Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Water, Water Everywhere

Yesterday, I caught myself carrying a basin of water outside to the garden. Half the way across the kitchen, I realized what I was doing and stopped: I'd used the water to wash rice, but I didn't want to just dump it. But I had to. I walked over to the sink and poured out the water, gritting my teeth at the waste.

I don't need to save water anymore and it feels so weird.

Over the last two years, I've grown used to recycling the water I've washed rice and vegetables with. In our bathroom in North Cyprus, I had two large tubs of water saved from running the tap until the right temperature was achieved. When they got full, I mopped the floor with the water, watered my herbs with it, or used it to launder clothes, pouring it right into the washing machine.

Everybody conserves water in Cyprus -- you have to. Everywhere you go, you see air conditioning units with receptacles under them so as not to waste even the smallest bit of runoff, bowls carefully placed under leaky hoses, trays put out to catch rainwater. In Turkey too, we saw birds and animals drinking from air conditioning pipes; dry fields where the only green was the weeds growing in patches under leaky pipes.

In Cyprus, everything is dry as dust in the summertime. Root systems grow incredibly deep to tap what water there is; only the hardiest, most drought-resistant plants and trees can survive. We got used to seeing trucks delivering water, used to taking two-minute showers, used to turning the water off when we brushed our teeth or washed our faces. For one memorable weekend in November when we ran out of water, we got used to going to the local swimming pool every evening so that we could at least wash our feet. We stopped going to the tap to fill our glasses too: the water from our faucets was nasty-tasting stuff. We got used to hanging our clothes outside and being able to take them in almost immediately, bone dry. In all the time we lived in Cyprus, I never once saw a clothes drier in anyone's house.

In Scotland, water is completely taken for granted. When it rains, which is almost every day, water pours off rooftops and gushes into gutters. If it isn't rainy, it's cloudy and there is often mist. The ground is soon saturated. It rains so much, everything is generally damp almost all the time. Moss grows lush and thick in gardens, weeds go on a rampage, spreading far and wide, and grass grows so fast you can almost hear it. Everything in Scotland is green. On the rare days when the sun comes out, everyone hurries into their gardens to peg out laundry. You get used to hanging your sheets and towels out, then racing outside to take them back in when it starts raining. Two years ago, I often had to do this two or three times a week. Our neighbors, an ecologically-minded couple with a newborn baby, ended up giving up and buying a clothes drier. I could hardly blame them.

I grew up in Riverside, California, a hot, dry place. In Riverside, just as in Cyprus, we hoarded water and we respected it. In Scotland, you can't walk half a mile without finding some body of water: a bog, a stream, a pond, a river, a loch, or the sea, but in Riverside, where even a burst sewer main can be refreshing, you can go a long way to find a puddle. The joke of Riverside is that it not really beside a river. Actually, the Santa Ana River used to flow through Riverside, but nowadays you are hard put to see even the merest trickle where it used to be. When I was a child, my sisters and I used to love going to see the 'river' after a long, hard rain. It was thrilling to see a foot or two of muddy water snaking its way through the huge, parched river bed.

Here in Scotland, I've got one river practically in my backyard and another a stone's throw away from our house. Both are deep, full at all times, and lined by grassy banks and moss-covered trees. There are times I try to picture my childhood self gazing with longing at this green, wet world I now live in. Two years ago, I was beginning to take all the rain for granted myself, but after two years in Cyprus, I'm back to my Southern Californian water worshiping status.

I wonder how long it will take me to stop hoarding water?

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21 comments:

AnneB said...

I save the water we run until the tap gets hot enough in gallon milk jugs and use it to water the plants, rinse things ... and I live practically on the shores of Lake Michigan. It's not a water shortage, it's a cash conservation measure. Our municipal water water bill increases every year and anything I can do to conserve, I will.

Except get the property kitted out with rain barrel. Because we'd need six--four downspouts on the house (two of them doubles that could go in one barrel) and two on the garage. Maybe next year. Surely we won't have such a wet summer two years in a row.

