Where 1 is less than zero

My recent travels will figure in quite a few of my ‘Prairie Crabs’, as will my present habitat on the tallgrass prairie of the Flint Hills itself, of course. Now and then a little commentary will slip in about, for instance, the American political scene—the “Beltway” especially, a stage set for constant drama and always offering funny as well as horrible stories.
This episode comes with a painting by the quite brilliant artist Anna Patricia Keller, who lives and works in Eldorado – Santa Fe, New Mexico, and had a solo show in The Gallery at Pioneer Bluffs. It’s called ‘Rain’ and fits well with my story.

Ton Haak

Where 1 is less than zero

I had seen the statistics. 11 trillion gallons of water were said to be needed for the revival of California as the nation’s garden patch—some 42 trillion liters, 42 cubic kilometer, which is 1.5 times the maximum volume of the largest U.S. reservoirs. Facts like these make you think at least for five seconds and what you think is, Wow! Two weeks later, travelling in California and entering the San Joaquin Valley for a short visit to Visalia south of Fresno, I had similar thoughts for mile after mile and I said “Wow!” out loud at least twenty times in a row. This time I was “on location” and I could not neglect the rough, hand-written signs along the roads that said: “No Water, No Jobs” and “No Water, No Food.” Nor could I not notice the deplorable state of many of the hundreds of thousands of agricultural acres, sitting fallow, with the bone dry earth breaking, with only a few unhealthy-looking crops in sight, with bare branches abundant and fruit trees like skeletons wherever I looked. I clearly remembered better days, in the 1980s and 1990s, when the Central Valley was a true joy to see, so full of rich, beautiful crops, and bursting with vitality and energy—different from the splendid, lush foothills to the west but, yes, oh so pleasing to my eye, even if many American friends told me they hated “driving Interstate 5 because it is mile after mile of farm land, so f…ing boring.”

A three-year drought has entered a possible fourth miserably dry year in California; the forecasts do not sound very optimistic and they have more scientific credibility than ever before. Not that science can change the world and its climate; scientists’ opinions based on facts evidently don’t help much if you see that in the U.S. Senate the votes are in, and … over half the members of the Senate do not believe humans cause climate change. Of the almost eighty percent of Americans who now do believe that our climate is influenced by us human beings—we, the only thinking creatures on earth (members of the U.S. Senate exempted)–too few see this as a national embarrassment. “Differences of opinion are one thing, but it is far more troubling when half of the members of America’s most distinguished legislative body simply ignore facts supported by overwhelming scientific consensus.” * The Senate should be taken either to school (by the optimists amongst us), or to a mental institution (by us who have given up hope long time ago); this is the umpteenth time that this millionaire/billionaire classroom proves to have traded sanity for a seat wielding power. The first real legislation the new Senate passed this year? To build the climate-wrecking Keystone XL pipeline, remember? The new chair of the Senate’s environmental committee is James Inhofe, who as climate-denier-in-chief quotes the Bible to claim humans can’t change the planet…

Maybe this is why Creation Museum CEO and President Ken Ham started the Ark Encounter project in Kentucky, because he had heard of climate change but forgotten to dig deeper and learn that the problems are caused by continuing severe drought and not by overwhelming and everlasting torrential rainfall. “I spent a couple of hours at the Ark construction site–amazing to see how much progress has been made. It is virtually impossible for anyone to grasp the enormity of this project unless you can be there and walk around it all,” said Ham in a recent Facebook message. He shared a short video clip of the construction’s progress of the life-size replica of the biblical Noah’s Ark.

Ark construction update: Yesterday I spent a couple of hours at the Ark construction site–amazing to see how much progress has been made. It is virtually impossible for anyone to grasp the enormity of this project unless you can be there and walk around it all. I took this short video with my iPhone camera, overlooking the actual site where the life-size Ark is being constructed–the last section of the video overlooks the actual Ark construction area. If you look carefully you can see many vehicles in the distance. There are workers installing sewer lines, water, electricity, and pouring concrete for foundations for the three towers that will anchor the structure and house elevators and restrooms etc. Others are working on the tram road across to the parking area–I was staggered to see how much soil has already been moved for the massive parking lot. A total of around 1.6 million cubic yards of soil is being moved for this project–and most of that has been completed. Praise the Lord. Keep praying. Watch this short video and also keep up to date at www.arkencounter.com

Geplaatst door Ken Ham op dinsdag 6 januari 2015


“I was staggered to see how much soil has already been moved for the massive parking lot … A total of around 1.6 million cubic yards of dirt is being moved for this project … Perhaps some of the atheists that have previously claimed this project will never happen–or even is not happening at all–may try to claim the images were done in Photoshop or something,” said Ham, who is also the President and CEO of ‘Answers in Genesis’. Ham took aim at what he called “intolerant liberals” in a series of billboards in reference to the Ark project proclaiming, “Thank God You Can’t Sink This Ship.”

