Endless Drought

MADERA, CALIFORNIA – MAY 25: In an aerial view, a tractor kicks up dust as it plows a dry field on May 25, 2021 in Madera, California. As California enters an extreme drought emergency, water is starting to become scarce in California’s Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. Farmers are facing a shortage of water to use on their crops as wells and reservoirs dry up. Some are pulling out water dependent crops, like almonds, or opting to leave acres fallow. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In Southern California, we have not seen so much as an inch of rain since last February or March. Oh, we get the occasional “dirty drizzle,” which succeeds only in leaving a layer of dust on our windshields as it dries. Today’s headline in the Los Angeles Times reads “Winter Tale: A ‘No Snow’ State.”

You might not associate California with snow, but the snowpack on the Sierra Nevada Range is the main source of irrigation for California agriculture. If that dries up, large parts of the San Joaquin Valley will no longer be able to reach the 12.8% of U.S. agricultural production that it hitherto enjoyed.

We usually think of water as used primarily for drinking and washing, yet 70% of global fresh water resources is used for irrigation. And also for keeping useless front lawns green.

Something is clearly happening that will make California a less desirable place to live. Late night comics are having a field day talking about our year-round wildfires.

I don’t have any idea what is going to happen. It could be that the rains and snows of yesteryear will return. Or, they may not.

Edge of the Storm

Today, Los Angeles got its first real rain this season. Mind you, it was the far southern edge of a more serious storm that hit Northern California; but still it was enough of a novelty to one who has not seen any real rain for the better part of a year.

If you are not familiar with California, the south is the part that doesn’t get much precipitation. The boundary seems to be at Point Conception in Santa Barbara County. Weather forecasts usually read “from Point Conception to the Mexican Border.”

You will notice that the shore of California north of Point Conception is considerably to the west of the south shore. To go from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, one travels as much to the west as to the north.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, we had more rainy summers, especially around the early 1980s, when one storm carried away part of the Santa Monica Pier. There would be whole days of heavy rain, one following on the heels of the other. Now it seems to have a few widely spaced rains, usually dumping just a fraction of an inch. If this trend continues, the water shortage will get serious. There is not enough of a snowpack in the Sierras any more, and the Colorado River is drying up. And these are our two main sources of water.

The L.A. Department of Water and Power is planning on re-processing sewage to return to our faucets. The unfortunate moniker for this procedure if “toilet to tap.” It doesn’t sound very appetizing, and I foresee a lot of problems in its implementation.

Cherrapunji

Photo by Manish Jaishree of the Wettest Place on Earth

Here I am, reading about massive rainstorms in India circa 1990 while living iat the edge of a desert—and one in an increasing cycle of drought. I imagine, someone in Cherrapunji, India, might have dreams of living in a dry country in which, for all intents and purposes, there is no rainfall for six months of the year.

For your information, Cherrapunji is considered the wettest place on earth. It holds the record for the most rainfall in a calendar month and in a year: it received 9,300 millimeters (370 inches; 30.5 feet) in July 1861 and 26,461 millimeters (1,041.8 inches; 86.814 feet) between 1 August 1860 and 31 July 1861. in Alexander Frater’s book Chasing the Monsoon, the author talks of a friend of his father experiencing rainfall for several consecutive days in which between 30 and 40 inches of precipitation fell.

I miss rain. In Los Angeles, we only had one day of persistent rain in the last twelve months. There have been numerous instances of what I call a dirty drizzle, in which the windshield of my car is muddy as the result of an insufficient drizzle. To form a raindrop, there must be a bit of dust in every drop. But when not enough rain falls to operate the windshield wiper, then the dust predominates.

California and the American Southwest looks to be one of the big losers in climate change. The Colorado River is drying up, the Sierra snowpack is insufficient to fill the reservoirs the state needs, and horrible wildfires are destroying our forests.

There is not too much one can do about it except wait it out. Climate change has happened before. Up until the 13th century, Greenland was actually a fairly prosperous place, but then a little ice age set in and the colonists appear to have vanished from the pages of history. The town of Garðar was actually a bishopric, but nothing remains of its past glory.

Actually, I wouldn’t mind another “little ice age,” but who knows what will happen in the years to come?