Tabitha said...

We go through the same thing when we visit family in India. Conserving water is a difficult concept for my kids, since we live next to Lake Michigan and have water to spare. But, in India, water is precious, and we use the same water conservation techniques you just described. My kids still don't understand that there are places in the world where water isn't plentiful, but they will in time. :)

Carole said...

I love the idea of a wet Scotland. Moss growing on stuff makes me happy. My granddaughter who is four thinks fairies live in moss. She gets so excited when she sees it.

Back to conservation of water. I think it is always good to save our resources when we can. So I applaud you.

angryparsnip said...

Growing up in Tucson, Arizona I relate to everything your wrote about.
No matter where I lived once you live in the desert you always conserve water.
Now that I am back in Arizona all the water saving options have kicked in big time and other than a very small patch of grass for "The Two Square Dogs" everything is natural landscape nothing added. There is an old small grove of citrus tree that all the wild animals enjoy so I keep them going for them as much as me.
I am always envious of lush green places and as much as I know I would love to live there, I was raised in the Sonora Desert and as harsh as it is... it is home.
I so understand the dry river bed story and the thrill of seeing water flowing in it during rainy season.

cheers, parsnip

Charles Gramlich said...

Lessons learned hard are hard to unlearn.

Eryl Shields said...

I often wish I could send some of my water to people who don't have enough, my garden is drowning.

Mary Witzl said...

AnneB -- We've have one wet summer after another here in Scotland, though this year is even worse than usual. This last winter was also worse than usual by all accounts. So we are now overflowing with water and after Cyprus, it's so hard to get used to!

I used to save water in plastic milk jugs here, before we installed a water drum outside to catch the overflow from the roof of our garden shed. I've used that water drum half a dozen times and we've had it for three years. Mostly, I just watch the water spilling off it, flooding my peonies and irises -- and I feel like crying. If I could send it to California or Cyprus, I would.

Tabitha -- My kids don't get it either, and neither does my husband, who grew up in the U.K: he lets the water run when he does the dishes. I can't watch him. I tell myself that at least he's doing the dishes and we have our different ways and that is that. My brother-in-law is Cuban and he does the same thing: Niagara Falls all the way when he's at the sink. My sister has to count to ten and get out of the kitchen. Maybe we need to send our men to India...or stop whining about water.

Carole -- I still rake the moss out of places in my garden, but I really love it. It's soft, it's the most beautiful, almost Day-glo green, and it has hidden depths. So yes, you can almost picture fairies living in it -- I'll be gentle with the rake the next time I'm out there.

AP -- I love your descriptions of where you live. I miss citrus trees so much! I love living in Scotland, but if I want to get nostalgic, I just think about all the plants I'm missing out on: citrus, bougainvillea, lantana, eucalyptus, pepper trees, cactus...

It pleases me no end to know that there are other water conservers out there. I worry that my kids, who grew up in places with plentiful rain, will see water as something that just springs automatically from the faucet.

I'm a big fan of Tony Hillerman's detective novels. In one, there was an incident where the MC swilled his empty glass out with a little water, then drank it rather than throwing it out. His companion, who didn't have to cart her own water, responded with surprise. My sympathies were with the MC entirely.

Charles -- This is so true. You've got to learn how precious water is the hard way. Hauling tubs of water around, coping on a daily basis with as little as possible, makes an impression in a way that parents' stories never can.

Mary Witzl said...

AnneB -- We have one wet summer after another here in Scotland, though this year is worse than usual. This last winter was also worse than usual by all accounts.

I used to save water in plastic milk jugs here, before we installed a water drum outside to catch the overflow from the roof of our garden shed. I've used that water drum half a dozen times and we've had it for three years. Mostly, I just watch the water spilling off it, flooding my peonies and irises -- and I feel like crying. If I could send it to California or Cyprus, I would.