The climate science report from the National Academies of Science, commissioned by Congress itself, says the exact opposite of what the Senate environmental committee’s chairman, James Inhofe, believes. “Going against their conclusion poses significant risks to humans and the environment; going against this is like asking mathematicians for a number line, then saying that 1 is smaller than zero,” said NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti. Deep down, most of the Senators who voted against scientific fact must know they’re full of baloney. The American people do: the majority wants Congress to do more on climate. “It is time to start publicly embarrassing the guys in Washington, and help teach Congress a lesson that even 8th graders now know.”

NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) doesn’t give law makers any reason for doubt because, “Spaceborne and airborne measurements of the earth’s changing shape, surface height and gravity field now allow us to measure and analyze key features of drought better than ever before, including determining precisely when they begin and end and what their magnitude is at any moment in time.” The measurements show that water deficit has increased steadily, says NASA—not exactly a left-leaning, tree-hugging organization of godless unbelievers. It’s because unrivaled greenhouse gasses persist that what scientists now call the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” diverts storms away from California.

You do not have to know all the facts to notice the devastation in the Central Valley. The signs along the roads are desperate messages of loss of business, loss of jobs, loss of income, and lost hope of improvement. The valley is grey and brown under a warm sun that to me, by now with five years in Kansas under the belt, creates the smells of paradise—but grey and brown it is. I learn of wells running dry, of hauling water in buckets, of sponge-bathing by necessity, of water distribution, of shower stalls put up by counties to provide their citizens with an opportunity to bathe, of schools where flushing the toilets makes no sense. I learn about collecting water in the tank on a family’s pick-up truck, of farmers (if they can get the money) drilling wells three or four times deeper than the old, now dry one—at a cost of $30,000 or more–and not knowing how long the new water supply will last. The aquifers are emptying fast. Basins and rivers run dry; the pollutants that come free are contaminating what water remains—a dramatic story all by itself. Bottled water is delivered by more than one county’s emergency office in the 400-mile-long agricultural basin where four million people are involved with growing America’s fruit and vegetables. Their wells suck air. Some people may lose their homes because of regulations requiring houses to have running water. These people are not the only dependents on the water supply: with snow packs in the Sierra Nevada of less than 10% of average, 38 million Californians find themselves in dire straits even if they are not really hurting yet.

Away from the Central Valley, in the urban coastal areas, until last week when California’s Governor Jerry Brown decided to declare the emergency and admitted that the state had less than one year of water supply in its reservoirs, water is still used as if there’s no end to its availability in sight. Unsafe drinking water is still unthinkable. Here, the land looks a lot healthier, the trees are lush and green, lawn grasses need steady mowing; the soil isn’t breaking bad. Here, California still reeks of abundance.

Nevertheless, the future will undoubtedly be different. They may not fully realize this yet, but all attention has to go to finding solutions that avoid over-pumping and waste of groundwater. They only have to look at what’s happening in the Central Valley to know what is ahead. Yet when “it comes to groundwater regulation … it is a pool of sharks edging for the power to regulate.” Scores of new agencies move in “to help locals develop and implement sustainable groundwater management plans.” There is talk of “stakeholders” and “socially desired outcomes” and as always words like these, shrouded in a veil of scare tactics, signal that simple people such as small growers and the general public have to wake up and watch out for bureaucratic tsunamis. “How many experts does it take to understand that, without irrigated agriculture, California’s economy would collapse? Agriculture needs groundwater and surface water—they go together like peanut butter and jelly. To discuss sustainability without taking this into consideration is unrealistic … If reforming groundwater management is left up to the think tank experts, we might as well throw in the towel!” **

