will turn to crystals that tinkle in the waves of a light spring breeze. One morning soon, the first loon of the year will issue the celebratory call announcing open water.
While many of us have been quibbling over the details of our Distracter-in-Chief’s latest tweet – or more recently, his sudden lack of early morning digital shouts to his public – most of us are, for various reasons, not paying much attention to some of the more important edicts he has, with less fanfare, issued and will continue to issue. It’s not that what he is doing is secret; too many of us are simply not paying attention.
When Scott Pruitt was made head of the Environmental Protection Agency, we understood on some level that he would like to abolish the agency, and there was media commentary noting the incongruity of placing in charge the guy who had mounted 14 lawsuits to block the his new subordinates from doing what their name seem to indicate they should be doing.
President Trump has been busy the past two weeks. He made some promises during the campaign, and he is trying to keep them. Or look as though he is trying to keep them. If unemployment rises, he will get the blame, so his claiming credit for job creation seems somehow fair, though he has little really to do with it, either way.
But his edict about banning immigrants from predominately Muslim countries has prompted me to consider my own genesis and belief on the subject.
A few of us had a rather nice conversation on Facebook, of all places, the other evening. One could follow the discussion and read what each said and know which side each was on. We kept talking. The participants were respectful, though in agreement not so much.
Many of us are well acquainted with the “anonymous rant” some social media conversations take – someone, sometimes with an obviously assumed name, makes some oft-heard unsupported (and oft times unsupportable) statement about one presidential candidate or the other, a few people gang up with the first and for most observers it becomes a shouting match. When the shouting starts, the listening stops.
At the tender age of about 10, I got my first lesson on the subject of cleaning up after oneself. We’d gone to visit Gramma and Grampa in Watertown, Mass., a little way out of Boston. I always liked visiting their home, a really old-fashioned place with a parlor – a small room off the living room, home to a couple of rocking chairs no one actually sat in. In fact, the big set of double French doors to the parlor was rarely not closed.
Seasonal weather finally is upon us, maybe. Temperatures should be in the 40 F range, and they’re often in the 60s, but last year this time they were in the 80s, so I suppose it is a bit more seasonal. The juncos, looking like flying preachers in their white shirts and dark gray capes, have returned. Nearly all the other “snowbirds” – what northerners who move south for the winter are called – have departed for what they hope are warmer climes.
TThree Black Vultures showed up in the backyard Tuesday and headed for our stream. They were not looking for food; they craved water. They hover over us every day; that was the first time any of them landed so near our house.
Drinking water is in short supply in many wild places. We are in a time of year when water levels often are low, but Marsh Creek, in places where it normally only is low, is nearly dry. I was shooting pictures of a pair of Great Blue Herons looking for enough water to support a fresh frog for lunch when a Mallard drake swam by, about three feet over the surface of what used to be the creek. There was more water in the humid air than in the stream bed.
On a nearby fence rail, a dozen starlings sat with mouths open, panting. Other critters presumably have found shadier places to await sundown.
Fishing season started this week. It was too darn cold to brave the squadrons of fisher-folk who’d be gathered in all the most productive places, though I did buy my license.
When I was a lad, we were one of two families living year-round on the lake. Some summer folks from town had their weekend-only cottages in clusters; between the clusters were large trees that passing storms had pushed into the water, and lily pad farms where the broad leaves and deep grasses hid lunker Chain Pickerel.
Marsh Creek, a short distance from my home, is bloated like a certain writer who has partaken overmuch of turkey and ice cream at a family dinner. Rain pours down on the tableau, filling the myriad tributaries that flow into the creek like an array of gravy and soup bowls, each adding ingredients they have collected from minor hills and valleys in the larger creek’s watershed.
Just over a week ago, a snowstorm laid a biodegradable covering across the scene. Now the rain melds it into the water that is its main ingredient, expanding the creek to a degree the spring and summer feeder streams will not.
A few days ago, I told my 12-year-old granddaughter she had no immediate worry about rising sea levels. We live about 500 feet above sea level, and the level at the eastern seashore is predicted to rise only a few inches by the end of the century.
It’s nearly the end of December. It is technically winter but in eastern Canada, lots of ducks and geese are saving their energy for making more ducks and geese by not flying south until the lakes ice over, which so far they have not.
We humans, on the other hand, can bend our environment to our wishes. We think we can simply manufacture more food and housing and we will be OK. So far, we have been able to pull it off. By some accounts, the next three decades are going to make water very expensive in some parts of the nation.
The flock of mallards launched from the creek, reminding me that a bright orange vest might be a good safety idea during deer season, but not so great if one is trying to slip up on the ducks. Indeed, most birds have excellent eyesight. They require it. Unlike ground-locked critters that can lie low and wait to spot something moving, birds are the movers, and sometimes quite fast. If they are going to eat – or at least not be eaten – they must spot their targets a long way off and make quick friend-or-food decisions.
The ad for a big-screen television shows a picture of a still, blue lake. A canoe is pulled up on its shore. In the background, a stand of pine trees of indeterminate species frames one side, a fall-colored mountain range the other. You can almost hear the loons calling each other across the water, as they have done for thousands of years, maybe longer.