Tabitha -- My kids don't get it either, and neither does my husband, who grew up in the U.K: he lets the water run when he does the dishes. I can't watch him. I tell myself that at least he's doing the dishes and we have our different ways and that is that. My brother-in-law is Cuban and he does the same thing: Niagara Falls all the way when he's at the sink. My sister has to count to ten and get out of the kitchen. Maybe we need to send our men to India...or stop whining about water.

Carole -- I still rake the moss out of places in my garden, but I really love it. It's soft, it's the most beautiful, almost Day-glo green, and it has hidden depths. So yes, you can almost picture fairies living in it -- I'll be gentle with the rake the next time I'm out there.

AP -- I miss citrus trees so much! I love living in Scotland, but if I want to get nostalgic, I just think about all the plants I'm missing out on: citrus, bougainvillea, lantana, eucalyptus, pepper trees, cactus...

It pleases me no end to know that there are other water conservers out there. I worry that my kids, who grew up in places with plentiful rain, will see water as something that just springs automatically from the faucet.

I'm a big fan of Tony Hillerman's detective novels. In one, there was an incident where the MC swilled his empty glass out with a little water, then drank it rather than throwing it out. His companion, who didn't have to cart her own water, responded with surprise. My sympathies were with the MC entirely.

Charles -- This is so true. You've got to learn how precious water is the hard way. Hauling tubs of water around, coping on a daily basis with as little as possible, makes an impression in a way that parents' stories never can.

Eryl -- Our posts crossed!

You and me both: I keep sighing at our overflowing, moss-encrusted water drum and waterlogged garden and wishing I could send some of my excess to Cyprus. They could sure use it.

Kit said...

Love your water consciousness!
We are in between here, just outside Cape Town: plentiful water from our borehole, but long dry summers, when you worry about it drying up and so save all the water you can to water the plants with.
I'm trying to teach the kids to turn off the tap when they brush their teeth and looking at switching to an eco-shower head to save electricity and water. I think the whole world needs to get more water conscious... except perhaps Scotland!

Kim Ayres said...

I know I'd miss it if I didn't have it, but we just have so much of it here in Scotland and I yearn for more sunshine

Robin said...

Scotland sounds beautiful. We have a well, and it makes me feel a little smug about water use. I feel like it's my water and I can do what I want with it. I caught it, after all. I sort of know there's something wrong with that thinking, but I can't figure out exactly what it is.

Pat said...

Mary it is a good habit. A legacy from wartime 5 inches of bath water means I have a healthy respect for water and feel guilt if ever I'm wasting it.
In the mid seventies even the ever verdant mid Wales was barren, brown and dry. There are certainly climate changes and we shouldn't take anything for granted.
BTW I love Scottish water - the only water I enjoy drinking from the tap. Cheers!

Anne Spollen said...

I reuse water just because we live green. If we cook corn or pasta, we cool the water then bring it outside and dump it in the garden or trees. There's no water shortage here, but if a drought should happen, we are ready.

I read somewhere that it takes between 30 - 35 days for the brain to actually stop "habituating" -- which doesn't mean you won't return to that behavior three months from now.

angryparsnip said...

Mary,
I an also a big fan of Tony Hillerman's books. When he died all my children called me as they knew how much I loved his books.
I remember that passage very much as It rang true to me. I don't rinse out my cup like that but I always drink every drop of liquid from the cup or glass.
I can't stand when at a restaurant the waiter brings you a big overfilled glass of water, before asking, and then so many people leave it untouched on the table. I always ask for half a glass or a small glass of water.
I have a old cistern, for rain water, next to my home and I plan to have it repaired and up and running soon.
Raking moss ? Heavenly.... picture please.
I so enjoy reading your blog.

cheers, parsnip

Vijaya said...

Oh. My. Goodness. Mary. The same feelings here about water. I love the Pacific NW for all its rain ... we don't have to conserve water like we did growing up in India. There it was like gold. Precious. And it took some effort to get it to the kitchen. My sister and I hauled countless buckets from the outside ... as my mother washed clothes every morning.

I don't think you ever get used to the plenty ...

Marcia said...

