Earth Day, California. Changing the focus.

New tactic. I’m plugging my ears. I’ve reached saturation point and can’t absorb one more apocalyptic message warning Californians that water tables are dangerously low and the economy will implode, slightly before or after we turn on the taps and nothing comes out.

Droughts are synonymous with California, and although I personally believe that climate change is contributing additional havoc with strange weather patterns fueling drought conditions, our water problems, and certainly our water management issues are not new. Not new at all. I’ve written before about the California Water Wars and the issues are so old that it boggles my mind that anyone is surprised we have a problem.

So to breathe lighter while sharing an Earth Day conversation from drought-plagued California, I’m peppering the post with favorite photos of some of the places around the state that offer peace and tranquility. It hasn’t dried up yet!

Santa Ynez Valley

I am committed to conservation measures and think waste is deplorable. I also think ecological responsibility is for good times as well as under mega-drought conditions. I probably wouldn’t object to scare tactics if I thought they worked!

Lompoc, California

The late Native American activist and first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, is quoted as saying, “In Iroquois society, leaders are encouraged to remember seven generations in the past and consider seven generations in the future when making decisions that affect the people.”

When is the last time you saw that principle in action?

San Clemente Beach

Traveling through the center of the state in rich agricultural areas you’ll see “Stop the Congress Created Dust Bowl.” Sometimes the messages are on a slickly produced billboard but more often they’re crudely spray painted by a farmer forced to let crops and orchards die because of water shortages. Water allotments are not equally available. Often it’s the smaller enterprises negatively affected and it’s hard to see those signs and think of families and livelihoods.  It’s also hard to see dead trees and vines.

I was in the fifth or sixth grade when we started learning facts about the Dust Bowl.  I didn’t understand the magnitude of the  worst environmental disaster in American history, and what did a child living in the middle of suburban Los Angeles understand about Roosevelt’s Tennessee Valley Authority Act, crop rotation, terracing and other beneficial farming practices?

California Wildflowers

Nevertheless, I won an essay contest about environmental responsibility, although that would not have been the language of the mid-60’s. I had also been chosen to participate in a special program of classes at the Los Angeles County Arboretum and I was slowly introduced to an age-appropriate knowledge of the importance of creating a healthy balance between water, soil and sunlight for optimum plant health. I was learning to care about “the environment,” even though I didn’t yet know all that word encompassed.

Earth Day officially took stage as a grass-roots effort in 1970, and although school children today, much like I experienced in the 1960’s, are given cheerful and hopeful projects that imply we are all naturally committed as good stewards of the earth, reality is that one of the most polarizing dinner party hot topics is environmentalism.  I know.

Coneflowers

Californians will need to have many difficult, often uncomfortable conversations, but I would like to see a huge shift from finger-pointing to a concerted effort at changing the way we relate to water usage in the first place.

I’m disheartened to see particular farmers targeted as though removal of their water-thirsty crops will greatly improve the circumstances.

Almond farmers are currently taking a lot of heat as Californians learn, probably for the first time, that it takes a gallon of precious water to produce one single almond. If you want to read more on this politically complex web, THIS is a great article from Mother Jones.

 

Oak Groves

Frankly, I don’t think we need to be the almond growers for the world, but I would like an equal serving of sincere scrutiny in other areas. I don’t hear an honest challenge to the environmental costs of animal agriculture. Want to start a small war? Start with this fact: Crops, although indeed water intensive, use a fraction of the water consumed on California’s factory farms

California grows over 200 different crops, some grown nowhere else in the nation.  Your guess is as good as mine as to the future of these crops. But what I can say is that “crop demonizing,” currently very popular, isn’t going to address any of the major issues. Change will come because people see the need to adapt to our climate conditions, and significant changes in habits will be slow for those who didn’t see this coming.

I’m naturally drawn to people who do make a difference and take bold action in their own lives.

Split rock Silent Valley

We can all use a little inspiration.

This Earth Day I would like to recommend you visit a beautifully sensitive writer at “Through the Luminary Lens.” Bruce and his wife, Francis, live in an off-grid home on Vancouver Island. His topics interconnect conservation, renewable energy and social ecology with a variety of other interests he weaves in so well. I’ve included the LINK to a favorite post that seems particularly satisfying to me for Earth Day.

I’d also enjoy sharing an award-winning short documentary that shows what one family has done with their city lot. The Dervaes family lives very close to my home, and what they’ve done with 1/10th of an acre is nothing short of impressive–maybe in my mind miraculous. To learn more about their family operation, you can see “Homegrown Revolution,” HERE. 

People in action always inspire me. Many of YOU inspire me. What are your Earth Day thoughts? I’m listening.

 

And not a drop to drink…unless you’re a Pinniped

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I wasn’t really ready to come home from the Central Coast. Last weekend we headed north to the serenity and beauty of Cambria, mesmerized by the rugged coastline nestled within a forest of coastal pines and spectacular ocean views–and quiet.

In the Los Angeles/Pasadena area where I live–the San Gabriel Valley–early fall often brings temperatures higher than we experience in summer’s July. Accordingly, October is “fire season” and it’s not uncommon to hear locals comment about the “feel” of earthquake weather. There is no such thing, but there is something in barometric pressure or terrarium-like cloud covers or perhaps the squeeze that comes with unrelenting heat that brings a certain jumpiness.

Cambria was calling me. Notice the beautiful sunshine of the day and the fog rolling in with the evening.

I have said quite enough about our drought conditions, I’m sure, but while in Cambria we experienced a few new shifts in awareness and convenience that seem worth conveying.

This was the first time we visited the area and continually thought of Coleridge.

“Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.”

