goingplaceslivinglife

Travel, Food, and Slices of Life


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Thirsty?

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.                                                                                                                                                                                  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Have you begun to notice that we have a problem with water?  Or several, actually.

First, there is shortage. California, for example, is in the third year of a drought and reservoirs are drawn to lows never seen since the days they were first being filled. lake shastaaThis photo, taken by Graham while I was driving on I-5 in northern California, shows how that the water level in Shasta Lake is about 50 feet below normal. The local tourism newspaper is trying to put a good spin on it saying that fishing is great since the fish are all concentrated in the areas of deep pools. In reality, this is a sign of bad trouble.

Agricultural production in California provides nearly half of all fruits, vegetables and nuts consumed in the United States. This year farmers are finding the reservoirs are unreliable so much of the water is coming from underlying aquifers.  UC Davis, the premier agricultural college in the state, warns that continued use of the aquifers means it will be dry within 2 years.

No water……for much of California.  The results of that are going to be horrible.Folsam damElsewhere, like Charleston, West Virginia, throughout much of the states that have fracking, and other areas where industrial dumping occurs, ground water and surface water is becoming more and more polluted with hazardous effects on health.  In West Virginia the dump may have been accidental but as soon as the corporation declared bankruptcy and reorganized with the expedited assistance of the court system, the collusion of the people in power was shown. There seems to be little concern about safety of our water. I wonder what the people in power are thinking; do they think they are immune?WV water

Hydraulic fracturing to drill for natural gas occurs in many states and although the mining companies have always assured people that there is no danger, many environmental changes have occurred in those areas since the operations began.  Besides the increased earthquakes throughout Oklahoma, the chief concern is ground water pollution as well as surface water pollution. The EPA has been conducting a study with results expected this year but many other organizations have documented the substantial decline in safe drinking water in those areas.  In addition, many of the areas where companies have enticed landowners for fracking leases are agricultural, which means pollution effects on animals and crops are also beginning to be identified. That means the food you purchase to eat, even if it is organic, could be affected if it originates close to a well.Fracking Farmland 615px

If you shrug this off, thinking you are not affected since you don’t live in these areas, you need to think again. Perhaps you don’t cook so you don’t purchase fresh produce. Perhaps you don’t eat almonds or walnuts or other nuts. Or perhaps you just don’t do the grocery shopping. Prices in supermarkets around the country are showing higher prices for fruit, vegetable and nuts because of the long term drought in California.

Please recall one fact you probably learned in school. Over 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water, with 90% of that in the oceans. All water that flows over the land ends up in the ocean. All aquifers have some connection as well.  If you use well water, you are pulling from an aquifer. When you water your lawn, when you take a shower, that water goes into the ground via a septic system or it enters the sewage treatment system and therefore flows back out into a stream or river.   As waters mix with contaminants, it gets polluted.

 

ground water polutionThink you can manage by using bottled water? Did you know that no one checked the quality of the water in those bottles so it actually may be more polluted than your tap water. I won;t even talk about the wasteful use of the plastic bottles right now.

waTERThe bottom line: there are many countries in other parts of the world, places we consider Third World, who have long been suffering from a shortage of safe drinking water. The United States is rapidly falling into their level. Some areas of the nation have 5-30% of the people receiving polluted water through their public water supply.

Thirsty?

 

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Time Off

Thanks to my sister Laura giving me a special gift to celebrate 60 years, Graham and I enjoyed a brunch cruise on the Willamette River in Portland.We’d been on a dinner cruise a few years ago on the Ohio River out of Huntington, West Virginia with our friends Deb and Milt Hankins, so I sort of expected something similar.Willametterivermap

Not being super familiar with Portland yet we drove in early to give ourselves plenty of time to find parking (2 blocks away for $5)  and maneuver around the Rose Festival which had the riverfront area blocked off for concerts and rides and other fun fair activities.DSC_0058

We made it to the dock in time to chat with the captain who, while chomping down a commercial donut, told us how terrific the food is. (And it was pretty good!)  Missed that donut photo for you, though!DSC_0005

