This column appeared in the March 20 issues of the Manteca Bulletin
Mixed in with the excitement of fishing with friends on my old California rivers came a single nightmare. It wasn’t the people and crowded pavement, though that’s always a shock. Actually, the ability to drive places on that crowded pavement is quite nice. When you live on an island with 30 miles of highway and 10,000 people, driving from Redding to Sacramento takes a long time but at least you can go. It’s refreshing yet terrifying to know that I am connected by grey strips to New York City.
But the nightmare came from water.
I brushed my teeth and showered without a care until I realized, “Oh wait, they don’t have any water down here.” I felt bad.
That night, in my dream, I was in the shower and saw a vision of the Little Truckee River slowly draining because I was shampooing my beard and using copious water to do so. I saw the 16-inch brown trout I caught with a No. 20 red zebra midge a few years ago, slowly suffocating as the water drained from his little spot behind that rock. I tried to turn the water off and couldn’t. The handle spun and spun but without change. The vision expanded. I was draining the entire Little Truckee River. It wasn’t bad enough that I pulled that guy in by the mouth, but now I was depriving him of the essential element of his survival!
Worse yet I was ruining it for others – fish and fishermen. People would write columns about the guy who wrote columns about fishing then killed all the fish by stealing their water to wash his beard. What a jerk! Why couldn’t he have just shaved?
A horrible dream no doubt, but it wasn’t traumatizing enough for me to wake up. It was one of those dreams you recall while rubbing the sleep from your eyes the next morning. It was a, “What the heck was that about?” sort of dream.
The next day after a day floating the Lower Sacramento with four friends on guided trips through The Fly Shop, and another day fishing the Upper Sacramento, I learned that the Little Truckee was essentially drained, but it wasn’t my fault. For that I was relieved, but I was a little appalled that apparently the Little Truckee might end up looking like one of those arroyos in Tucson that have water in them about as often as I earned an “A” on an assignment my freshman year at the University of Arizona.
We’ve got water issues in Alaska too. There hasn’t been a lot of snow, which is cool because I teach at a high school that sits at the top of a steep, five-block hill. But the snowpack on the mountains is thin and might impact the major crop on Prince of Wales and Revilla Islands – spawning salmon. Melted snow makes rivers in which salmon swim, and low levels during the fall can be catastrophic to spawning rates. Fortunately, Ketchikan does average 150 inches of rain a year, so there isn’t really a dry season, and there hasn’t been one this winter. January was all rain. There was flooding in downtown Ketchikan. It was crazy.
Anyway, catastrophes are funny, because we’re always on the brink of one, but no one knows when the one will be the BIG one. We’ve passed certain thresholds and absorbed minor catastrophes, but you wonder what’s looming and if we can really do anything about it except hold on and not lose too much sleep over it – but not ignore it either.