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Or So it Seems … Red Sky In The Morning

Mount Lassen as seen from Palo Cedro 1-27-14 Robb Lightfoot photo

Evening red and morning grey
Sends a traveler on his way.

Evening grey and morning red
Rain upon the traveler’s head

-Grandpa’s Weather Forecast

I saw a red-sky at dawn yesterday, and Grandpa was right. It did bring a bit of rain.

It’s about time.

Day after day of cloudless, 70-degree weather was weird and worrisome. But I’m afraid that what we got may be too little, too late.

I’ll admit I’ve had fun this winter teasing my east-coast friends, especially those who once lived in California. They’ve shoveled out of record snowfalls and suffered the sub-zero Polar vortex. I got a taste of this nastiness during a recent visit to Chicago. My family thought I was nuts for vacationing in the land of 18-below, and maybe I was.

I’m still picking salt out of my shoes.

Once home, I recovered and began gleefully sharing photos of trees in bloom, Karin in short-sleeves, and sunny streets full of bicycles. These images let our friends know that we’d returned… and made them wonder why they’d taken up residence in a snow-globe.

I chuckled with every posting—for a while. But then I realized we were in our own little world of hurt—a tinder-dry terrarium called California. My wake-up call came when Governor Brown announced a “drought emergency” just days ago.

Recent reports put the snowpack at about 20 percent of normal—and years of low rainfall have drained our reservoirs. It’s still January, but we’re already seeing wildfires in southern California, and the state is preparing to call up its firefighting crews.

Here in the north we’re in bad shape, too. I’d read about Shasta’s low water-levels. But when news stories cited the lake’s height, volume, or inflow and outflow, the numbers didn’t help me grasp the extent of our problem.

I couldn’t picture just how low “low” is.

So Karin and I decided take a look for ourselves. We hopped on I-5 northbound to Gilman road, and then headed over to the McCloud arm of Shasta Lake.

Our first stop was Hirz Bay.

Karin Lightfoot Photo – Hirz Bay 1-27-14

We looked at the lake bottom, and I cringed, wondering what will be left come August.

Karin took out her camera and snapped some pictures.

“You know,” she said. “It’s still beautiful. I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Doesn’t it scare you?” I asked, feeling a sense of dread.

“Sure. Summer’s going to be bad, and we really need the rain.” She poked me in the ribs. “But since it’s out, we may as well enjoy the sun.”

McCloud River as seen from McCloud Bridge, looking east – Karin Lightfoot Photo

She had a point, so I shook off my gloom and took in the view. We traveled west back to I-5 and ended up on Lower Salt Creek. There, we saw 4-Wheelers romping on the lake bottom.

And then we crossed the creek on an old bridge that’s usually submerged.

That’s when I grasped the magnitude of the crisis. This image tells the story better than words alone, and it’s clear we’re standing in some pretty deep doo-doo, drought-wise.

Back in the car on the way home I began fretting again.

“I had no idea it was so low,” I said.

Karin nodded.

“You know what surprises me,” she said. “Is that things are bad, but we’re not being asked to do anything.”

I thought about this, and she’s right. I’ve not seen a single advertisement, commercial, or announcement urging us to conserve water. When I read about Governor Brown “drought emergency” there was no mention of household water conservation. Apparently, all this declaration has done so far is to allow water to be transferred about with less paperwork.

That’s how you handle an emergency?

I remember the drought of the ‘70s. Back then, the airwaves were full of conservation messages and a full-blown campaign to rouse the public. We were expected to take action. In my family, Grandpa led the charge. He was the neighborhood water-watcher.

I wonder… If he were still here, what would Grandpa be doing about the drought?

In his memory, I offer the following public service announcement as the sort of suggestions he’d make.

Grandpa’s Five-Step Program: “Grody-ness is next to Godly-ness”

  1. Wait to bathe until you’ve worked up a serious sweat—and then take a five-second, cold-water “military shower.” Or better still, just slather on your anti-stink solution. Use Old Spice instead of water … and smell like a Real Man.
  2. Don’t flush your toilet every time. Recite this little ditty: If it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down. And know this: many of the greatest Americans never had indoor plumbing.
  3. Speaking of brown… that’s the appropriate color of your lawn. Adopt the low-maintenance motto: Don’t let it grow and you won’t have to mow.
  4. Refuse water in restaurants and avoid it at home. Consume coffee and cease glass-cleaning completely! Remember: If your coffee’s strong enough, you’ll never need to scrub your mug.
  5. Each year, millions of Loofas are sacrificed for sheer automotive vanity. Stop the madness! Friends don’t let friends wash their cars! Spare the sponge!

That’s pretty much what I remember as the water-wisdom of the ‘70s. Not a solution, but it’s a start. And if you’re up for more, you can do a full 21st century water-audit of your abode.

Modern homes have state-of-the art toilets or systems that use grey-water reclaimed from the laundry. Others have a special flush-handle that whisks away your “number one” with water dispensed from a thimble.

If you own an older home, these improvements can be expensive to add. But for a modest cost you can do what we did—install a low-flow showerhead. Grandpa would love this thing. You can stand directly under it, turn the water on full blast, and STILL not get wet.

Other ideas?

Many kitchens and laundry rooms have high-tech, water-frugal appliances. The savings can be dramatic. But the cost of a front-loading washing machine can knock you on your backside.

So how about some budget-minded solutions?

Try these: use paper plates, eat dinner while standing over the sink, and turn your clothes inside-out so you can wear them a second day.

(Karin won’t let ME do any of these, but bachelor-households take note. It’s for a worthy cause.)

Out in the yard, there’s even more room for conservation. Landscape designers have promoted “zerographic” designs—using native plants that need little or no irrigation.

Once again, here at the Lightfoot household, we’ve spared no effort to conserve water.

Our back yard has zero-landscaping.

Thanks to a carefully-chosen collection of ill-behaved dogs, the sprinkler system is a mangled memory, our fruit tree is dead, and the yard’s pockmarked with holes the size of the Ubehebe Crater.

In conclusion. The drought is real and hard upon us, but there ARE steps you can take. So act now! Start with Grandpa’s five-step program.

You’ll feel pride knowing you’re doing your part, and your neighbors will know, too.

Especially if they’re standing downwind.

Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County. He can be reach at robb@robblightfoot.com.