This morning I planted five morning glory seedlings under the old cat ladder, a rickety wooden ladder to nowhere that makes a perfect trellis for morning glories. I had them there a few years ago and we hoped they’d reseed but they didn’t. Then I planted three nasturtium seedlings that were crying to escape the confines of their plastic tray. We’d had an hour of broken sun, and in this unusually rainy, cool May it felt great to get a few of these starts in the ground, even though it’s not a biodynamic flower day until tomorrow. I just couldn’t wait. Five flats of tender seedlings, flowers and fruits, sat on the metal patio table catching what rays they could.
The dark sky gathering in the south moved quickly toward us and I felt the first drops of rain. Good, I thought, a rain will do them good. As long as it doesn’t hail. No sooner had the thought escaped my lips than I heard ping! on the table. Ping! ping! I scrambled to prop the screen door open and dashed in and out bringing the trays to safety. Darnit. We’re definitely going to have a short growing season this year, at least on this end of it.
At least there’s plenty of water. So much water the fields are emerald green even before the irrigation’s turned on, luminous green below dark storm skies with just a shaft of sunlight streaming through. So much water weeds and bad grasses grow to seed faster than I can find enough dry hours to mow them. So much water the news stations warn of fungus marring lawns. So much water the irises have grown fifty percent taller than ever before, holding close their burgeoning buds day after day, sucking in all the moisture they may; surely they will burst open today!
“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” A break in the main line from the Fruitland Mesa water treatment plant left us all conserving what we had in our cisterns over the weekend. No laundry, no dishes, no showers, no flushing, until we knew how long it would last. Just enough to drink and serve the animals, water plants that needed it most, and wash hands. It was ironic to wake up Sunday morning to emergency water measures, because Saturday I met the first California water refugees to arrive in our valley.
I work some days in town at the Church of Art. A family came in to look around. The young man struck up a conversation. The parents were visiting. “We just moved here,” he said. “We bought a farm outside of town. We left California because there’s no more water. We decided to move further up the watershed.”
In the harsh clarity of his statement the future flashed before my eyes. Further up the watershed. More people will be coming here from California, not this time because of land prices or urban sprawl or a back to the land movement, or even to grow legal pot, but because California’s running out of water. They’ll move further up the watershed. These young farmers have moved about as far up the Colorado River watershed as they can and still have any growing season for their carrots, beets, hops.
The first of these water refugees arrived innocuously enough, and seem like good people to add to our side on the fight against fracking that rumbles like a threatening undercurrent through all we do these days. As we talked about his plans for an organic farm, I made sure to mention our two conservation watchdog groups, Citizens for a Healthy Community and The Conservation Center. “You must be sure to join them,” I told him, “they’re our best defense of the watershed.”
For what good is moving further up the watershed if the source gets poisoned by hydraulic fracturing or wastewater injection? Among numerous deleterious consequences of “alternative” petroleum extraction methods such as fracking, watershed contamination ranks among the most alarming. There is no doubt it is happening, and there is no doubt the industry pulls out all the stops to deny it is happening in a shameful and intense propaganda campaign.
The California water refugees brought to mind the thousands of refugees from Africa and Myanmar struggling and dying on the Mediterranean and Andaman Seas, adrift on tons of water they can’t drink. A spectrum of refugees began to take shape in my mind. I didn’t have much time to ponder or pray over that dreadful crisis because more visitors arrived, this time a couple from the Front Range, who plan to retire to their land in this valley in a few years. Another sort of refugee, on the milder end of the spectrum. She’d lost her beehive this year also, and we commiserated about our feelings of guilt and inadequacy. “But,” I reassured her rather grimly, “it’s not your fault. Nationwide, 42% of beehives died this year. The bee crisis is worse than anyone thought.”
Then I said, because it was on my mind, and I think the two issues are connected at a fundamental level, and because they’re planning to move here to enjoy a quality of life that they see here now, “I hope you’re joining the fight against fracking.”
“Oh,” she said, and looked away. “If you want it to be like this when you get here,” I added. Her husband came from the gift shop and they moved silently toward the exit. “Thanks for stopping by,” I said. “Please come again.”