Saturday, April 4, 2015

The small things


Living during a time of mega-drought, you have to learn to hang on to hope.  The world is finally waking up to the reality of climate change, after many, many years of angry denial and turning the issue into a political football.  Is there anyone left out there who still doesn't believe? Probably, but it no longer matters any more.  Just like the "theory" of gravity, climate change is not something you have to believe in for its effects be felt.

Last night I was driving through some vineyards with Big Ag and looking at the 1000-foot wells, the giant uncovered reservoirs, and the acres and acres of grapes we grow here.  And I thought of another place we used to live, which had nothing but almond orchards, as far as the eye could see.

And I asked my man, who is proficient in All Things Agricultural, if all of this was sustainable, long-term.  He thought about it for a minute -- actually so long I thought he might have forgotten the question -- before answering, "probably not, long term."  And what was long-term in his books, I asked? 20 years until it first gets ugly, he said, and 100 years before most of it is finally gone.

He said that our great-grandchildren would see ghost orchards and ghost vineyards, which brought to my mind how local hikers sometimes stumble upon ghost towns up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains -- the empty, decaying remnants of the boom towns from the Great California Gold Rush of 1849. Maybe our days will be known as the century of the Great California Agricultural Rush, from 1950 - 2050, give or take a few years.  Who knows?

But I will tell you something.  If you focus on those things, particularly if you are a sensitive person who tries to live a "do no harm" kind of lifestyle, you will find yourself enormously depressed at what the future holds.  So my advice is this: Be aware, but don't dwell on it. Here is the one and only thing you can do to make a difference: You can do what you can, where you are. And that's about it, so you might as well stop worrying.

Local, small production vineyard!

The only place you can really change things is what goes on in and around your own dwelling. You can set good limits and you can set a good example, and that is about it.

In an era of decline, you can learn to use less and make do with less, and just go on with your life in that way. Because, realistically, that is all you can do.  You are not going to convince the almond growers to uproot their trees and bankrupt their very profitable imports to China, all in the name of future generations. Not gonna happen. You are not going to convince anyone that there is probably a limit to how deep a well can be dug, and that aquifers that have been around since the glaciers last retreated are not a renewable resource.

So be mindful and do what makes you happy. Yesterday, for instance, I was thrilled to find a nice picnic basket and a used salad spinner at the thrift store, because neither of those things need to be new for me to use and enjoy them.

New acquisitions.

That picnic basket and salad spinner made me happy because I know nothing new -- not the plastic or the wood -- was culled or made for me to buy it second-hand.  And they cost a total of six bucks between the two. Plus it was a sunny day and while a sunny day means no rain, well, that doesn't mean I should feel guilty and not enjoy it.  I'm not in charge of when it rains.

Part of this state of being -- the peace of mind before The Great Decline -- comes because, to some extent, I realize we are all being swept along in a human current that we can only swim against so much.  So ultimately the descendants of the  homesteaders, the off-gridders and the preppers will more than likely share the same future as those of the SUV-gas guzzling, Keurig-cup using, styrofoam plate dining and everything-new demographic, with not much to be done about it.

Your only job is to do what you can, and what will leave you with a clean conscience, knowing you did everything you could.  So use less water, but enjoy the sunshine, and, although it seems strange, enjoy being the last generation for whom everything was once possible.


  1. So wise! Surprise surprise I'm very sensitive and do often find myself depressed in these existential questions. I find it troubling that people outside of the west coast still think of it as a regional problem and not a national one. A few years ago I sought to make my world smaller, not meaning closed off...but simply more aware of my world around me and helping locally because on a small scale it's fulfilling. And it's nice to feel on the positive side of karma rather than feeling like your work only amounts to a few drops in a leaking bucket. This is a very meditative post and I do keep the drought in my thoughts. And not just because I'm worried I won't be able to get wine!

    1. Thank you Stephen! I actually DO think wine will still be produced in this region during and after the decline, however it will be dry-farmed, small production stuff. That's sustainable. But the HUGE operations requiring high grape yields (which equals lots of water) will go by the wayside. This might not be a bad place to live in 100 years, it will be more akin to the Rhone area of France and some arid parts of Spain, both of which produce some very nice, small-production wines. So no worries, your wine supply is safe, but it probably will become more boutique-y and expensive once we drop off the water cliff completely. Of course we won't be around to enjoy it at that point lol.

  2. I thought of you the other day when I was watching the national news. They were showing aerial photographs of reservoirs 5 years ago and today in California. I was stunned at how low they were. I saw pictures of the melting snow pack too.

    I don't understand how anyone can take the "head in the sand" approach to climate change. It affects all of us. I also thought of you today as I sloshed across my backyard, the water table higher than I can remember in a long time and small puddles forming everywhere. There is definitely an uneven distribution of water.

    Stephen, you probably already know this, but there are vineyards that stretch across Ohio on the shoreline of Lake Erie. As I understand, the warmth of the water in the fall creates ideal conditions for grape production. We have quite a few wineries along the coast. So never fear! You can always enjoy a fine Ohio wine. :)

    On a more serious note, we depend on California's warmth and long growing season. The drought will very much affect us at the grocery store and no doubt in many other ways.

    And yes, we can only do what we can do. I am also a believer of buying second hand whenever possible. When you buy new, it sends a message up the line to produce more.

  3. I also wanted to ask, how does the state monitor or enforce the 25% reduction in water usage? What does it include?

    1. The mandate of a 25 percent reduction is passed onto each county to enforce and to best decide how to implement it. The cities that have customers on Smart Meter systems can check for consumption/compliance, or just use a tiered pricing system that means if you use more than a reasonable allotment you will pay through the roof. Right now there are NO restrictions on farming, and considering farms are the largest consumers of water in the state, some regulation might be a good idea. But of course farmers are very resistant to that. But I'm all for it; I think everyone needs to do their part. But just like with climate change, the horse may already have left the gate. There is probably no way to replenish an aquifer that was created ten thousand years ago, a thousand feet below the surface. If only we could ship all your excess water out here! We do it for oil, so why NOT water, right?

    2. I wondered about this as well. I've also been reading a lot about the idea of covering all the water supply to cut the evaporation loss. Seems smart.
      Molly, I hate to say this but I've not YET tried an Ohio wine that I find remotely drinkable! I favor smooth and spicy cabs and love a Zinfandel and occasionally a Pinot noir if it's not too sweet. And then there are all sorts of wines I've tried here and there and loved but failed to write the name, counting on myself to remember! Do you have any favorite Ohio wines? I'd be thrilled to find one I like. Long before HFH was one of my favorite blogs, I always thought cabs from Paso Robles were the best! I saw a very insightful and common sense comment on another blog and followed the profile and started reading when I saw Paso Robles!