Dams: A 19th Century Solution to a 21st Century Problem That Won’t Go Away

Dams have been in the news and on my radar again. Just as I’m revising the chapter in my book about fighting a dam back in 1990 (yes, the novel’s still in progress, but I’m pedaling faster now that I’m working with a writing coach!), here in Northern California the Oroville Dam spillway break caused the evacuation of 200,000 people in the Yuba-Sutter lowlands,  and a new dam is being proposed on the Bear River in Nevada County. 284

I totally emphasize with all that would be impacted by the Centennial Dam that Nevada Irrigation District (NID) is currently proposing for the Bear River west of Colfax (Nevada and Placer Counties). Back in 1999, the Moonshine Road area of Camptonville was faced with the prospect of a dam on the Middle Yuba River. Without benefit of today’s social media, our very small community of 600 people organized, educated, then partnered with SYRCL to form our own MYRACL (Middle Yuba River Area Citizens League). Eventually, the Yuba County Water Agency took the Freeman’s Crossing Dam off the list of options for flood control. But in the current political culture of abrupt reversals, no one can afford to be complacent. Thankfully today, myriads of new organizations have joined SYRCL to focus on protecting our rivers and environment. Folks are better connected, informed, and proactive.

If you want to become informed about the Centennial Dam proposal and learn how to impact the process, here’s some links to check out. Citizens have until April 10th to give public comment to the Army Corps of Engineers, so do it soon!

www.SaveBearRiver.com, and SYRCL’s http://yubariver.org/get-involved/

Now back to my writing. Dams provide the dramatic backdrop for my present-time character, Harmony, a back-to-the-lander religiously devoted to saving the planet.  Based on the true events  in Camptonville, Harmony  was part of a group that struggled to ward off a dam that would have inundated over a third of the families in her small, rural, community.

But in the end, it was the children who saved the river.

Excerpt from The Desk:

       Back then, the prospect of this dam hung like a shroud over our school kids. In classrooms, bathrooms, lunchrooms, and recess, all they could talk about was that half of their friends would be flooded out; families would be forced to leave; the school would have to shut down.

      Mrs. Watson, the fifth grade teacher, understood that the best antidote for anxiety was action. She assigned her ten-year old students the project of creating a plan. What did they want to happen?  Who could they approach?  What would they say? Soon parents and school staff got on board and helped the class get on the Supervisor’s Agenda. TV and news media were alerted, and at ten am, the school bus dropped twenty children into a throng of reporters and cameras in front of the county government center.

   

CV Students Oppose Dam 1999

Grass Valley Union Reprint, April 28, 1999

  Once inside the Supervisors Chambers and called to speak, students displayed their six-foot, hand-drawn poster depicting how the dam would destroy their community. One-by one, four students stood at the microphone and read the speech they had practiced in class. How, they asked, could the Supervisors purposely wipe out one of its own communities?

     Towering above them from their elevated desk, the five Supervisors leaned back in their seats, taking in the children, cameras, reporters, then back to the children. The Chairman thanked the students politely and announced they would make their final decision by the end of the afternoon, then added he wished he could to bring his own constituents to the school to learn how to make a good presentation! 

     The next day the school’s hallways were plastered with news coverage of the childrens’ appeal….the children who saved their community from being flooded.

Flash forward to 2,020. Having once defeated this dam that would have flooded her home, Harmony is now faced with the revival of the 19th century solution to the 21st century problem of droughts, decreasing water supply, and increasing demand. What is now different in this (hopefully)  fictional account is that by 2,020, the environmental regulatory process has since been dismantled. No more red tape, pesky regulations, meddling oversight, or tedious public input. Developers are freed at last to finally get things done!

May I repeat how you can impact our future right now?

Check out: www.SaveBearRiver.com and SYRCL’s http://yubariver.org/get-involved/    The public has until April 10th to comment on NID’s plans to construct Centennial Dam – a new reservoir on the Bear River between the existing Rollins and Combie Reservoirs. It’s up to us citizens to take notice and take action.

 

 

 

 

Acting Locally

Just when I thought my life was perfectly full, I take on something really big.  It wasn’t my idea – well, of course it was – but somehow I had made the decision without telling myself.  I realized this when I woke up at 4 am and started writing notes on how I was going to run the local community newspaper.

