Thursday, June 30, 2011

Water: the Stuff We Take for Granted

I began to notice as we rode into the agricultural areas of Utah that there were a variety of mechanisms being used to get the water from rivers and other sources to the parched land that needed it so desperately.  After seeing a few sites in downtown Salt Lake City we headed north and I began to compare the ways to get water to the land. 
When I was a bare-foot, blond-haired farm kid of 5, the gravity fed irrigation flumes that watered the family farm apple orchard were my personal domain; pretend powerful rivers that could carry a flotilla of stick “ships” and an armada of other things that could float. Since few people have ever heard of flumes, let me explain. Flumes are thin galvanized tin half-pipes that carry water to ditches traversing each row of trees, and then flowing into smaller ditches to each tree. I “helped” my Grandpa keep the ditches from clogging or flooding, or at least that was my job when I was not playing in the water somewhere in the system. At the time, in 1957, most of our neighbours watered their crops the same primitive way.
A few years later, in the early 60s, those same apple trees, which never yielded more than a subsistence living, were being watered by a sprinkler system comprised of 20-foot (7 meter) lengths of 2 inch (5 cm) aluminum pipe fitted with horizontal standpipes on one end of the pipe that hoisted the sprinkler head higher than the surrounding orchard grass. My brother, Doug, and I often traded off changing the sprinklers after each summer supper. We did this chore complainingly (as we did most chores we were assigned).   Sloshing about in our knee-high “gum boots” between the trees to ensure that when the pressure valve holding back the water was released the line of pipes held. Sometimes the catch mechanism holding the pipes together would not have been secured properly and water would shoot everywhere requiring someone to run in the sloppy boots to turn off the water so that the breach could be resecured. Many times I was soaked when I tried to jam the pipes together without shutting the water source off.

The memory of that cold shower reminded me of my Dad spraying the trees with the pressurized DDT in a sprayer being hauled behind the tractor. There were times when we could not see each other through the green fog descending all around us. There is little guessing about what environmental “trigger” fired my genetically loaded “gun” resulting in my Parkinson’s disease 40 years later.
Today we rode our motorcycles the 325 miles (525 km) between Nephi, Utah, and Jerome, Idaho, mostly on Interstate Freeways 15 and 83.  But we also chose to ride the rural Highway 30. While the freeways offered panoramic views of dusty dry brown colors, Highway 30 offered field-upon-field of fresh-smelling green, dozens of shades of green.  I found the variegated patchwork of green visually intoxicating as the tall-stemmed crops bent in the wind so as to look like waves on a gusty foreign sea. Rather than flumes or sprinkler pipes (although there were still some of those), we saw circle-making elevated sprinkler systems moving on 5-foot wheels and water guns the size of Howitzers firing away at the driest sections of land. Green really is a wonderfully refreshing color.
Water, what a wonder. Free (except for the bottled kind), yet precious. Its presence turns a desert to the delicious.  It refreshes my spirit and body, as well as sparking memories of my childhood summer days in the orchards.

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