DSC_0002DSC_0035aThe cruise headed upriver, which is south from downtown Portland. The gray overcast cleared and we ended up with beautiful blue skies.  Activity on the river shows how much people enjoy having this playground. DSC_0002a

Development along a riverfront can tell you something about the way a City considered its access to a natural resource. While we did see one industrial business, it is only fair to tell you that most of the commercial and industrial development in Portland is along the Columbia River, not the Willamette.This has left the shorelines free for recreational and residential development for much of what we passed.OMSI (Science Museum) includes a submarine built after WWII

OMSI (Science Museum) includes a submarine built after WWII

I particularly enjoyed the floating houses.

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And of course there were plenty of mansions.

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As we returned downstream the number of bridges became apparent, from the aged Sellwood Bridge which is past time getting replacedAll bridges are given a safety rating from 1 to 100. The Sellwood Bridge rating is a 2. Would you drive across it?

All bridges are given a safety rating from 1 to 100. The Sellwood Bridge rating is a 2. Would you drive across it?

to the new Portland-Milwaukie light rail bridge which will provide a river crossing for mass transit, bicycles and pedestrians, but not automobiles.dsc_0014

We caused one lift bridge to disrupt traffic,but turned back south(upriver) before the next one.DSC_0052

Both Graham and I noticed some downtown construction features-a rooftop tree planted plaza and solar arrays over one roof.DSC_0064aDSC_0064  There are a lot of things about Portland that are truly admirable! The respect for the natural resource of the Willamette River that flows through the City is one great example.

 

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Walk on the Beach

I think my posts about India are about done and I will be moving on to other topics now so I thought sharing some photos taken a couple of days ago when my sister Laura, my son Sam and I walked on a beach south of Newport, Oregon might be a nice switch.

Sam wanted to take a selfie of the two of us on his phone.

Sam wanted to take a selfie of the two of us on his phone. Laura caught us with my camera.

Laura got into the spirit of hamming it up.

Laura got into the spirit of hamming it up.

A friend of mine takes wonderful photos of waves and birds and other natural things. She lives further south in Oregon and heads to a nearby beach regularly for her shots. I visited her a couple of months ago and she showed me how she captures and then edits her photos and I try to replicate the process but still have a ways to go. Check out her blog to appreciate how her skill is so much better.DSC_0043

The seagulls were enjoying some peace and quiet

DSC_0100until Sam started to chase them

DSC_0099DSC_0025DSC_0027The Pacific Ocean in Oregon does not usually attract a lot of swimmers, even in the heat of summer, because the water is typically cooler than the Atlantic, which enjoys the benefit of the Gulf Stream. Still, I had to put my feet in and they acclimated quickly.  The patterns of the shallow water over the sand caught my eye.DSC_0011

Sam needed to climb, even though he was only wearing flipflops. He is a boy, after all.DSC_0073

 

The tide was really low, the lowest Laura had ever seen in all her walks on this beach. A lot more was uncovered than she usually sees.

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So, an hour walking the beach, we headed to our favorite restaurant in Newport, Local Ocean, and then visited the resident sea lions basking on the old docks.

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I live in a beautiful state where the Coast is only one of the many wonderful ecosystems available to explore.

 

 

 


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Crisis Brewing

Throughout our trip to India I heard again and again about the shortage of water. We were told not to drink the tap water even in the Western hotels.  The water was safe, we were told, but the pipes were decaying and the water contained all kinds of “minerals” that would be unhealthy. In other words, the infrastructure of even the modernized areas of the large cities is getting old.

Water cisterns on top of buildings get regular deliveries of trucked in water.rooftop water The city of Fatephur Sikri where the new center of government had to be abandoned after only ten years because of the lack of water gets its water trucked in.DSCF6281 Water tables are falling, making farming resort back to dry methods; the Green Revolution was not the answer to feed the nation because of the lack of available water.DSCF6547

Election-2014-Card-6Meanwhile, the elections for the new government are now over and we wait for the count.  The nation is clamoring for a change, hoping replacing the longtime Ghandi leadership will result in wonderful improvements.

obama chnageI think back to our own experience when Barack Obama offered the concept of change and won handily.  We were all so hopeful, and look what has been happening here in our own country over the past six years. We seem to be more divisive, more argumentative, more angry over everything.

