Friday, April 3, 2015


This morning I got up and turned on
the kitchen water to make coffee --
no water.
No warning.

I'm sure this is only a shot across the bow.

Sunday morning I woke up pleased to remember that I’d done an inventory of my pantry and found an extra pound or so of coffee. Since money is short this month, I thought I might be in for a week of tea drinking -- not that I mind that much. But when I got up, the situation was as above. Luckily, there was still enough water in the teakettle to make my cuppa.

Wilbur Wood, whom I met at an environmental writing conference in the Bitterroot in 1990, often does his email very late at night and, since I crash early, his are often the first messages I read in the morning at 5AM. I had sent him the lines at the top as an ordinary email message in response to his concerns about coal plants being considered down where he is -- they are dependent on a major water supply which doesn’t exist there. He’s the one who made simple remarks into a portentous message that we share. This is my reply to him:

My neighbor (who died of cancer a few years after I moved back here) claimed that more water from our town system was going into the ground from breaks in the line than was going into the homes. I went off to Cut Bank to do a bit of shopping and passed the guys out there with the backhoe, digging to find and fix the break in the line. Took them until late afternoon. This is why there's no point in paving the streets!

In Cut Bank I bought one of those big demijohns of water. There were three choices: water from the ordinary tap there in Cut Bank ($3), water "purified" by Culligan ($4), and water from Giant Springs ($5). No way to tell whether there were really any differences among them.

Yesterday I downloaded the directions for a solar cooker. The same website had the directions for "pasteurizing" found water, using a pop can inside of one of those big plastic pop jugs. They were intended for Africa or India, but I'll make sure to file the directions where I can find them. I'll make the cooker as soon as I can find the key element: one of those plastic oven bags for cooking turkeys: that's what the sun shines through into a foil-lined box. They don't recommend a fancy parabolic model -- too easy to burn your own eyes!

If the trends keep up in the same direction, I will have to give up either water, the sewer, electricity, or gas. It's much harder to give up food when one is diabetic. Fasting makes one's blood sugar go up! Strange, but I've tested it and it's true. (Because one's body turns fat into sugar.) One begins to eat oneself.

Actually, the only thing I can give up logically is the telephone and Internet. But they are my interface with the world. I could still get on the Internet at the library but I don’t know of one pay phone in this town. Neither is there dependable cell phone service.

One of the scariest world trends I know of (much intensified by reading “Oryx and Crake,”) is the privatization of water. I had remarked to friends here that I was tempted to go “off the water and sewer system.” At $60 a month, I could probably afford to buy an electrical waste disposal that zaps feces to ash, and I would just dip water from the lake. They pointed out to me that the lake is privately owned by the irrigation company -- I would have to buy it from them.

If they begin to charge for the recreational uses (fishing and boating), that will be the end of the little campground that Valier fantasizes will eventually make them rich. The little campground that was just plumbed for water at the town’s expense and planted with trees watered via an underground drip system also installed by town workers at town expense. (City water, expensively treated, not lake water from twenty feet away.) I drove around the loop a few days ago and counted ten trailers there. Might be about 25% occupancy.

One idea for how to reform the Valier water supply (dig better wells, lay new pipe, install meters instead of charging a flat fee to everyone) is to sell it to a private company who would run it for profit. This argument worked just swell when it was applied to Montana Power Co. (For those who don’t know, I’m being sarcastic. MPC was destroyed and we’ve gone from paying the lowest rates to paying the highest rates.)

The radio the other day told about the rising pollution of the ocean -- not a small lake like our Lake Francis -- but the Pacific Ocean, one-fourth or one-third of the earth’s surface. There are huge “dead” zones twice the size of Texas where no complex lifeforms can exist and “garbage gyres” where styrofoam and plastic trash circulate endlessly since they don’t disintegrate.

The message is that life for humans on this planet is becoming increasingly dependent on individual prosperity. If one is old, weak, troublesome, ill, or simply not like everyone else, one had better inherit money. Otherwise, you will end up living in a cardboard box with no amenities. I’m not exaggerating as much as you might think if you live in the US or Canada. In Africa or India you might think I have a firm grasp on the obvious. They would say, “Well, of course! This is why people are so intent on making money, hoarding it, guarding it from everyone but immediate family. This is why they will sell their daughters, calling the money a ‘bride price!’”

Only a hundred years ago or a little more, homesteaders thought they were finally going to get ahead when the government did an enormous land dispersal through the homestead act, allotting to white immigrants the land they had just taken from the Native Americans. Someone remarked that half those immigrants ended up leaving without proving up, defeated by the climate or by a lack of investment capital enough for animals and equipment. Many died. Just as in Europe, a few ended up owning most of the land.

This village happily celebrates the lives of those who survived -- who are their immediate ancestors. They made it here because they came as a village, developed irrigation as a village, and pretty much continued as interlinked families without an influx of people who were different. Until now. How long will they remain a cooperating village with new people arriving who don’t share the past?

And I am one of the different ones, though few in Valier realize how different I am. It’s not what I do -- it’s the way I think. My “homestead” is paid for. We’ll see how much else I need in order to survive. We’ll see what the village needs in order to survive. They might need me! They might be victims of eutropification! (Look it up.)

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