I visited the Salinas Valley as well. This agricultural basin immediately behind the coastal range and called “The Salad Bowl of the World” is a long-time favorite of mine. Less enormous than the Central Valley, the narrow strip locked in between the Santa Lucia Mountains and the Diablo mountain range all the way towards the Cholame Hills has a more intimate appearance. I guess it gets more rain than the big valley too, or maybe the underground water supplies are less exhausted. I first came to the Salinas Valley in 1980. At the time, there were no grapevines in the foothills; but veggies and fruits were grown in the valley and cared for by mostly illegal Mexicans. The migrant workers were transported to the fields, and even lived in old school buses; most often their family members were back home in Mexico. Mexican restaurants—today practically as visible as McDonald’s, not just in California but everywhere in the West, even our Chase County has one, El Chico—were unknown of or, if they were available, were little shacks feeding only the migrant work force.

Later, while living on the Pacific Coast in the 1990s, I noticed that the Salinas Valley had changed dramatically. More land was cultivated, more wine grape growers had irrigated the soil and started planting vines (America was consuming wine in greater quantities at last, and Napa Valley alone could not satisfy the demand). Towns I remembered as small and poor had become larger, with bigger homes and all contemporary amenities—and they were occupied by reunited Mexican families who no longer had to live in school buses, who sent their kids to good schools, and all-in-all gave evidence of full participation in “The American Dream.” As I saw confirmed recently, they have created pleasant and sometimes lovely communities in which their third or fourth generation, fully assimilated, plays an inventive and enthusiast role. Luckily, the depressive threat of drought at the time of my recent visit was still absent in the Salinas Valley, or appeared to be of no serious consideration yet. Short-sighted, maybe—but this is what I found: a happy, steadily progressing society. Good to see. If I wasn’t tied to Kansas, I’d find a place to live there happily ever after. In small San Juan Bautista preferably—inland, rural, with a Mexican flavor, just a half hour east of the Pacific coast, and with San Francisco within easy reach.

While exploring the Midwest, the majority of the small old towns I’d hit are, if not on the brink of falling totally apart, visibly losing life, with businesses closed, store fronts boarded up, homes uncared for, buildings in ruin, pavements broken. The best discovery made during my last trip is that in California old settlements, while maybe desolate in the past, have become livelier, sometimes attractive new towns. Salinas, for long only famed from Steinbeck’s ‘East of Eden’, has grown and grown; its downtown is a joy with old buildings renovated and given new purposes. A large suburb was added to offer more efficient living opportunities but, alas, lacks the intimacy of old town—that’s the way progress goes. Anyway, the community is alive and breathes success. The same goes for smaller towns such as Soledad, of ‘Of Mice and Men’ fame (Steinbeck again). Long best known for its giant, violent prison ruled by the Norteños gang and the Nuestra Familia crime syndicate, Soledad is now home to an in comparison orderly “Correctional Training Facility.” Greenfield, King City, San Lucas and other towns also show positive developments. Decent, hardworking Mexicans dominate the street scene. With grace. I hope the drought will have not too many negative effects on these happy communities.

Which brings me to dutifully report something else I observed. It is not the dirty old man in me that’s speaking; it is the objective result of watchfulness, of unintentional yet careful investigative surveillance done from behind my car’s windshield and side windows, and sometimes, I have to admit, even the rear window. Not only are there many thousands of splendid if not sensational Mexican and Latina women walking the California streets, Asian women too are breathtakingly attractive in overwhelming quantity and quality. Chinese women are leading the pack and not just in the Chinatowns; slim, quick-minded, raven-haired, excellently dressed, easily smiling Chinese women and girls were everywhere I looked and I spotted not only the ones who had made California their home, but also, during carefully selected investigative side trips to tourist spots such as Hollywood Boulevard and Monterey’s Fisherman’s Wharf, countless vacationing Chinese beauties who were spending big tourist bucks. What a difference an era makes! At age seventy-two, I finally discover America the Beautiful! Which comes, I am happy to say, with a great variety of high-quality, regional Chinese cuisine; with Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, Philippine, Japanese, Korean, Cambodian and Laotian restaurants and food stalls; and more diverse Central-American and South-American cuisine than you can dream of. Really, dining out and, even more so, exotic birdwatching are mouthwatering experiences for a demure visitor from the Kansas prairie especially in this time of persistent drought.

* Valley Voice, Visalia, CA
** Diane Friend, the former Executive Director of the Kings County Farm Bureau

Ton Haak, February 2015