When we fail, are we really learning to win?
And other thoughts on empty rain barrels
I’m kind of a hoarder. So when a handyman accidentally sliced the wires off my sprinkler system, and I decided to finally start using the water in our rain barrels, it was a big step for me. I wasn’t jazzed about tapping into my water reserves. But I thought I would slowly work through the half-full barrels to quench my garden’s thirst until I could create the grey water system I coveted. Ot at least until I could find someone to help me construct a good drip irrigation system.
But when I went to the barrel to fill the watering can, I broke the plastic spout. Water gushed out of the bottom of the barrel. I reached out my hands to catch it, feeling my own water reserves begin to well in my eyes. Liquid leaked through my fingers and into the cracks between the pavers. “Help!” I whimpered, hating how helpless I felt.
After more hollering, Eddie arrived with a wrench. But he could only slow the flow, not halt it.
As he worked at tightening the broken spout, I tried extracting as much of the remaining water as I could to fill our other barrel. Waiting for the liquid to trickle into my watering can, I remembered how distraught I’d been when Kai was a baby. You see, he barfed all the time, and when I expressed my anxiety about it, my friend’s dad (who was a doctor) told me that no matter how much barf it looked like, it really wasn’t as much as I thought. He told me a tablespoon of spilled water could wet a shirt. “Don’t worry,” he said, “it feels like a lot, but it’s not as bad as it seems.” Now, looking at all that spilled water, I couldn’t help but try to calculate all that lost water (it looked like it could have filled a hot tub). I berated myself for how many times I’d left the water running in the sink, or how I’d left the shower heating up for longer than necessary. I hadn’t even respected water enough to covet it, instead I expected it to function in the same way I expected my thumb to grip a pen.
But California is once again in a drought. And we’re not the only ones. 1.5 billion people worldwide have been affected by drought this century and that number is growing. I’m not saying this to freak you out, but instead to get us to think about where our water comes from, how we contribute, and also what’s being done to help drought-prone places stay hydrated. It’s when we lose something dear to us that we begin to appreciate it.
The planet’s water situation is not a lost cause
On a larger scale level, there are plenty of smart people taking action. I mean, scientists made it rain in the Middle East!
In California, communities like Fort Bragg and Carlsbad are investing in desalinization plants to extract drinking water from the Pacific.
Other places, like Orange County, have created a very high tech water recycling program. The OC is also harvesting and purifying stormwater from rivers and lakes. In addition, water rights groups are campaigning to enact policies to ensure everyone has access to water, even in drought-ridden communities.
And, as science journalist Erica Gies says, “There’s a whole movement for us to start listening to experts in hydrology, restoration ecology, engineering, and urban planning to transform our relationship with water.”
So what can we do?
Though I managed to save some of the water rushing from my rain barrels, I realized that one mistake can shatter the illusion that I even have reserves. This snafu opened my eyes to what Erica has been writing about for years—water is not some magical element that will always be within reach because we need it to survive. Like all things we love, we cannot take it for granted. Instead, we can take care of it and make sure we are doing what we can in small ways.
Gies adds, “Water’s true nature is to flex with the rhythms of the earth: the slow phases absorb floods, store water for droughts, and feed natural systems. Figuring out what water wants—and accommodating its desires within our human landscapes—is now a crucial survival strategy. By putting these new approaches to the test, innovators in the Slow Water movement are reshaping the future.”
Unfortunately, as one person, there’s not a ton we can do as individuals. But that doesn’t mean we have to throw up our hands. I’m sure many of you are already taking shorter showers; maybe you’re capturing excess grey water from dishwashing, laundry, and showers to water your plants; maybe you’ve invested in drought-tolerant gardens, or removed thirsty grasses from your lawns. If you’re reading this you already make water wise voting choices.
Gies suggests that we can support education for women in developing countries, and their access to birth control (and in the US!), and we must support friends who choose not to have kids or to have 1 kid.
Gies also suggests that another thing we can do is “support slow water projects in our communities. That means restoring wetlands, floodplains, and forests that help to heal the water cycle and also slow flood waters and move water underground for later use in dry spells.”
This week’s action
This week’s action might not be super easy, but it’s something you can get the kids in your life involved in as well and help us move forward to make a plan for 2022 actions. Trace the route of your water source. Where does it originate? Where does it travel to get to you? How does it get to your house? What forests and wetlands depend on this water?
If you can, plan a low-emissions journey to trace this route to learn what places we must also protect. For example, when I did this, I realized that some of the water I use comes from Colorado, a place I didn’t think I needed to steward. But now, I realize that I must be invested in their political showdowns, their environmental policy choices, and their climate solutions as well.
Once you know the route your water takes to reach you, once you have done your part at home, you will then know the true reach of your water footprint. And with that knowledge, you might find inspiration to act.
A note about those barrels
Who would have thought that breaking my water barrels would lead me on a journey to learn about how my water gets to my tap? Today, both of my water barrels are still leaking, and even though it rained last week, they are now almost empty. To catch the water dripping from the barrels, I put a couple bowls under the tap. Yesterday, I went outside and saw a family of birds taking turns drinking from the bowl. Little acts can nourish more than ourselves. Don’t ignore your role as a steward to the land you call home. And don’t ignore the small efforts we can all do to make big impacts.
What I’m reading
Friends, I am reading some great books this month. I’ve been savoring The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry, hoping that well never runs dry. Also I’ve been listening to Tom Hanks read The Dutch House—I highly recommend this audiobook. And I am loving Maggie Shipstead’s The Great Circle, which tells the story about working against the odds to be the person you always hoped you’d be—kinda like us, right.
What are you reading?
Oh, and check out my interview with Bree Shirvell.
Until next month, please make sure to do something nice for yourself every day.