As the rain and wind rattled the windows, we sat warm and cozy and watched Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, a bittersweet story of a young Bhutanese man who yearns to go to Australia to sing. He is unhappy with his government assignment teaching in the city. His superior’s response to his complaint is to send him off to teach in one of the most isolated villages in his country, perhaps in the world. Initially miserable, he soon realizes what a gift he has been given. He falls in love with the children, and the village. He is welcomed and respected. Not something he had felt before. He learns a special song from the yak herders. Then his visa for Australia comes through. He goes somewhat reluctantly and realizes, too late, what an error in judgment that was.
Like the young man, we in California have yearned for something out of reach. We thought a lot of rain would make everything better. We have been praying for rain, doing rain dances, keeping our fingers crossed, and conserving water for years. Though the forecasters predicted a La Nina (drier) winter for us this year, that is not what Mother Nature had in mind. The state has been inundated by an atmospheric river, leaving some of us literally afloat. A trail of devastation runs from the Oregon border to Mexico, and from the coast inland.
From roof leaks to mudslides and sinkholes, Los Angeles is a mess. In our home, one leak was fortuitously over the tub and there is a cookie sheet on the credenza to catch the drips from the other. A woman and her fourteen-year-old daughter were rescued from a fifteen foot—and growing—sink hole. It swallowed her car whole and then a truck fell in on top of it. The rescuers risked their lives to save them. A friend has a “new lake” and a rushing creek where once there was a trickle near her home. Trees are down, mud and debris have filled some streets, freeways are closed, homes lost, and a five-year-old was swept to his death in the rushing water.
Considering that California has been in a multi-year drought (again) one would think these recent storms might end this cycle. Not so fast. While it will help, we are a long way from the end. The snowpack is good now, but last year we had a good snowpack and ten inches of rain early in the season and then, nothing.
We have toyed with Mother Nature over the years. We cemented her river and dammed up other places. We keep trying to “protect” homes, instead of encouraging people to live away from low-lying areas. Now, the dams and levees across California are in poor shape and the inevitable flooding will be catastrophic.
Thanks to the work of TreePeople, a local environmental organization, and some government interventions, people are conserving more. Ways to save the runoff have been implemented, at least on a small scale. However, we still watch the Los Angeles River carry thousands of gallons of water right out to the ocean. Before we cemented the river, it was a way for the natural aquifers to be replenished.
We cannot stop Mother Nature. We have tried that with our cement river and levees. What we need to do is learn to work with her. Conservation is essential. Use less and plan better. In order to protect our lives, our homes and our planet, we must deepen our respect for the natural world. We do not want to be like the Bhutanese teacher who realizes too late the preciousness of what he had.