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Liquid Sky

by Anne Udall

November 6,2007

“Water sustains all.” - Thales of Miletus, 600 B.C.

In the Arizona desert, where I grew up, water held special meaning. The monsoons in August were a reason to dance in the streets—literally. When the rain poured out of the sky in a thunderous roar, after a long, hot, sizzling summer, it was an accepted practice to go outside and turn one’s face to the skies in gratitude.

As a child of the desert, I grew to respect and revere water. The sight of water in the desert never failed to inspire and awe, from the smallest puddle to the rushing canyon streams. To experience the desert in bloom is to witness both the tenacity and patience of nature. To travel even short distances in the desert without water is to be a fool.

When I first came to the Charlotte Region over 15 years ago, I was overwhelmed by the green of this place. Everywhere I turned, there was too much green—huge green trees, huge flowerbeds, and huge expanses of lush grass. My desert sensibilities were offended. I flinched inside, to see water flow so freely to water lawns, fill lakes, and create a garden I could have never had in Arizona. And yet, in time, I grew accustomed to the abundance of water here. I became lazy, forgetting that all water flows from this earth (and not a tap!).

Now, this drought has humbled me once again to the sanctity of water. I have ignored the news that a drought was imminent; I didn’t believe it. We are complacent about water here; accustomed to vibrancy and lushness in this part of the world; to water flowing freely when we need it. Denial has been called the shock absorber of the soul; I continued to water my lawn, tend my perennials and confidently expect the inevitable rain. It never came. And the rain is not coming. The headlines sank in; the meteorologists got heard—don’t expect any substantial water until spring of 2008, at the earliest. So, finally, at some recent pause, I ‘got’ that water, the gift of all life, is in very short supply.

The drought has deeply affected me. Is it because we are 71% water ourselves? I look at the sky, many times a day. I feel less alive, surrounded by listless plants and trees gasping for water. Pouring a half full glass of water down the sink seems wrong. I fight against the impulse to turn on the hose for the dying flowers in my yard. I am scared when Al and Stacy tell me every morning that there is no rain in the forecast, again. I now understand why the ancients prayed for rain. And why many of us are doing so now, with unabashed pleading to our higher power.

The drought reminds us that we are truly and completely powerless in the face of Mother Nature (need another reminder?—look to California this month). In the face of such cosmic indifference, we work together or perish together, because lack of water punctuates the fact that we are all inextricably connected.

So, beyond our individual reactions, how will we respond as a larger community to the water crisis in front of us? I worry right now that we still don’t truly understand the level of collective sacrifice, planning and collaboration it will take to successfully see us through this drought. I am always hopeful, though, about the ability of people to come together for the common good. The alien says in a favorite movie Starman: "You are a strange species ... intelligent but savage. Shall I tell you what I find beautiful about you? You are at your very best when things are at their worst." All of us need to do our part—educate ourselves on the true impact of this drought; figure out what sacrifices we each can make as members of a larger community; and demand genuine collaboration from our leaders.

And when it finally rains enough to fill our lakes and streams, I invite you to join this desert rat in running outside, turning my face to the Carolina sky, and thanking God for the gift of water.

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