Oh, Mary -- I gobbled up every word of your post and the comments because this topic is SOOOOOO important to me right now...you have no idea how great your timing is! :)

Mary Witzl said...

Kit -- I'm glad to know you're water conscious in South Africa.

If they ever need to conserve water in Scotland, it's going to be a tough call getting everybody on board: when I turn the water off in the middle of washing dishes, I get the strangest looks. I know I don't need to do it anymore, but I cannot stop myself. Living through the 1977 drought of California has marked me for good.

Kim -- Two months ago, I'd have given you any amount of sunshine for just one day of cool, wet refreshment. Now, I'd probably bargain a little harder. :o)

Robin -- Fingers crossed that your well never runs dry!

I'm betting you don't have to go fish it out in a bucket, right? I grew up on my mother's stories about pumping water out of their well or drawing up bucketfuls of water in the summer.

Pat -- In Japan, bath water is recycled: the whole family uses it for up to three days (there are chlorine tablets you can use to make it less icky). We have a bathtub here, but I have a hard time filling it as full as I'd like. There are times I wish I could get over my water conserving bug.

I don't conserve drinking water from the tap, though -- I drink that like it's going out of style. You're right: Scottish water tastes wonderful, though it varies from town to town.

AnneS -- 30 to 35 days? Sigh...

Yay for you for living green! I'm trying to be greener, but I have a hard time convincing my family. Greening a whole family takes a lot of work and pester power. We've got a new plastic milk bottle recycling service, for instance, but I keep finding our milk bottles in the trash...

AP -- Thank you so much for those kind words.

I feel the same about getting water in restaurants. People don't realize that it isn't just the drinking water that is wasted, it's the water you use washing the glasses. I drink all my water. Being a water conservation nut ensures my always being perfectly hydrated.

The next time I'm raking up moss in our garden (which should be in about twenty minutes), I'll think of you!

Vijaya -- As wonderful as it is to have such wonderful resources of water, isn't it hard to go from one extreme to another? I can't get over all the water I let slip through my fingers. I suspect that if I went to a planet where gold and diamonds lay scattered on the ground, as worthless as trash, I'd feel much the same.

Marcia -- Now I'm dying to find out why! I hope you're not going through a drought there. I'll nip over to your blog to find out...

Robert the Skeptic said...

We have plenty of water in Oregon, still we try to conserve. We warm our coffee cups in the microwave with water, then dump the water in a pitcher to cool and use it to water plants.

Still with the snow pack in the Cascades and the long months of rain, we sometimes come up short having drought years at varying intervals.

Jacquie Finister said...

Hey there - great blog as always :)

Don't stop what's a wonderful habit - but whilst we don't live in a country that usually suffers from a lack of rainfall, and the north of the country is having a particularly wet time of it...(Yorkshire isn't doing too well either but mainly just cloudy with occasional drizzle or downpours) the UK is having its worst drought in 100 years... half of the Leeds / Liverpool Canal has just been closed down to conserve water...

Another thing I always try remember each time I take my condensing dryer's full container of water out to the garden, or water our indoor plants with it, is that the planet has a finite amount of resources...let's continue to do our bit to put back what we don't need so it can be shared around again :)

Oh and as a 'tight Yorkshire lass' - remember you pay for every drop you take out of your tap ;)

Mary Witzl said...

Robert -- I still turn off the water when I'm brushing my teeth, limit the number of baths I take, and don't go hog wild with the tap whenever I wash the dishes. Everybody in my family rolls their eyes at me, but in the immortal words of Popeye, I yam what I yam.

Jacquie -- Thank you for commenting, and thank you for your kind words. I've heard about the drought down south, but it's almost impossible to imagine it here. Right now, it's rained for four days straight and although I love it, I do have laundry I'd like to get dry at some point.

I'm thrilled that there are other U.K. residents who try to conserve water. I just wish I could persuade the people I live with to go along with these water conserving ideas, but my powers of persuasion are not very effective. Whenever my husband or daughters wash the dishes, I have to bite my tongue: it's like watching Niagara Falls.

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