I Might As Well Be Back in Cleveland

Southern California Is Being Buffeted by Winds

When I lived in Cleveland and in New Hampshire, I was the plaything of various seasonal allergies. There was the sneezing (and the bloody noses), the itching eyes, and borderline asthma. Now with the Winterspring Complex we are now experiencing, it’s back again. Not only do my eyes itch, but the discharge is sticky, such that I have to open my eyes with my fingers in the morning. And I am going through handkerchiefs like they’re going out of style. (I don’t use Kleenex because I feel bad about destroying trees just so I can blow my nose in them.)

As my friend Bill Korn says, these winds are usually accompanied by winter rainstorms, but we have had precious few of those. The current rainy season, which will end soon, is another bad one—just a few inches of mostly occasional showers and only one thorough wetting.

California is well on its way to becoming the next Atacama Desert, which is the world’s driest desert, clocking in at less than 3 mm of precipitation a year. That’s not even as big as one of my sneezes.

The Atacama Desert of Chile and Peru

When the weather starts getting hot, my allergies will gradually disappear. But then I’ll start complaining about the heat.

Plague Diary 13: Rainy Day Quarantine

Death’s Head Overlooking Venice Beach

Once again, I have taken a Los Angeles Times photograph from their evocative series on the effects of the quarantine on L.A.’s public spaces.

Today has been a day of steady rain, which started late morning and will probably continue through the night. We did get out around 11 am: Martine needed repairs to her eyeglass frames that only an optician could make, and I picked up a couple of Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches for her. Martine was none too happy with the yellow split pea rice pilau I had cooked the previous evening, preferring meat dishes even as I drift slowly into a vegetarian diet.

Returning around noon, we have stayed in the apartment. I sat in the library finishing Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. As I compare the current coronavirus disease with the bubonic plague, I would have to say that COVID-19 is by far less horrible. Whereas the mortality rate of the current outbreak is 2% of those afflicted, some 69,000 Londoners out of a total of 500,000 died of the 1665 outbreak.

The way that London enforced quarantine was to lock up any household where there was an instance of plague, enforced by two shifts of watchmen who would assist the tenants of the house get food and other necessities. But if one person in a household got the plague, it was fairly certain that all would die horribly.

On most days, I see at least one film, either from Spectrum Cable, Netflix’s DVD.COM service, or my personal DVD collection, consisting mostly of American and foreign classics. Today, since Martine did not go out for a walk, I decided not to induce her to retire to the bedroom to avoid listening to samurai sword fights, Western gunfights, or other irritatingly loud sound tracks.

Tomorrow, the rain will gradually taper off, and I will be able to play one of my films.

 

 

First Rain

Our Rainy Season Began Today

When I first arrived in California, I thought it was odd living in a place that had a distinctive rainy season. Mind you, there are many years when we see only a few inches of rain; and others, where we get inundated. At this point, there is no guarantee that we will get more rainfall any time soon. Given the massive wildfires of the last month, it is probably just as well: A heavy rain at this time would result in heavy mudslides in the burn areas, mudslides that may very well destroy more homes than the fires did.

Today’s showers were light and, near the coastal area in which I live, over by one in the afternoon. The way I (informally) measure rain, it was enough to clean my windshield of insect and bird waste accumulated since my last car wash. Anything less, I count as a “dirty drizzle,” one that serves to dirty the windshield because the wipers serve only to smear the muck.

It is predicted that the rain in L.A. will be over by tomorrow morning, well over for the coastal areas. There may be a few light showers in the eastern part of the county.

 

A Hint of Fall

Could Summer Really Be Over?

Our seasons in Los Angeles are very different than in other parts of the country. For the last few days, we’ve had a touch of autumn; but that doesn’t mean that there will be any consistency in the weather over the next six weeks or so. We might very well be in for a spell of hot, dry, windy weather—otherwise known as the Santa Ana winds. Or we could actually get some measurable (i.e., more than 1 centimeter) precipitation, though that is unlikely. It will probably get cooler in the evenings, or not.

One thing for sure: My left knee is aching, and I struggle slightly to rise from a sitting position. I’ve just taken some aspirin, which will probably help some. And I will probably get my flu shot sometime this week, because the flu season sets in fast whenever the weather gets cooler.

Although this has not been a particularly hot summer, it has been a humid one. Our humidity usually lasts only through July, but this year it has been virtually non-stop. We even got some slight drizzle yesterday and Friday. It would be nice if we had another wet winter, though the scientists who predict this sort of thing say that California will continue to have terrible droughts. This translates into terrible wildfires. Sigh!