There was a sense of calm in India. It could be as a short time visitor I was insulated and did not truly understand any unrest I may have witnessed, but I got the impression that the religious practices there give the people a feeling about life that is different than what we have. With the Hindu and Buddhist concepts of reincarnation, there is a surety that this lifetime is only one of many.  Perhaps this provides a sense of calm facing what we would consider considerable frustration.Unity-in-Diversity

My visit to the Muslim family in Agra also provided some insight.  As we left and headed back to the market area I asked our guides where that family was in the spectrum of lower and middle class. For sure it would be poverty here in the US. He said it was lower middle class. I’ve reconsidered all I saw in their home that day. Despite the lack of personal space, no television or computer or other toys typically found in our homes, the tiny kitchen space, they appeared to be clean, well fed and all had places to sleep.  The fact that an extended family was living together in what we would consider a small space is a cultural difference not really related to economic status.DSCF6148

We Americans are used to so much more. Out attachment to television and movies shows us products and lifestyles of the rich and famous, causing us to want more, to expect more, to demand more.  We want what we want and we want it now. Deferred gratification is something that has been forgotten.

DSCF6072Perhaps the Indians know better that to acquire more they must work. Because they do work. Oh sure, we saw some people with their hands out. But we saw more, many many more people hawking their wares. Annoying bunch of people. But they were working. So were the people who were sweeping the pavement. The people cutting the grass. All the many many people doing what we consider menial labor so they could earn a living.

So, I started writing this blog thinking that if the new Indian government does not make some improvements there will be trouble. Particularly, I am concerned about water shortages in India.

But now, as I wind this short essay down, I am more concerned about us here in the US. We have so much and we do not know how to live with less. And yet, that day is coming. We all feel it.


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We Want to Fix It

I don’t know about you but it seems we Americans feel superior to just about everyone else and act like we know the “right” way to do things.  And we get ourselves deep into trouble with that attitude much of the time.

On the trip to India there were several things I noticed that jumped right out at me and my first thought was “Why do they do that?” followed by “If only they did what we do” and that was followed by “There must be a reason I don’t understand.” I moved in the right direction I think.

 

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First thing was on the bus ride from Delhi to Agra. It had rained lightly that morning and Arvind pointed out to all of us that the wheat was being harvested and it was a very bad time for rain, as it could cause it to mold. Over the course of the week we saw other fields in various stages of harvesting. I have no idea how this crop yield was compared to past years but I did ask a lot of questions about rain and irrigation and why this and why that. Arvind didn’t know, but I asked a local farmer who happens to be from Delhi since I’ve been back in Oregon and got some answers.

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This photo is actually of grass being trimmed at the Taj Mahal but it appeared that the wheat was being harvested the same way-just too far from the highway to get this good a photo.

In West Virginia and in Oregon I have seen a number of plastic collection barrels connected to building downspouts, the better to collect rainwater and save it for use later during dry months. India has long had an agricultural economy and about 75% of its rainfall occurs during the monsoon season.  Typically expected from June to September, the area where I traveled can experience about 20-40 inches of rain in that time.  I wondered why some water was not captured for use in other seasons when the dry weather limits crop production.

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Narenda Varma of Our Table in Sherwood, Oregon told me:

Traditionally, most of the farms in that area would have been dry-land farming.  However, in recent decades (since the so called “green revolution” was implemented in many parts of the world), much of the agriculture has moved to high-yield varieties that are not suited to dry-land farming and require a lot of irrigation. Part of the green revolution implementation involved the government convincing farmers to switch to the new varieties and provided funding for the installation of wells as well as subsidized diesel to run the pumps. The result has been a disaster because the new varieties require a lot of fertilizer and water both of which have contributed to massive salination and destruction of the soil as well as precipitously falling water tables. 

