Tag Archives: water

talk about it

Some people think that conversation has run dry when you start talking about the weather. They’re obviously not gardeners–or even golfers or joggers or construction workers. Weather matters. And I can’t think of many things nearly as fascinating.

Here in the far southwestern corner of the country it’s been dry. Scary dry, almost. I have buckets below the eaves to catch and save runoff from the roof, and even last week’s “big rain” day didn’t fill them more than half way. At least the storm had the decency to drop some rain by the time I was leaving work so that I didn’t feel like a fool for bringing an umbrella and taking the car instead of riding my scooter.

Today we’re in Day Two of a several days of predicted light rain. I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the sunny days. Last month we picked a bright weekend–we had many choices–to head east, into the desert. Destination: Salvation Mountain.

I’m about as religious as Howard Stern is subtle, but you couldn’t not to feel the earnestness of this big pile of folk art.

The whole installation is built into a hillside, using not much more than haybales, mud and paint. As we walked over it you could hear things crunching underfoot. Without constant maintenance the whole thing would start to degrade into the desert around it.

This is a polaroid that someone had left showing Leonard Knight, the man who built this. He gave me a detailed personal tour the last time I visited, maybe five years ago. But the news reports last fall mentioned that Mr. Knight’s dementia was taking over, and he had been institutionalized in a facility in El Centro. For an artwork as fragile as this is, it seemed like this winter might be the last time to see the place in the state that he left it, before the desert claimed it.

The side of the Mountain that faces west is crossed by a painted yellow path up the mountain that you can see in this image, the Yellowbrick Road.

I’m not sure what the main highway from the Wizard of Oz has to do with the Christian messages being communicated, but there it is. Please stay on it.

People bring stuff here. This bible, blowing in the wind, fits right in.

Something else people bring here is paint, thousands of gallons of it. Used to be, you came to Salvation Mountain, you’d bring a bucket of paint. It was a great way to share paint leftover from projects. The word now, though, is that people should leave their paint at home, now that Mr. Knight isn’t able to do anything with it.

Built into one size are a series of grottoes that appear to have been built as little shrines. On a scorching midsummer day these spaces are a cool escape. People have brought contributions here too, but I’m not sure if the angel and bowling trophies were original to Leonard Knight’s original vision.

Parked in front are several art cars that have been customized by Mr. Knight. At this point I’m sure they’re fixed sculptures and no longer mobile.

[ Details of the art cars… ]

Another feature of the Mountain is the side maze-feature, made of telephone poles, salvaged trees and more haybales, mud and paint. It’s hard to photograph but would work great as a video shown from inside as you walk through it.

Here’s a view from inside the maze, looking up.

As long as we were way out in the desert, we stopped by the shores of the Salton Sea, just a couple miles away.

Part of the south shore is set aside as the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge. (Yes, that Sonny Bono, Cher’s late ex.) You don’t see any in this picture, but birds were everywhere. You hear about the Pacific Flyway but it’s always a stunning experience to visit one of the main avian truckstops along the route.

And with this image we return to the theme of rain and water. This viewpoint is a fairly famous one. I’ve seen a few photos shot from here, with trees covered in birds and still water below, reflect birds and trees. (I have a few old shots myself.) But that was probably ten years ago.

Southern California has been drawing increasing amounts of water that was formerly used by farmers around the Sea. With less agricultural runoff to feed it, the water level has been dropping, so that the Sea itself is now a quarter mile away.

My little buckets of water, plaintively waiting for the rain, probably will do next to nothing to restore the Salton Sea. But a drop in the bucket is more than nothing at all.

wishing for water

Remember wishing wells? In the early 1970s, when I first started paying close attention to gardens, every few yards would have a wishing well as an accent of the landscaping: Big lawns, lots of flowers, the wishing well, maybe even a lawn jockey. You don’t see wishing wells (or lawn jockeys) around these parts very often anymore.


The other day I was up on the roof deck, enjoying the breeze. Looking in a direction I don’t usually pay much attention to, I noticed this feature in the back yard of one of my neighbors. It’s a little hard to make out, so I’ve enhanced it a little. Hmmm. Looks like a wishing well, maybe 1970s vintage…

Jump ahead 30 years, to the more drought-conscious 21st century. Many Californians are reducing or replacing their turf. One of the ways that’s used to give some focus or structure to these de-lawned yards is to construct a dry stream bed.

(I thought it was interesting that both these yard accents are all about water. The wishing well celebrates the stuff, almost as if it’s available in a magical, never-ending supply. The stream bed is more of our time, and acknowledges that water is a resource that isn’t always plentiful and can’t be taken for granted.)


Down the street, another of my neighbors has done their own take on a dry stream bed. It has lawn along some of its length, but succulents and drought-tolerant plants the rest of the way. And in the middle of the stream…seashells. And these little yellow rubber duckies…

the rain might not belong to you

At first I thought it was a good idea. I never imagined that in some communities it would be prohibited.


During some of the recent rains I put some little buckets to catch rainwater that had drained off the roof. In this part of the state you can hardly ever have too much water, and good-quality water is extra-valuable.



One of my water-use indulgences is an experimental little bog garden with carnivorous plants. Tap water here has four times the dissolved solids usually recommended for these swamp-dwellers, so in warmer weather they get five gallons a week of reverse osmosis water from the local water store. Collecting fresh rainwater seemed like a much more sustainable alternative.

Left: Drosera Marston Dragon.
Drosera capensis, red form, with deerfly snack.

Yesterday’s LA Times had an article on residents in some of the dryland Four Corners states who were finding out that collecting rainwater was actually illegal in their communities. Because of a complex patchwork of water rights agreements, many homeowners actually don’t own the rainwater that falls on their houses.

Here’s a quick snippet from the article:

“If you try to collect rainwater, well, that water really belongs to someone else,” said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress… Frank Jaeger of the Parker Water and Sanitation District, on the arid foothills south of Denver, sees water harvesting as an insidious attempt to take water from entities that have paid dearly for the resource. “Every drop of water that comes down keeps the ground wet and helps the flow of the river,” Jaeger said. He scoffs at arguments that harvesters like Holstrom only take a few drops from rivers. “Everything always starts with one little bite at a time.”

I have a healthy respect for the rule of reasonable laws, but these seemed way beyond the pale. Like, are they worried these people are going to bottle the rainwater and sell it to us in Southern California?

Here within view of the Pacific Ocean, any water not retained in the ground would just wash down the storm drains and slide out into the bay. I doubt we have the same sorts of rules. But for many folks in Utah or Colorado who are trying to grow their own veggies, doing what they can to reduce become more self-sustaining and reduce their footprint on the earth, things aren’t so easy.

What do you think? Should the rainwater belong to all of us?