A Desert Like a River


California is in an epic drought - record-breaking and nerve-wracking.  I’m new to this town so I don’t have a pre-drought comparison, but it’s hardly necessary to recognize the severity of the situation.  What few bodies of water do exist in the city - namely the LA River, and the Silverlake Reservoir - are eerily low.  Growing yards of cracked and sun-dried concrete line the borders of each.  The LA River, which for much of it’s distance is, in fact, a concrete gutter, looks low - even for a river that is, in fact, a concrete gutter. Midwesterners, you know the LA River from the great car scenes in Grease and Terminator 2… 

I, of course, know Rivers to be something very, very different than this.  And yet, you’d think that someone who lived aboard a boat on one of the world’s largest Rivers, in a state with over 10,000 lakes, would feel the absence of water more than most.  That this dry landscape and mandatory rationing would feel particularly alien to me.

Odd, that the opposite is true.  Other than the obvious - where there was water, there is now no water - the differences are actually very few.  The every-moving flow of the River has been replaced by a much wider and more rapidly-moving body of people.  The highways even look like Rivers the way they roll and weave around the tall palms.  And like a River, The City exists in a dichotomy of personified love ‘LA Welcomes you!’, and object alienation ‘LA is just a bunch of zip codes that start with 9’.


The fact is, The City and The River have more in common than their opposite relation to water could override.  They are both a massive thing.  A powerful thing.  A beautiful thing.  Something that I feel simultaneously drawn to and rejected by; embraced and neglected.  With neither, is it fair or right to expect her to change for you.  If you roll into her depths unprepared and without respect; you can get similarly rolled and shattered.  Shattered, specifically, like a River shatters - slowly at first, no more than 6 miles an hour.  But make no mistake, she’s pushing you into something destructive.  A dam, maybe; or a dead-end job. 

The City’s ambivalence to me is, likewise, unmissable.  Like the River, I have been ‘permitted’ to some extent to take up occupancy there, but to mistake this as a promise of safety or continuous welcome is unfair and naive.  

The only thing I’ve actually got over this city - my ace and what I did better than most before I even arrived - is ration water. 

Because on the River, our water was delivered on an (inadequate) schedule for five months out of the year; and because 5 of those 9 winters I had frozen pipes to boot - I am a pro at what Californians are just starting to google. 

On the Mississippi, we collected our grey water from doing dishes and used it to flush the toilet.  We showered like marines, we DID NOT let water run while we waiting for it to warm - and if we did, we certainly DID NOT let it run unused down the drain!  Every drop was collected and reused. 

That is… until Spring when we (wait for it) didn’t need to ration anymore.  So we didn’t.


Silverlake Reservoir - 2015

Necessity is not just the Mother of invention.  It is the Mother, Father, and delivery room doctor (or midwife, lets be cool) of invention.  We do naught without need.  Trouble is, need is interpretable.  Utterly interpretable.  

And if you disagree, than you never knew of anyone who has foregone food, clothing, and shelter for the ‘necessity’ of love… or heroine… which I hear feel awfully similar. 

But because need is interpretable, it makes it political and even my internal pundits disagree.  The Indignant Liberal, especially the one who knows a thing or two about water conservation herself, (thank you very much, Wolf) scoffs at the obvious cause of the drought.  Dumb wasters.  Those arrogant, entitled, yard-owning, golf-playing, Beverly-Hills-Living gluttons who refuse to sacrifice even a smidgen to spare the rest of us an unimaginable burden.  

But then there’s The Cynic.  Surely this is overblown and there will be a solution in time. It will be moderately costly, moderately inconvenient, totally unavoidable - and will transpire over such an agonizingly slow, bureaucratically-burdened period of time that it will not be a shock to anyone’s system… Also probably won’t do any actual good.  Because the truth is there’s just not enough water for everybody and we’re fucked.


Folsom Lake, just north of Sacramento, California

And then there is the third voice - The Artist and eternal optimist - who has this bizarre (and to be fair, totally unsubstantiated) belief in the goodness of people and the inherent rightness of the universe.  It’s true that shitty people will be shitty - even in shitty times when everyone is getting shit on… But they never, ever win.

For every asshole who vows to die before they will abandon their all-sod, all-green, dog-killing pesticide-laden, eye-sore-of-a-yard; there are a dozen people doing it differently.  

…and another half-dozen who want to think they’re part of the solution while in reality they are just not-shaving and guzzling almond milk in an ignorance-paired-with-privilege that is as destructive as the anti-vaxxers’.

But so as not to end on a sour note - let’s hold on to those dozen people who are doing it differently.  The ones making rain barrels and swapping out their roses for cactuses.  If you’re not one of them, at least stop rolling your eyes at them and save your shame for the ones who deserve it.  

Also probably past due to collectively look at the situation and see the trauma that’s there - even if it isn’t in our neighborhood… yet. 


Lake Oroville - 2011 versus 2014





  dawnbrodey@gmail.com  © Dawn Brodey 2012