The Camptonville CourierBeing Editor of The Camptonville Courier was never, ever on my retirement radar.  Five months ago the last volunteer Editor left, and though people in our small town said how much they missed the monthly “community voice,” no one has come forward to take it on.  Certainly not me!  I’m a writer.  That doesn’t mean I know publishing or want those responsibilities to take over my life.

Yet, something’s right.  Here I am, one month after that fateful night, and loving what’s happening.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel supported and delightfully challenged by all I’m learning about running a newspaper. More importantly, I have a crew of twelve community volunteers who are helping by taking on pieces of the work.

What cinched it for me is this is one thing I can do for my community. I’ve often grappled with what is right action, considering all the suffering and planetary deterioration around us.  Not surprising, Christie, the present-time character in the novel I’m working on, grapples with the same question. She knows that by the end of the century, her future great-granddaughter Amisha will be grappling with the impact of the actions we do/don’t do today.  Here’s a draft excerpt from The Desk:

“It seems no matter what route I take, I always end up wallowing in the same pool.  Signs are everywhere.  My humming laptop has already collected the morning’s emails – Outrage! Warning!  Take Action! Thank god lots of people are working hard for causes, yet I sit here paralyzed by despair.  I’m not a hero.  I’m just me, living my life with right intentions as best I can, yet sensing there’s a huge tsunami coming toward us.

I go downstairs and refill my coffee cup.  On the way back up, I rationalize that in small ways I am doing something.  I grow my food, reuse cloth shopping bags, frequent farmer’s markets, and shop locally before checking Amazon. I’m a poster child for “One Hundred Ways to Save the Planet.”

Seated at the desk, my new fountain pen is poised in my hand, ready to write. I’m in love with it. Compared to a ball point, the ink flows almost as fast as my thoughts.

     Amisha taps me on the shoulder.

     “Thank you.”

     “For what?” I ask, startled at her voice in my head.

    “For water.  The hand pump still works.”

     “Oh that!” I laugh softly.  My husband wanted a fancy solar pump and back-up system, but I told him I wanted simple.  Too much high-tech stuff makes me feel helpless.

     “You planted fruit and nut trees,” she continues.

     “It’s what we back-to-the-landers did.”

     “But they lasted.  Even without anyone’s care.”

      “So the drought-tolerant ones really were?”  I’m impressed.

     “I couldn’t have survived without them.”

     I shift in my seat, feeling uneasy.  “But it wasn’t enough, was it?”

     “No, it wasn’t.” Her voice is cold and dry inside my head. I cover my eyes, despair drawing me down like quicksand.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2014, except as otherwise noted.

Day 2 – A Personal Writing Retreat

The Bed Nook

The Bed Nook

I reluctantly leave my cozy down comforter,  knowing I have miles of words to write today.  After yesterday’s drizzle, the sun is invigorating.  First, a tall mug of black coffee and a bowl of hot oatmeal, then I open my laptop to where I left off in the Scrivener program.

Hummer and Rupalini pop up on the screen to greet me.  They’re the old couple who escaped the growing dystopic world of the mid-2000’s and settled in the hills.   He’s saving his last 2 bullets from his now empty stockpile;  her mind long gone, she’s obsessed with finding out when the world turned.

After that chapter, I return to the present day narrator, wondering what will move her from feeling overwhelmed and hopeless about the state of the world and get her motivated into action.

Skyline Meadow

Skyline Meadow

Scott knocks at my door with a refilled jar of brown sugar and the most recent copy of Yes! Magazine from Diane.  I’m drawn into conversation with him, and write down his blog,  The Rambling Taoist.  He came to Skyline Harvest for a short visit and stayed. Skyline attracts such interesting people!

I write all morning, take a break for lunch and a short nap, then continue into the afternoon.  My word count is mounting, but not fast enough.  I console myself that the time I spend thinking through larger aspects of this project doesn’t show up as word counts.