The Central Coast is experiencing severe drought. Residents are saddled with extreme personal water usage restrictions and struggle against the rationing with an economy dependent upon tourism, naturally leading to greater water usage. The future is uncertain. It makes me jumpier than the heat, quite frankly.

We were encouraged to re-use towels and not expect a routine change in sheets.  The coffee cups and water glasses were replaced by disposable paper. After years of being cautious about what we add to the landfills, depleting water sources makes that a very secondary concern. And in a fine dining establishment we were offered water bottles (think landfill again) and charged a nominal fee. It costs too much to wash the glassware and is too expensive in other ways to offer drinking water to thousands of tourists. It is risky business.

The coastal beauty of Hwy 1, San Diego in the lower south through Mendocino County all the way at the top of the state, is what I call my “happy space” and I never travel without thanking the State of California and the Coastal Commission for its many protections. California is highly protective of preserving the beauty of the coast and guards against development. It remains as pristine as possible.

So when we talk about desalination plants, I have to wonder. All this ocean….water…is it a resource? If we don’t learn how to live within the confines of water restriction even in times of sufficient seasonal rainfall, what course will we be forced to take? What is advancement?

“Will California — like Israel, Saudi Arabia and other arid coastal regions of the world — finally turn to the ocean to quench its thirst? Or will the project finally prove that drinking Pacific seawater is too pricey, too environmentally harmful and too impractical for the Golden State?” 

At this point all we can do is observe. I also pray for rain. And I totally, completely, unreservedly appreciate the beauty that we have and I enjoy sharing some of the little surprises you might not anticipate.

These elephant seals aren’t sitting around waiting for rain, are they? Do they seem worried?

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The Northern Elephant Seal Rookery at Piedras Blancas, just north of Cambria, is a wonderful stop along Highway 1. There are approximately 20,000 elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, but they aren’t all there at any given time.

Once nearly extinct because of hunting for blubber and oil during the 18th and 19th centuries, some saying the population was down to a mere 50 elephant seals, there are now breeding colonies from Baja to British Columbia. There are four major California mainland sites, and this is one of the best for close viewing.

From December through February numbers will increase during mating season, and I’d love to return in mid-February as the females wean their pups.

Turkey Vultures are vigilant sentinels along this stretch of beach. I don’t think I want to know.

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Next post I’ll take you with me to “The Enchanted Hill.”

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Hearst Castle is a wonderful way to escape the concerns of reality. What a place for fantasy–an excellent way to breathe lighter.

Enjoy your “weekend exhale,” my friends. It’s a beautiful, warm and sunny day here today–big surprise. Sun! But it is cooler and should be a lovely weekend. And I do love weekends!

A glimpse of my work day in review…then off to bed!

I thought I’d share a bit about my day before I collapse into bed.

I covered a lot of ground today.

I left home this morning before the sun was even peeking above the horizon, heading east to lend a hand with last-minute details at a work-related special event. Our Center for Academic Service-Learning and Research (Azusa Pacific University) planned and prepared for many months to host an 8th Grade Majors Fair for the students from the three Azusa middle schools, and today was the BIG day!

8th Grade Majors Fair

Our office was responsible for coordinating this large-scale event with participation from two other Institutes of Higher Education–Cal-Poly Pomona and Citrus College.

Eighth-grade students were brought by bus loads to one of the city’s beautiful facilities, encouraged to interact with faculty and university students, asking questions and studying colorful exhibits and displays.

The day was designed to provide age-appropriate and useful information about the many majors and academic disciplines available to the students in five short years when they are college or university eligible.

The hands-on and interactive stations were prepared to excite the students’ curiosity about how what they study in college supports their interests and what they will choose as future careers.

My contribution to the planning and execution was minimal compared to most of the volunteers, so I took advantage of spare moments to walk around with camera-in-hand.

I can’t really share photos of the children, but I hope you can get a sense of the interaction from just a few.

Volunteers from Azusa Pacific’s ROTC and Office of Military and Veterans Resources took fully loaded military backpacks and demonstrated how heavy they were by inviting 8th grade volunteers to test their strength and endurance.

ROTC army backpack

The students loved this!

Another big favorite was the Police K-9 unit and deputy Roby.

It was a very busy time, but a nice change from my usual office habitat.

And I was able to spend some time outdoors, too, an obvious benefit.

I couldn’t help but be impressed with the way the city’s Memorial Park North Recreation Center was fully committed to water saving vegetation, drought tolerant and California Native plants.

Do you think this type of landscaping is important?

San Gabriel Mountains

Do you see how close the homes are to the San Gabriel Mountain foothills?

It may only be mid-March, but we have had three days of 90°  record-breaking heat. At this rate the foothills will be tinder before we even get into summer.

So water-wise landscaping is incredibly important.

Not everyone is completely on-board with the aesthetics of grasses, chaparral, succulents and sage. But as my concern about water shortages and the generally wasteful way most Southern California gardens drink up such a valuable resource increases, so does my appreciation for these very natural California Native gardens.

At noon I left the Majors Fair and quickly changed hats, traveling an hour on five different freeways, cutting across  town in strategic traffic-avoidance patterns hoping to have a few minutes of quiet with Karina before walking to pick Sophia up from Kindergarten.

We spent the remainder of the day between homework and reading a new dinosaur book. How is it they can pronounce all those names and I trip over them?

It was a full and special day…an ordinary day, but of the best kind. I suspect I will breathe lighter from satisfaction and sleep well!

I need my rest. Our weekend plans include a preschool talent show–that should be entertaining, and this is the weekend for the Wistaria Festival. You may recall I mentioned the vine is listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

I recharge quickly so I’ll be up to it. And I’ll have my camera with me. Stay tuned!