Here on the East Coast, the lawn mowing season is winding down. A little earlier each day the sky looks like a storm brewing. Times have changed; I need less time each day to recognize it’s not a storm, but the westering sun that causes the early-graying sky.
Here in South Central Pennsylvania, those of us who do not regularly water our greenery find it still needs a periodic trim, but not like the rain-pressured growth that bogged down the Troy-Bilt when we returned in July from a wedding in Florida.
When the EPA turned Colorado’s Animas river yellow, Republicans launched an all out offensive. Early this month, workers for the federal watchdog poked a hole in a wall blocking the outflow of effluent from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, Colo.
The online political magazine “The Hill” reported the agency was playing defense as GOP lawmakers attacked it for causing the outpouring of toxic fluid, and then not holding itself “to the same standards as private companies that pollute.” For a few days, one of the most picturesque rivers in the American West resembled a flow of used mustard after EPA workers released millions of gallons of trapped poison from the mine – a situation the EPA normally is charged with preventing.
It occurs to me the EPA, contrary to opponents’ claims, has held itself tightly to private company standards. The federal, public, agency, once it was faced with the impossibility of disguising all those miles of once beautiful river turned baby-poop yellow, circled the wagons and began following a script with which many reporters are too familiar.
The ice is gone from my favorite paddling pond. There’s a saying from somewhere in my past that 75 percent of Earth is covered with water. Clearly, the saying goes, God intended for man to spend thrice the time fishing as working. It’s probably closer to 70 percent, but the point is well made.
About 97 percent of the planet’s water is ocean saltwater. Of the three percent that is freshwater, nearly three-quarters is trapped in polar ice and glaciers, leaving about two percent drinkable.
If you wear jeans, you wear water. It takes 2,000 gallons of water to make that pair of denim waist-to-ankle coverings, and another 650 gallons for the T-shirt to top the ensemble.
Growing, processing and shipping the coffee from a mountain producer to the cup you held while deciding which T-shirt and jeans to wear used another 37 gallons of water. The medium burger and fries you may have for lunch adds another 673 gallons, most of it expended in watering the growing beef and potatoes, then processing the harvest into food you can grab onto.
The evening news begins nearly every night with some version of, “Forty million people will be affected by the weather tonight.” Unless another Malaysian Air flight disappears, our TV screens will be filled with 8 feet of snow in Boston, and 18-wheelers piled up on Midwestern interstate highways.
Of course, news casters, not to be accused of unqualified hyperbole, usually note the effect will be limited to residents of Illinois through Massachusetts. If they’d include folks in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina, and maybe Virginia and West Virginia, they could get those numbers up. Even Texas has had snow this year – which is odd since part of the state was wondering as Fall approached whether they would have water at all.
When a train carrying 3 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil crashed Monday in West Virginia, it offered some exploding video for the evening television news. It also derailed 19 of 109 cars in the train, leaking oil from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota into a tributary of the Kanawha River. The latter supplies drinking water for hundreds of thousands of West Virginians.
Will there be reliable drinking water in Alabama or North Dakota after the snow melts in Boston?
The crash was the latest in a series of accidents, many of them fouling nearby water supplies:
March 2013 – Exxon Mobil’s Pegasus pipeline spilled an estimated 210,000 gallons of Canadian crude oil into the town of Mayflower, Ark.
July 2013 – An onboard fire and resulting brake failure loosed a train carrying millions of gallons of Bakken Crude on a downhill run that derailed in the town of Lac Megantic (Quebec at the Maine border), virtually vaporized the town, and turned the nearby lake and river to black goo.
Nov. 2013 – A train carrying 2.7 million gallons of crude oil derailed while crossing a wooden trestle across a wetland near Aliceville, Ala.
April 2014 – A derailment sent multiple cars into the James River near Lynchburg, Va.
Jan. 2015 – A break in a 12-inch pipeline injected an estimated 50,000 gallons of North Dakota crude beneath the ice of the Yellowstone River. In the past eight years, according to the Associated Press, the pipeline’s owners have leaked nearly 334,000 gallons in 30 such incidents.
Jan. 2015 – Three million gallons of well-drilling wastewater poured into the Missouri River from a broken collection pipe in the North Dakota oil field.
Feb. 14, 2015 – Twenty-nine cars of a 100-car train carrying tar-sand oil from Alberta, Canada to Eastern Canada derailed in a remote wooded area of northern Ontario.
Several years ago, a friend with whom I often went wandering called me to meet her behind Lake Auburn. She said she had found something in which she thought I’d be interested.
When that trapper’s nearest neighbor was miles downstream, his sewer arrangement worked.
At the appointed day and time, we met and headed into the woods. About a half-mile, more or less, into the woods, she stopped and pointed. There beside a swiftly running stream was a rock foundation, the remains of the home of some long ago settler. It clearly was a two-room abode, built beside a stream. The log sides and roof were long gone.
We talked some of how many people could have lived in the structure, and why they chose that spot to live. We decided the resident likely was a trapper, who selected the site for its proximity to running water.
“What’s that about,” my friend asked of the smaller room.