 

 

Wild December

What With Rain and Santa Ana Winds …

I like to think of the month of December as The Passing Parade. Now you have the Santa Ana Winds blowing from East to West, sending the humidity down to near zero and fomenting the horrible brush fires we have seen around Malibu and Paradise. Also I have a wicket hangnail on my right forefinger. Then you have the winds suddenly reversing direction and bringing rainstorms from the Northwest, making the humidity rise precipitately. Not to mention the massive floods and mudslides.

Imagine what all that does to the human body. Yesterday my blepharitis flared up again; my left eye dissolved in a flood of tears unrelated to emotions; and upper left eyelid look swollen and angry. As an accompaniment, I burst out in truly frightening sneezing fits that were so loud that I received long-distance calls from St. Louis, Missouri saying “Gesundheit! And please keep it down!” Sometimes these allergic bodily responses are so intense that they segue into a miserable cold. So far that has not happened to me yet this month.

As I am leaving for Guatemala next month, I’m hoping that when I board the plane, I will be well. Unfortunately, I have no control over the crazy weather systems that swing back and forth across the state during this wild month.

 

From Point Conception to the Mexican Border

The Lighthouse at Point Conception

For all the years I have lived in Southern California I have heard weather reports that included the phrase “from Point Conception to the Mexican Border.” It has finally entered my skull that, in terms of the weather, the border between Northern and Southern California is at a place in Santa Barbara County called Point Conception. North of Point Conception, the California coast is fairly vertical; south of the Point, the coastline goes from northwest to southeast. If you look at weather maps showing wind patterns, it is a fairly good bet that they split off in two directions once they reach Point Conception.

The area around the Point is sacred to the Chumash Indians as the “Western Gate” through which the souls of the dead pass between the mortal world and the heavenly paradise of Similaqsa. When a natural gas exploration firm attempted to drill there in 1978, the Chumash protested and faced them down.

Tonight, we have rain in the forecast, for only the second time since early last spring. It’s not supposed to be a big storm, only about a half inch or so; but any amount is most welcome.

 

The Turtle Brings Rain

Glimpse of a Turtle at Descanso Garden’s Mulberry Pond

To the American Indian, the turtle was a means by which rain can come in a dry season. Although Southern California had some rain this year, it wasn’t much; and it looks like it’s over until much later this year or early the next. Fortunately, the mountains to the north, from which we get most of our drinking water, had a fairly wet rainy season.

Here is one such ceremony for rainmaking using the image of a turtle that was documented by a surveyor who swears by it:

A Rain Turtle is a combined piece of American History from Indians & the Old West.

This is what I have been taught about them.

When I was a young man, & was taking an apprenticship in surveying, one of my teachers was a thin, OLD man that had been surveying since he was able to hold both ends of the rod off the ground. The old gent ALWAYS wore a white shirt, tie, kahaki pants, packer boots, and Fedora hat. He was in his 80’s when I met him….

He taught me that when the surveyors would survey boundaries & railroads across the old West, they often stayed with Indians, or had Indians accompany them on their long traverses across the American West.

The story goes on to say that when an area needed rain, the Indians would make the outline of a turtle in the sand, generally facing West, as that is the direction the Rain God came from…. Once the Turtle was drawn, the Indian would drive a stake of wood through the center of the Turtle. Often times, it rained instantly. The Indians took it for granted that the process worked & wondered why the “Dumb Ol’ White Eyes” would not use it when they needed the Rain God to appear!

Word of this phenominan [sic] quickly spread throughout the tight knit group of surveyors in the Old West. They quickly picked up on the trick & became apt at performing the simple cerimony [sic].

As they traveled through the West, they came across towns that severely needed rain for their crops & livestock. The surveyors were readily there to make a rain turtle & bring relief to the community…..

The communities, grateful to get the rainfall often offered to pay the surveyors for their precious gift….(which was promptly refused by the surveyors)

When the Survey Party proceeded to move on from the town, often, there had been a collection of baked goods, some money, chickens, things brought to the wagons the surveyors used, by the townspeople in appreciation for the rain.

Today, most surveyors know of the Rain Turtle…. Most of them use it to get a well deserved break in work, caused by the rain…

In my crowded little apartment, I have numerous turtles, most of which were fashioned by Indians. In the weeks to come, I will photograph them and present them in these pages. It will be my own ceremony for rain-making. Maybe it’ll work; maybe it won’t. Doesn’t matter.