As for rain-water harvesting, it is generally impractical to store water at the scale needed for commercial agriculture in a climate like India (or Oregon) where we have concentrated periods of heavy rain followed by almost drought-like conditions. Storage in tanks or ponds is very expensive and requires a lot of land which most small land-holders don’t have. The best solution would be to increase the water-storage capacity of the soil by having high organic matter content in the soil but the green revolution varieties have resulted in the exact opposite result so the soil doesn’t hold water as well as it used to (or could) thereby exacerbating the problem.  It’s a complex issue but one that is depressingly familiar to agriculture all over the world in the last 50+ years.

Thank you Narenda for helping to clarify that. One more example of why one size does not fit all.

The water issue is complex in India…more on that later in another blog.

Another issue that was hard to understand was the amount of trash everywhere.  It appears that trash disposal is handled in two ways: 1. There are vacant lots which are considered to be dumps and anything can be thrown there and 2. Anything can be thrown into gutters or any moving body of water.DSCF6450

What this means is there is trash almost everywhere. Oh sure, not in the nice areas of Delhi near the government center and monuments.  Not at the World Heritage sites and other places where tourists go. But just outside, fair game.

As we drove between cities I missed several photo opportunities that have stuck in my mind. One was a dry riverbed, littered with debris. The other was a huge dump, close to the highway, piles reaching up 20-30 feet in the air. And the rest of the town was clean. That town was making an effort.DSCF6537

It appears from reading other comments on the Internet that if a city has a municipal waste collection system it does not resemble anything we are used to here in the US. We are, once again, spoiled in the regard that we put our trash or recycling bins out at the curb once a week or so and a truck comes by and removes the offending debris. It is then whisked away to some dump that is screened from our view, with rules to control vermin and protect ground water from pollution.

On the bus, we almost all expressed an immediate dismayed response to the trash we saw. But, as I mentioned above, we also had our “ah-ha” moment when we realized that we have no right to expect to impose our standard on the people of India.  While we can recognize that they are living in environments that would make us uncomfortable, there is a lot more information to learn before we can understand why their system is not cleaner.  We have to recognize we just do not know all we need to know to judge.


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Dry Land

Having grown up in the Northeast, the only time I lived in a climate that was significantly different was half a year in Pueblo, Colorado. I am used to a climate that has cold winters, hot summers and about 40 inches of rain a year, pretty evenly spaced throughout all four seasons.h2a_climate_zone_map

I’m now in the Willamette Valley in Oregon which has a similar climate except the rain tends to take place mostly in the winter.

Driving west across the United States this past week has reminded me how much of the central part of the nation has a lot less rain. The trees disappeared in eastern Kansas, reappeared along the eastern part of the Rockies west of Denver, and then faded away again. Eastern Oregon right is high desert and there are no large tracts of trees here now. I did learn that junipers were harvested…and then found not to be a commercial wood. But the trees which had taken hundreds of years to grow were gone, and there are no new trees now.

Sure, planted trees grow. I’m not talking about the classic windbreaks planted around homesteads on the prairie. I’m talking about natural forests.  They are an indication of ground water. In much of the central portion of the country, the only places you see natural tall vegetation (besides the timothy grass) is along water courses.DSC_0050

But there is farming everywhere. Amazing to see patches of green in the middle of the high desert where the natural vegetation is sagebrush and tumbleweed.  What makes that possible is irrigation.DSC_0021

Everywhere from Illinois west, we have seen long metal contraptions sprinkling water.  We’ve seen irrigation taking place over green fields and over fallow fields.DSC_0244

Canals to bring water to fields started showing up west of the Rockies. When we got off the Interstate highway in Oregon and started driving back roads the canal systems were easier to see.DSC_0038

It surprises me that so much spray irrigation and open canal irrigation is in use instead of drip irrigation. I suspect there is a lot I don’t know, but loss to evaporation has to result in water loss that is open to the air.