I stand shirtless and barefoot on the dry ground. The first leaves of fall lie where they have dropped from the massive Sycamore that spreads its four trunks high into the sky above me. Dead twigs, living plants drooping for water, fifty thousand acres of flames to the northeast. Everything desperate for water.
In the twenty minutes before I left my house and went outside, the voices of five fire vehicles could be heard wailing and moaning their way into the distance down the road I live on and the one behind. Another day this summer I counted seven in an afternoon. We watch the news and look at the trees around us wondering how dry they are. Will the resin stored in the California Bays explode in flames if a spark blows over from where forests are burning? The Coastal Live Oaks around here all keep their leaves in the heat, but would they burn anyway?
Each of my hands holds a brightly colored child’s bucket. Each bucket can hold about one gallon of water. I have taken to bathing with only the water I can fit into these containers as an act of respect for the small amount of liquid there is for all of us who live here to share. When possible, I wash myself while the sun is rising as a wish that the water will still be here tomorrow.
Even though I have been going barefoot often since childhood, my feet are soft and vulnerable against the dry clay, gravel and dead burr clover where I stand. The brown whorls of the clover seeds try their best to work their prickly way in between my toes so that I will carry them somewhere else where they can sprout. They can live on and on like this, but can’t germinate without rain.
Then I feel a change in the air and my skin begins to prickle. All of the small hairs that are one of the things that make me a mammal stand out. Moisture has arrived. Tiny droplets are making their way to me. They could not be seen or heard. I would not have been able to feel them had I been fully clothed.
I breathed in the gentle touch of the tiny messengers of life and sing to them. My eyes fill with tears because I am grateful they are here.
Rain to make the plants grow
Rain to make the water flow
Rain to make the life go
About a year later, I find myself visiting a lake high in the mountains named for falling leaves that is surrounded by evergreen trees. Mostly the majestic Ponderosa Pines, and a few others that I do not know. I pay my respects, but every day makes it obvious to me that I am not a mountain person. But I do feel more at home at the edge of the waters, no matter how high they are. I swim out from the rocks that fall steeply into the lake. Something seems off, but I credit my tiredness from a bad night’s sleep with the feeling. Later on I jump from a boat into the deep water far from shore. I have done this many times in many lakes, and the sudden rush of cold around my body as I plunge into the depths away from the sunlight that burns my pale skin so easily is an ecstatic respite from sweating and wondering why so many people seem so happy to bake in the sun near water instead of swimming in it.
As my head shoots below the surface and the waves made by my entrance close over me, my vision is suddenly flooded by the image of a forest. It is dead and cold and I see myself floating down to it. The tops of the trees are over two hundred feet below. Only enough of the dim light from the surface reaches them to barely outline their ghostly forms. These trees have been entombed by water. The same water would happily take me to them. I would not return.
I fight my way out of the lake and do not swim in it again. Later on I learn a story of a 400-year drought here that ended around 8 centuries ago. At that time this place was not a lake. It was a forest. Now that forest is still there below the water, frozen against decay by the cold, oxygen-poor depths. A chill runs over my skin when I read this and the same hairs stand up that told me of the coming rain a year before. I have seen those trees. They are waiting for something. I do not go back to find out what it is. But I know they remember that the future could be so much different than the present. If the land was dry enough to make the lake a forest, it was dry enough to silence the rivers and take away the snow. Dry enough for only a few people to live here, and those only at the very edge of the sea. I think as I read the story that we might be headed there again.
It is about a year after diving into the lake. The rain has been falling for many days. I have lost count of exactly how many. Every morning the sky is gray and the water falls. It seems to be testing out all of the different ways that rain can be made. Sometimes it is a mist that floats in from several directions at once. Sometimes it is a gentle parade of large, fat droplets. Then it begins to fall in massive sheets. I look outside and it appears that the sky has up-ended a bucket the size of the county all at once. It is hard to see the place I stood and welcomed the tiny hint of moisture two years previously, even though it is only a few steps from my window. The buckets I was bathing with then seem absurd in their smallness. If I stood and welcomed this storm it would tear the buckets from my hand and knock me into the mud. I pay my respects in other ways and the storm does not throw trees onto my home like it does to some of my neighbors up the hill.
As the rain continues to fall, an election happens. Fear and hatred bring a monster into power. I spend more and more time in meditation and trance journeys looking for guidance. I want to march in the street and fight this change. Sometimes I do.
