drought

Exit 149. Everyone and everything tells a story.

I went to Folsom Lake yesterday.  Like many of the lakes in California, Folsom Lake is actually a man-made reservoir.  It was created in 1955 by a dam on the American River in the foothills above Sacramento, just upstream from the city of Folsom and the prison made famous by Johnny Cash right around that same time.  (Historical note: Johnny Cash was never an inmate at Folsom Prison; he wrote the song after watching a documentary about Folsom Prison.  He did, however, perform concerts for inmates at the prison much later.)

A friend who moved away a few years ago is in town this weekend, and she invited some of her Sacramento-area friends to a picnic at the lake.  It was a good day.  When we actually ventured out to the shore of the lake itself, my friend’s dog was fascinated with all the sticks and twigs and branches on the ground.  Not only would she play fetch with them, but she would sometimes pick up a stick just lying on the ground in her mouth and move it somewhere else.  It was funny to watch.

But why were the sticks there in the first place?  The entire shore of the lake was lined with piles of dead wood, and there was driftwood visible floating on the surface of the water as well.  I have been to Folsom Lake twice in 2017 now, to two different parts of the lake, and it was like this in both places.  It has never been like this before in any of the other times in the past that I have been to the lake.

This winter has been very wet by California standards, with lots of rain in the valley and snow in the mountains.  This rain has been much needed, after four extremely dry years and one average year.  The water that collects in Folsom Lake is runoff from the mountains upstream from it, and with so little precipitation, the lake level had been dropping for the last several years.  A few months ago, a series of very wet storms hit California, and the lake filled to capacity.  Water rushed off the hillsides into the three forks of the American River and down into the lake, and these streams of water carried with them years of dead wood piling up on the floor of the drought-stricken forest.  Although the lake is still nearly full, it has begun to empty again since those storms hit, and some of the debris floating on the surface was left beached as the waters receded, like soap scum on the edge of a draining bathtub.

Everyone and everything tells a story.  Even something as mundane as a pile of driftwood has a deeper meaning.  Maybe we would understand each other better and be happier if we were more willing to listen to these stories.

Exit 97. This year I welcome the rain.

It rained hard last night.  It was windy too.  It has been dry so far today, at least since I woke up, but I noticed when I left for church this morning that my garbage cans had been blown over at some point since I had last left the house (which was late afternoon yesterday, to get the mail).  I’ve always told people that I don’t like rain.  I don’t like being outside and having to dodge this wet stuff coming from the sky, and I don’t like the cold, gloomy feeling that comes with gray skies.  Many people say that cold, rainy days are perfect for snuggling indoors with your significant other, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while watching movies.  Yeah… like that’s something I can relate to.  That’s as relatable to me as a billionaire telling me that he loves weekends because he can go wherever he wants in his private jet.  Of course, that’s different, because I love weekends too, but still.

This year feels a little different, though.  California has been in a severe drought for the last several years.  California has very dry summers, so most of the rainfall happens in the winter.  Some communities get their water pumped out of the ground through wells.  The high elevations get large amounts of snow in the winter, and as the snow gradually melts through spring and summer, it flows into rivers, many of which have dams and large reservoirs trapping much of the water.  Over the last few years, the water in the reservoirs has slowly drained as the mountain snowpack has reached its lowest level in centuries, and overpumping of groundwater is causing part of the San Joaquin Valley to sink.  The drying pores in the ground may eventually turn this rich agricultural region into a desert (I have written on a related topic before).

Since last summer, long-term weather forecasters have said that an El Niño weather pattern in the central Pacific has a good chance of bringing a wet winter to California this year.  December and January brought much wetter winters than the last few years have seen, but February was dry, warm, and spring-like.  A spring-like period of a couple weeks in February is fairly common in this part of California, but this year it seemed to last a little longer, bringing the total precipitation and snowpack totals for this year back below average.  Last night was very wet, though, and forecasters are predicting a wet March.

All of this talk of drought has made me appreciate rain much more than I ever did before. I am actually enjoying rain this year.  It’s kind of scary to think about a possible future without enough water.  In previous years, rain in the forecast was a disappointment to me, but this year I welcome the rain.  And I still say that my computer can read my mind… I have my music on shuffle, and this came on as I was writing this.