No water = no food. No water + no food = no life. It’s that simple and yet human beings here and around the world have done nearly everything possible to pollute the world’s water supply and to treat it with contempt. We are water and we live on a planet where water makes everything possible. In our own Slow Food chapter, the single most important element in our environment is the Russian River, a small badly abused body of water as far rivers go and yet essential to the agriculture, the recreation and the spiritual life of the entire region. Especially in this drought.
I’ve know the Russian ever since I first arrived in Sonoma County in the winter of 1975-1976, the start of a drought that transformed the ways that citizens lived in California. Just last week I went to see the Russian at its mouth in Jenner. I stood on the shore and heard myself say, “It’s a beautiful river, a soothing river, a river that has provided me with moments of joy and even ecstasy.” It was amazing to me to see water in the Russian at Jenner. After all, we take heaps of water everyday from the river for our vineyards, ranches, farms, gardens, showers, swimming pools and more. Often without giving thanks. Often with a sense of entitlement as though the river exists to serve us.
It’s about time that we came to see and to appreciate the holiness of the Russian River and of all rivers and all waterways and watersheds on the planet Earth.
Most of the fruits and vegetables that we eat are largely made up of water. A friend of mine who grows and sells vegetables for a living likes to say that he grows water disguised as carrots and tomatoes and cucumbers. I water my own plants and treasure every drop I give to them.
Almost everywhere I go I hear friends and strangers talk about water and rain and drought. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been affected by the long dry spell that we’re in. Perhaps we might get together as a group and have nothing more and nothing less than a glass of water and to see what follows from the experience of drinking water together. Sometimes less is more. Perhaps we might meditate on water. And so into the world as apostles for holy water.
And perhaps we might remember that as individuals and as a society we need to be resilient. We have to be ready for anything and everything that comes our way, whether it’s more drought or so much rain that the Russian River will roar along, taking huge trees and big chunks of the earth with it out to sea. Most likely in the future we’ll face more extremes in terms of weather, with hotter, drier days and colder, wetter days, too. We’ll have summer in March and winter in May as we did this past year.
I’m thankful for the ripe vegetables and the fruits on my kitchen counter. They wouldn’t be there with if weren’t for water. I know how blessed we are in Sonoma to have the Russian River and to be able to turn on our faucets and get running water even in this drought. I have relatives who live in parts of the world where people who make the equivalent of $3 a day have to buy water by the bucket for 25 cents. I have friends in India who experience terrible drought and monsoon.
Perhaps we might have similar conditions in California. If we do we’ll have to be prepared to survive. We’ll have to save water and treat water as holy. Civilizations around the world have died, though they had both water and power. Before I sleep tonight I’ll say a prayer for water. Maybe these words will prompt you to think about what water means to you and how you might treat it with the awe and reverence it deserves.
Jonah Raskin is a member of Slow Food Russian River.