There’s a lot of good stuff in Yes! Magazine’s Summer 2013 issue.  Here’s a few notes I took:

  • Will we turn against one another in a struggle for the last resources, or turn to one another in cooperation and community?  (Sarah van Gelder)
  • How to create new cultural stories and what we consider sources of true happiness? (van Gelder)
  • Definition of Revelation (Latin) and Apocalypse (Greek) is “A lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden; coming to clarity.”  (Robert Jensen)
  • It’s an illusion we can maintain an extractive economy indefinitely.  Our planet is not just a mine and a landfill. For some, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of air conditioning! (Jensen)
  • “Prefigurative  Interventions” – Playful Protests, Pranks & Serious Works of Imagination.”  Look it up!   Beautiful Trouble, a Toolbox for Revolution at  http://www.beautifultrouble.org
The Ranch House

The Ranch House

The afternoon sun beckons me out to pick some figs from the huge tree next to the Ranch House.  I also explore the other buildings for future stays.  Each one is cozy in a grandmotherly kind of way.

The Cabin's Livingroom

The Cabin’s Livingroom

The Cabin

The Cabin

Gazebo

The Gazebo

Next time I come to Skyline Harvest, I might stay at the Cabin with its multi-level outside deck.  Or if I had a group, we’d take over The Ranch House.  I probably won’t have time to spend writing in the screened Gazebo, but maybe next visit.

After dinner and another session with Diane, then an hour of cello practice, I’m revitalized to write again.  Work Table -NightThe moths check in on me against the lighted window, wondering how I’m doing.

When I close the laptop at 11:30 pm, I’m at 2,159 words for the day, for a grand total of 2,525.  Not as many as I’d hoped.

As my Grandma Moffett would say, “Well, it is.”

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Day 1 – A Personal Writing Retreat

The Old Pendola Ranch

The Old Pendola Ranch

As I turned off Highway 49 onto Pendola Road, traveling to the Skyline Harvest Retreat Center, it was like traveling through time.  I followed what was once a narrow dirt road that early Gold Rush settlers had carved from the hills,  scanning the downslope for vestiges of old mines and water ditches while staying alert for on-coming cars around the many blind curves.   Further along, the woods opened up into the pastoral Pendola Ranch  – where hillsides were once covered with vineyards until Prohibition stepped in and hacked the copper stills to pieces.

.Road into Skyline Harvest

Passing through the gate to Skyline Harvest

Bullards Bar ReservoirBullards Bar Reservoir is to my left.

I settle into The Hermitage.  It’s too perfect!

The Hermitage

 A corner table for eating and writing, a futon couch, meditation chair and kitchen fill up the main room.  The single bed is in an alcove tucked behind a folding wooden screen, and a modern bathroom with shower is in a separate room. Two chairs wait on the deck for watching wildlife in the small clearing outside.

Work Table

Bedroom AlcoveKitchen

11 AM.  Food, books, laptop, clothes all in place, I fix a bowl of soup and watch the rain drizzle outside.  After a short nap and cup of coffee, it’s time to write.  I’ve decided arbitrarily to set a goal of 7,500 words for these 48 hours.  Let’s see – that comes to 156 words an hour.  Can I write in my sleep?  I plunge ahead, not knowing where my story is going next.

Though I know the general arc of my novel, The Desk, I’ve learned to quiet my mind with meditation before starting, then have faith that the characters will surprise me.  And they do. Like today, Hummer appeared.  I’m mid-way through the future section – Year 2088 – my prospective  great-granddaughter Amisha’s story of struggling to survive on a planet irreparably damaged by man’s impact.   Hummer and his woman, Rapalini are one of the old folks who fled to the hills early on.  What do they know?

3:30 PM.  I’m startled by a knock on the door. It’s Diane Pendola who (along with Teresa Hahn) founded and is Director of Skyline Harvest.  I’ve asked for some of her time to help me think  things through – drawing on her experience with indigenous wisdom, Gestalt Therapy, theology, The Enneagram and her mentors, Ramon Panikar, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, to name a few.

I’m interested in the questions raised in my story –  not so much the answers.  Diane asks if mankind can move  from an era that’s been shaped by man’s ability to circumvent the natural checks and balances of nature,  into one that recognizes that we are part of a universal consciousness? If not, what kind of world will Amisha live in?  That’s where my story goes.

We jump up two hours later – time has flown into the dinner hour.  Diane departs, and I take a cool walk along the firebreak road to watch the golden sun set into the departing clouds.