But as my fire burns, the answer comes through again and again from everyone I ask in the Otherworld. “It’s all about the water.” I go looking for ways to change people and receive images of dams breaking and rivers bursting free. I see a large dam east of me cracking at the side and water flows out. The valley that holds it is changed and there is destruction for many of the people who live there and freedom for a large portion of the river contained behind the dam. I see other rivers and other dams, lakes and the ocean. “It’s all about the water.” Then I am asked to write poems.
Since I have learned that it is not a good idea to ignore this kind of request, I give thanks for the guidance and I write. Some of my words give people around me hope. I begin to understand that a fight is futile if there is nothing to fight for. Fighting for politics is fighting for a fight and only leads to more fighting and death without any meaning. But a culture lives on and is worth standing for, even dying for. And a culture is made of poems and pictures, dances and food, language and rituals, greetings and good-byes, mutual respect and working together. A culture is what allows people to stand and know the difference between when it is time to fight and when it isn’t. A culture is what can hold us up in difficult times. I am being asked to give my energy towards building and maintaining that. My tears fall for all the things I see as I write and I do my best to live up to this request.
A few days later I learn about the Oroville dam breaking. It is endangering thousands of people in the uplands to the north and east of me. The river there has only been contained since my parents were young and it is breaking out. It’s all about the water.
On the same night the monster assumes his official duties, I must drive to work in San Francisco. My car is almost blown off the road repeatedly. I drive a distance that should normally take a little over 20 minutes. It takes almost two hours. On the way I hear 5 sirens wailing past me at close range. They are not crying for fire this time. They are running towards the destruction cause by wind and water. Trees and power poles are going down all around me. But most of all, this storm is here to break fences. They are falling down everywhere. Most of them are torn apart in a way that is so emphatic it cannot be a mistake. It is a day a man who wants to build walls takes power and the sky is throwing down fences.
While I try to do the work I have come to do, my phone is filled with emergency alerts. All taken together, they mean that I might not be able to return to my family that night. I do not know if my home will survive the storm or where my wife and daughter will be if they have to leave. I do not know where I will sleep if I can’t go home.
The storm relents right as I am finishing my job and I can go home. The sky is calm and everything is black from the rain. I arrive home and am so grateful to be there.
The rain continues and our floor begins to mold. The whole house starts to smell like cat urine. We need to do something soon. I research because I do not know what to do about a molding floor. I find videos of men telling me that I need to turn the crawl space under my house into a sealed room. I look at the prices and it becomes clear why they believe this. I read contradictory reports from multiple sources. it makes me tired and I sleep.
In dreams and in my morning meditations I hear again “It’s all about the water.” I go outside in the rain. I get a shovel. I don’t know how to install plastic sheeting and specialized rat-repellent insulation. But I do know how to listen to the land. I slog around in the mud until me feet are three times their normal size from the mud that clings to them. I go deep into listening with my whole body and being while digging channels that I don’t understand on any rational level. Water wants to go down here because I live near a creek. All I have to do is make it possible to fulfill its desire. I pay no attention to the shapes of the holes I am digging or anything else but the energy. The land will help me if I listen and respect what it is telling me.
The same clay that was hard under my feet three years earlier is fluid and alive now. It sucks and pulls at feet and hands, at tools and clothes. To struggle against it with direct force is to make the situation worse. I must touch it, then wait to see which direction it will go before I attempt to move it. I have many guides. Some are small and local. Some are huge and ancient. I thank them all and do my best to understand their wisdom as I dig.
At the end of the day I am tired and so covered in mud that my clothes need to be washed twice. It takes more water to clean the clay off of me this one evening than it did for me to wash myself for a month back when I used the two buckets. Water is so abundant now that this very abundance has become dangerous.
It does not rain for two days. Every morning I look at the pit I made and wonder what I was doing out there. Mostly it looks like I carved away all growing things and left a lozenge-shaped area of dark soil exposed under the Fig at the side of my house and reaching over towards the Pear next to it. I keep having dreams about ancient sex magic. They are clear and insistent, but I don’t understand why.
Then it rains. For the first time in decades, the water does not collect on the path and drain under the house. It follows the channels I dug and heads for the swale under the trees instead, where it will be able to soak into the earth and water their roots. I watch excitedly from a window and am amazed that it seems to be working. Then darkness falls.
It the morning my beloved calls me and asks me to look outside. There is a small pond under and between the trees that forms an extremely realistic depiction of a phallus. We laugh and I understand the dreams. Later, as the water recedes, I realize that there is also a yonic symbol. As the rain comes, She appears, then is transformed into Him. As the rain soaks in, He becomes Her, then She disappears. I couldn’t have carved something like that into the land if I had wanted to because I lack the knowledge to plan it out. But here it is anyway. It’s all about the water.