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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My Grandpa Knew That


If there are energy shortages, individuals will have water problems.
If there is ecological damage, individuals will have water problems.
If there are economic crisis, individuals will have water problems.
If there are computer glitches, individuals will have water problems.
If there is political turmoil, individuals will have water problems.
If there is war, individuals will have water problems.

Almost anything that happens in the future can result in questionable availability of fresh water. This is not just an environmental problem. The continued pollution of the atmosphere, the surface and subsurface of the earth is not the only cause for alarm about availability of fresh water. Water availability to individuals is dependent on every other social system being in place, stable, healthy and at peace. It is inevitable that we will experience failure of one or more of these systems at some point in the future."
-from the Garbage Warrior's website:

On Wednesday, the 18th of Nilch'ih Ts'ósí, we went to a class at our local nursery. We signed up for a Rain Barrel class; it was renamed "Winter Tasks: Water and Lighting." The class leader, from the Urban Farmer Store, introduced the theme reminding us that winter requires us to alter our behaviors: our plants need less water and we have more dark, less light, daily. We are entering our rain season: November to March.

Most rain is directed off roofs directly into sewage drains which empty into the bay and the ocean. The city of San Francisco has begun a program to encourage people to divert their drains into rainwater harvesting systems. They are even offering rebates. We received handouts and a very brief demonstration. It's really quite simple. In San Francisco (and many municipalities) we water with potable water that comes pressurized, with energy added to it. Every drop of rain water saved, reused or diverted back into the aquifer reduces the water, energy and chemicals used to treat stormwater, and transport potable water from the reservoirs. Keeping this relatively clean (rain) water out of the sewer system is easy. San Francisco only gets a one inch rain twenty times a year. Every 1,000 square foot home, during a one inch rain, could store 620 gallons of rainwater.

The Urban Farmer Store has manufactured rain barrels from reused olive barrels. They are available for purchase. With the city rebate it's quite inexpensive to install barrels at home. You will need a little sweat equity. Other sleeker and larger barrels are available from other manufactures, at a higher cost, but the point is how easy and inexpensive a basic system is to set up. If you can't use your harvested water (you have no garden, or your architecture makes it impossible), you can at least let it drain slowly (soak in) and replenish the aquifer.

San Francisco has very few permeable surfaces, even less than Manhattan.

After a discussion of permeable pavers and rain gardens one of the participants asked, "When will I make my money back?"

The leader responded: "That's like listening to music and asking when am I going to get my return on this purchase?"

Nothing will allow a people to go beyond a third or fourth year drought; as they enter the fifth and sixth year, they will give up their hope for rain.

During this last "storm" (Friday, the 20th) I heard many complaints about the rain. The best one being that it would interrupt someone's granddaughter's soccer game. When this grandma was told that the storm was fast moving and would surely be gone by Saturday she was relieved, briefly, until she realized it would probably make the field soggy. That doesn't top my favorite complaint: I can't wear flip flops. (But that leads to an entirely different discussion of shoes and why the very population that forced hard soled footwear on us now refuses to wear them.)

Many thinkers are blaming our current environmental problems on an idea that humans "just couldn't handle the transition from being hunter-gathers to high technology."

Scholars have tended to view us (American Indians) as a people who lack technology and architecture. But Daniel Wildcat, a Yuchi of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma and co-director of the Haskell Environmental Research Studies Center, offers a more nuanced understanding of our relationship to technology.

In Power and Place he writes: "It appears natural selection has not selected us for a particular niche or place on the planet, but has selected traits that have allowed human beings, with the use of technology, to adapt to different places and environments on our Mother Earth.

Central among those traits is our sociability or social nature. . .our physiological awkwardness dictates a necessity for toolmaking and manipulation absent among other animal species. This is less a sign of human superiority than a sign of biological difference. In my mind this explains why in our traditional indigenous ways of speaking and praying we so often describe ourselves as pitiful beings. Humans depend on many good relations and relatives to live and survive in this world—hardly superstition, just ecological fact. Nature, nurture, and technology are intimately connected."

As we enter this yearly ritual of excessive consumption (Thanksgiving till Christmas) I want to highlight the fact that our (world) economy is based on severed relations. Simply ask yourself where your electricity or water come from, who sewed your underwear, or where your last apple was grown and what was the name of the individual who picked it.

In Slow Money, Tasch writes: "By prioritizing markets over households, community, place and land, the modern economy does violence to the relationships that underpin health and that give life-sustaining meaning—family relationships, community relationships, relationships between consumers and producers and between investors and the enterprises in which they invest, relationships between companies and the places in which they do business, relationships to the land and in the soil. Such relationships are attenuated, or in the extreme, deracinated, by the modern, global economy."

We can start simply by shaping our lives to the patterns of the earth not "the market." Detailed knowledge of the earth's patterns is precisely what we find in the oral tradition and tribal languages of indigenous peoples; this knowledge has been handed down for generations. For many, though, this will mean a new beginning, shaping daily life, including the care and construction of home, first by addressing how they are using and treating dirt, water, human waste, sun and wind.

Michael Reynolds, the Garbage Warrior, creator of the Earthship calls for "direct living," building the mechanism for "taking responsibility for what happens beyond the reach of our fingertips. Light switches and faucets" into each home he builds whether it is on Pine Ridge, Nogales, or Andaman Island India.

The land has a rhythm, if we step in time. We can be dancing in a house of beauty.

About Me

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I believe we can be more beautiful than broken. Devotion to language and literature, stories and storytelling, writing and reading will restore humanity and heal severed relations. There is no alibi in being.