Skyline Sunset

Skyline Sunset

A fox scurries past as I return to The Hermitage and prepare my dinner, heating with the wood stove instead of the gas range.  My gourmet husband has sent me here with a chicken cacciatora, a beef stew, garden salad, and a bottle of red wine.  He’s amazing and I’m so lucky!

After dinner, I check my word count.  Yikes, only 366 words!!  This is going to be a long evening!  But then, that’s what I’m here for.

But my cello also calls me.  I unzip its case intending to practice a few scales, but  instead, I  play for an hour – improvising in  C minor harmonic – a moody, searching key. Crickets add a chirping accompaniment, though I’m too tired to see if there’s any correlation with my playing.

10 PM.  Off to bed.  Got lots of words to write tomorrow!

September 30, 2013

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Planetary Compassion Fatigue

Morning emailsEleven political and environmental emails today.  Ten deleted.  I’ve got planetary compassion fatigue.  How to do the right thing when I’m buffeted between hope and cynicism ?  So many people working on urgent causes trying to elevate awareness, concern and of course, money.  But it’s too much.  I snap my laptop closed with a decisive click.  Time for the river.

My Honda knows the way to my favorite river trail.  It glides down the north fork river canyon, following the intricate twists and switchbacks of the mountain road until the road flattens out and parallels the shallow, trout-filled waters of the north fork. Shallower than normal for this time of year, I notice.  Every year’s different, but I can’t help feeling a smidge of concern.

 Middle Fork Yuba RiverSandals off, hiking boots on, I find the dusty trailhead.  The first part is rocky, but I know it will smooth out around the bend and I’ll strike up a cadence.  I pull off a handful of manzanita berries and pop them in my mouth.  Crunchy, slightly sweet. My husband and I made manzanita berry sugar last week, experimenting with what’s edible in the wild. I hope I never have to live on them, I think as I spit out the granular seeds.

My steps fall into a rhythm against the soft dirt, sending waves of vibration up my spine.  Thump, thump, thump – base notes to the river’s wavering alto.  Hermit Thrushes fill in the soprano voice.  My mind lifts off and floats along.

I’m troubled with information overload, I think.  There’s so much to be concerned about, but what can one person do?  Sign the next email petition, press the “Donate Now” button, listen to the phone pleas, call my Senator?  What actually makes a difference? I kick a rock from the trail, watch it tumble down the bank and splash into the river.

Thanks to technology, I know what’s going on almost as soon as it happens. Great-Grandmother Eliza only had telegraph, newspapers and back fence gossip, I muse.

“Hah! But it was sometimes a week after it happened.” I’m aware of Eliza’s voice and let it come through. “You want to do the right thing,” she continues. “You’ve got the whole world literally at your fingertips. I had to use my feet – hitch the buggy, go house to house.  Except Sundays – one more reason to go to church.  Oh, and letters.”

“Snail mail,” I snort.

“It’s all we had until telephones became common.

“But you made some important changes.  You got the saloons closed; got land set aside for state parks.”

“Did it through face to face persistence. You’ve got to look them straight in the eye, see into their soul.”

“Video conferencing,” I think.

“Someday you won’t even have that.”  My future Great-Granddaughter enters the conversation. “Just voices inputting information in your head. And even that will die.”

I pull off the trail to make way for a hiker from the other direction.  He smiles, nods, and passes through.

I pick up the thread of conversation. “I wonder sometimes if information overload is intentional. I get so distracted and overwhelmed: public drinking water privatized, elephants wiped out for tusks, tax breaks for corporate “farms”, oil spills, bee-killing pesticides, sex trafficking, GMO’s, fracking….  After a while, it all becomes background noise and I stop caring enough to do anything.”

“Then you should stop listening,” Amisha cuts in.

“Don’t let her get away with that,” Eliza says. “I did what I could with what I had … and what I cared about.  Think of the power you have with your Internet and what you all call “social media”, she says.

Is it power or illusion? I wonder.

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.

Into the Silence

Walking alone in the woods, I’m hardly aware of the cacophony of chatter in my mind .  . .  Ah, a new wildflower . . . deer tracks . . .  clouds building to the east.  I’m also processing the day before, or day ahead, or re-visiting past emotions that disturbed or delighted me.  I’m a bubble floating within myself, while all around me, the world swirls with its own awareness and stories.

