Monday, July 17, 2006

Our Levee

Who would shovel dirt into a bag for 20 hours strait, for 4 to 5 days in a row? Who would do this with no payment or wages of any kind? It is happening all over the Midwest right now with the flooding and I remember it happening on the farm in Indiana where I grew up. We lived along the Kankakee River and there were many streams and drainage ditches that fed into it on our farm. When we would have a lot of rain my father and brother would hook up a pump to the back of a tractor and pump the water over a dike or levee into the River trying to speed up what was supposed to happen naturally, but with a lot of rain didn’t happen fast enough to keep the water out of the fields. As the water would drain out of the fields one our favorite sports became possible. We would sharpen a metal spear and hunt for carp in the miniature ponds left in the fields from the receding water. Sometimes that levee would break and water would spill into our fields and into a trailer park that was built in low ground in the small Indiana town. We would fight along with the town’s people to stop the break from turning into a stream which would eat out more of the levee and become a raging river flooding everything in its path.

So we filled sand bags to keep the banks from eroding. We dropped small trees to slow the water down; I even remember throwing in a mattress to try to slow down the swift water so we could fill the gap without it being washed away. My brother brought in our farm’s bulldozer to push more and more dirt in an effort to stem the tide. Water was the enemy.

I live in Las Vegas now, a far cry from the farm in Indiana. It is a desert and water is a prized possession. You buy and sell water rights that are often more valuable than the land it flows under. Nevada buys water from Arizona, California pumps water from hundreds of miles away. We are given a schedule of when we can water our lawns and trees. We are encouraged to convert to more and more desert landscaping. Libraries and public buildings are converting fountains into cactus gardens. Water is precious.

Water is the enemy and water is precious. Water can provide a living to fishermen and coastal hotels or it can destroy life in tsunamis. Water feeds a thirsty farmland or allows it to turn into desert. We give god-like status to water and present offerings to Poseidon, Enki, Roan, Varuna, Llyre, Hopi, Ea and Neptune praying for a good year.

After my shower, I slip into my newly washed clothes, brush my teeth and grab a bottle of water as I enter our carefully constructed world and realize how tenuous our levee is.

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