If you live in California, I recommend reading The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California by Mark Arax.
But be ready to be disheartened as we are reminded that many people still think like the Gold Rush miners. Their focus was on profit, with no regard for the future, especially when it came to equitably managing the limited resource of water.
The Gold Rush
In Gold Rush times, the successful miners relied on industrial-scale hydraulics to tear away mountainsides; the result was some precious metal, along with vast destruction of downstream farms.
The Central Valley
Today, with uncertain rainfall, the farmers and ranchers in the Central Valley drill deeper and deeper for water resulting in subsidence that constitutes “the most dramatic alteration of the earth’s surface in human history,” according to Arax. The ground is sinking dramatically. Farmers in the Central Valley who lack the resources to compete for the underground water are living in “a dust bowl” where crops won’t grow; their homes are full of dust.
Obi Kaufmann has an Answer
With this in mind, I went to hear Obi Kaufmann, the author of the new book The State of Water: Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource.
I was ready to be depressed. Instead Obi Kaufman provided some next steps, including ways to change our thinking. He said that as we prepare for a post-carbon economy, we need to be grounded and connected. He told us, “Go outside. Take off your shoes. Feel the grass in your toes. Drink water. Breathe deep. Eat well. Do this every day.” He wants us to end our “existential alienation from nature.”
This was music to my ears. My passions are hiking and painting outside. I like taking children on nature walks arranged by Wildcare. I also teach children about gardening and natural habitats in programs developed by the Marin Master Gardeners. And I love to tell others about programs and resources that protect our environment.
All is Not Lost
I hope Obi Kaufmann https://coyoteandthunder.com/ is right – that getting grounded and connected will help us all. I know it will make me feel better. When I feel better, I do see that all is not lost.
A few weeks ago, I woke up with a sharp pain down my right leg. The pain, which disappeared in a few days, was sciatica. My girlfriend, who has also suffered from sciatica, has been traveling a lot lately. She’s concerned that she’ll have more aches and pains as she ages, and that it could limit her ability to do the hiking and biking activities she now enjoys on her trips.
I took my friend’s thoughts to heart and decided that now is the time to travel to some of the remaining countries on my bucket list. I’ve already seen quite a bit of Europe, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and Mexico. I’ve visited China, Indonesia, Turkey, Botswana, Zambia, Ecuador and Peru. The two big adventures still on my list are Japan and Argentina. So, now I need to make plans to visit these countries.
I bought the Lonely Planet travel books for Japan and Argentina. My experience is that once I buy a travel book, the dream starts to take shape and eventually manifests as a trip. My second step is to talk to friends and friends of friends about their experiences in the country I plan to visit. Then I begin a Google search to get ideas about tours and pricing.
Some trips require a tour guide. That was true for my travels in Turkey, China and the Galapagos Islands. For some trips it’s helpful to have a local travel agency make hotel and transportation arrangements. For other trips, I find I can make my own arrangements online and with the help of Air BnB.
I love the flexibility and sense of adventure that comes from traveling solo (I find that when traveling on my own I tend to meet more locals). But solo travel can get lonely, and there’s so much to learn from others. Fortunately, in my hiking club there are plenty of travel-lovers. One of my hiking buddies agreed that it would be great to travel to Japan together.
Traveling to Japan
After talking to friends about their experiences and looking at confusing Tokyo subway maps, I was open to getting help from a travel agency. Due to my Google research I had a realistic daily budget and a list of must-see sights. The travel agent will make the travel arrangements, including our city orientation in Tokyo with a local expert. Phew! I’m so glad to have all that handled, even if it costs a bit more.
Now comes the fun. I’ll read all that I can about the cities I’m visiting and Japanese history and culture. I’ll try to learn some basic Japanese phrases with the help of my iPhone and DVDs. I’ll continue to talk to friends about their experiences. In a matter of weeks, I’ll be on my way. My dream will become a reality. Then I can begin new research on Argentina.
Lately friends have been asking me about my philosophy. They want to know if I have a dogma, or if I’m guided by a self-help guru. The answer is I’m a pragmatist. Over the years, through trial and error, I’ve found a path that works for me. It includes having a balanced life, getting unstuck, pursuing fun leisure activities, keeping healthy, fulfilling my life purpose, sticking to my personal guiding principles, and achieving goals.
In my workshops and coaching, I share this “path” with others. And that feels great. So, as Thanksgiving approaches, I want to talk about how grateful I am to have this opportunity to teach and be a coach. It truly is fulfilling to help people who are feeling uncertain about what next steps to take, and then see them leave at peace, knowing how they want life to look and what they need to do to achieve it.
This work, plus so much more, makes me feel that my life is balanced and full. I am thankful for good health which allows me to enjoy hiking, skiing, cycling, sailing, dance, and yoga. I’m thankful for the amazing friends I’ve made while pursuing these activities. I’m grateful that as a Marin Master Gardener, I can volunteer for the Dig It, Grow It, Eat It program that teaches children about gardening and nutritious foods. I’m thankful that I’m able to travel; this year I went to the East Coast and Canada, while next year I’ll visit New Zealand. And I’m grateful for my small family.
I want to wish you a fulfilling Thanksgiving Holiday. If you have time, write down some of the things you are grateful for. Did you know that a 2012 study found that grateful people have fewer aches and pains and report feeling healthier than other people? Spend 10 minutes jotting down a few grateful thoughts before bed, and you may sleep better.
A year after the devastation of the Sonoma County, California fires, friends who have lost their homes and most of their material possessions spoke to me about gratitude – gratitude for the outpouring of gifts and support from both friends and strangers.
It doesn’t erase the pain of the loss, but one friend shared that small events will long be remembered, such as gong to community garage “sales” where you are told to take anything that fits or is useful…maybe a new pair of earrings or a sweater or even a bicycle – for free.
I recently spoke with a Sonoma artist at a local art festival. He lost most of his paintings when his studio burned in the fire. I looked at photos of his lost paintings and then felt exhilarated by his fresh, new paintings. He has worked through the trauma and come out the other side with stunning, gorgeous images.
My friend Annie calls this “getting pruned.” She says it’s like cutting back a rose bush and being rewarded with even more stunning rose blossoms.
This metaphor reminded me that in the 1980’s I lost my home in a mudslide in Sausalito, California. I’m grateful I got out alive and was able to rescue some possessions. I realize now that the loss and trauma was a turning point for me. It forced me to re-evaluate my life and eventually led to a better romantic partnership, and work in coaching and training that was more aligned with my values.
In fact, one couple I know announced their engagement shortly after she lost her home in one of the fires. Maybe they would have announced it at that time anyway, but experience tells me that after facing the possibility of losing your life, some decisions become very clear.
Another friend told me that when the fire destroyed her home, she decided to move closer to San Francisco where most of the family works. The shorter commute has resulted in greater family togetherness, which she loves.
I certainly don’t want to minimize the pain and trauma of major loses; however, as we remember the fires, it’s good to recognize that sometimes life calls for us to reinvent ourselves…and that can be a good thing.