I’ve been reading Becoming Animal by David Abram. He links the interior chatter of verbal thought with the advent of silent reading – a fairly recent acquisition in man’s development. A tight neurological coupling arose in the brain between the visual focus and inner speech, he posits.

Frankly, I’ve never thought about the ability to hear the words in my head as I read them on the page. It’s only natural, right?  Yet Abram relates that before the twelfth century in Europe, the written word had to be spoken out loud to make sense of it.  Greek and Latin writing had no spaces between words and little guiding punctuation.  Semitic writing had no vowels and had to be sounded out loud to hear the meaning.  Starting in the seventh century, monks put spaces between each word as they copied texts, making it easier to read the words without having to sound them out.

I’ve thought about this in the novel I’m working on, “The Desk.”  Amisha has fled San Francisco in 2088 to find the family homestead and the desk that’s haunted generations of family women.  She has gouged out the chip implanted at birth in her neck – the only communication device humans should have or need. Her mind no longer filled with HumanaCorp’s constant messaging, she wanders in silence.  Without a cloud of inner dialogue obscuring her awareness, she is drawn into the animate and inanimate world surrounding her.  She becomes a listener.Firgure Pictograph

“Our intelligence struggles to think its way out of the mirrored labyrinth, but the actual exit is to be found only by turning aside now and then, from the churning of thought, dropping beneath the spell of inner speech to listen into the wordless silence.”  (David Abram, Becoming Animal).

Amisha Speaks: 2088

The Desk

The Desk

It wasn’t easy.  I had to materialize at my Great-Grandmother Shirley’s bedside one night to convince her to extend her novel into the future. The Desk should be more than a family history, I told her. It’s a story of women’s power to work within the larger arc of past, present and future as advocates for the earth.

I’ve been feeding her bits and pieces of my world as she writes. Since she’s going to be introducing me at the Women’s Writing Salon April 27th,  I thought I’d use her blog to tell you more about my world – some familiar, some the unchecked progress of bad ideas.

I enter the story as Dr. Amisha Hoplin, a 50 years old Pediatrician working at the University Medical Center in San Francisco. In poor health myself, I’ve just received devastating news for my patients.  I’ve also been haunted by memories of the old family homestead and whispers of an old desk . . . .

By 2088, Corporations have become a third branch of the Federal Legislature with the same vote as the Senate and House. Nothing gets through the impenetrable Corporate Coalition. Water, power, food, are controlled by HumanaCorps, and now everything’s falling apart. Medical research has stopped altogether. Forget finding cures–just find something to market that patients will need.  Like PharmFood, designed for the rampant increase of food intolerances brought on by genetic-tinkering.

No more electronic devices. Pebble-sized gel Chips, inserted behind the ear of every baby replace computers, i-phones, touch pads, GPS, televisions, etc.  Their fine micro-rootlets form neural attachments with the brain.   So much easier than carting around personal devises.  HumanaCorps monitors your interests and whereabouts to instantly inform you of consumables you should want.  In a nearly paperless world, search requests are fed to you through  Insta.Info, while transmissions of personal creativity are discouraged.

San Francisco has been re-arranged as people frantically respond to the rising sea and changing weather.  Here’s a excerpt from the novel.

As the Pedi-Cab entered Golden Gate Park at 19th Avenue though a thin perimeter of trees, a subdued silence and oily saltiness permeated the air.  Submerged structures at the end of the avenues made it hazardous to sail or row close to the shoreline, so the city had cut down a swath of trees through the park so boats could access the new city center.  The Golden Gate Channel.  Hah!  Two solar buoys marked the entrance. Amisha closed her eyes to avoid seeing the fallen trees, and drifted into a light sleep.  When the pedi-cab cyclist pulled up to her faded pink stucco house on 25th Avenue, he paused for a trembler, then nudged her shoulder and helped her up the front steps.

If you’re around on Saturday, April 27th at 4 pm, come by Tome’s Bookstore in Grass Valley for the Women’s Writing Salon.  Shirley will be reading along with Pat Miller, Sands Hall, Jan Fischler, Eleanor MacDonald and Jean Varda.

 

 

© All materials copyright Shirley DicKard, 2012 – 2013, except as otherwise noted.