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Making Noise (March 20, 2002)

This morning, as I drove into Boonville for my cup of tea at Glad's, most of the vineyards had their sprinklers going full blast protecting the vines from frost. The water, of course, is robbed from the ecosystem in a variety of ways.

George Bergner, Cakebread, Donnelly Creek Farms and others have licenses to pump right out of Anderson Creek. Duckhorn, V. Sattui and Cakebread have installed French drains, subsurface accumulation systems that trap and appropriate all surface sheeting and ground water replenishment from winter rains. Roederer’s Boonville vineyards store water diverted from natural stream flow, a practice now frowned upon by the State Water Resources Control Board.

It is generally considered that each acre of vineyard requires one acre/foot of water for frost protection. An amount that some agencies like to presume that each household of four uses each year. I don't think my household even comes close. I'd be interested if any of you calculator-proficient curious people would like to add up the toilet flushes, baths and showers, dishwashings, etc. to come up with a yearly figure.

Anyway, what caught my eye, besides the eerie, out-of-place, at times oddly attractive icicles sagging off trellises and fences, was the abundant run-off. Water was sheeting out of the vineyards, across roads and into drains and draws that feed into creeks and the river.

If you haven't noticed, this is herbicide season. Each of these vineyards I've mentioned has been copiously applying noxious chemicals to beat back the natural progression of those herbaceous elements trying so valiantly to restore balance. Among which are clover, dandelion (so dear to my heart) and even oak, all part of the abundant food stores of the native peoples.

One of many questions is to what degree the frost protection run-off is flushing the poisons into the waterways and, of course, to what effect once it's there? The last couple of big rains brought drifts of dirty looking foam to the river, a condition I was then, at least in my mind, blaming on herbicide. Boonville’s Steve Hall said the little feeder creek running past his place, coming from Roederer’s vineyard was running muddy, suggesting run-off great enough to erode the soil. Jeff Pugh thought herbicide wash-off would be minimal since most of it stabilizes in clayey soil, but if the dirt is going, the poisons must be going with it.

I don't know why but all of this has reminded me of an encounter I had with Lee Edmundson in Mendocino last month. He, in support of Colfax and the powers that be who allow this kind of stuff to happen unchallenged or unquestioned, in a deep, arrogant seriousness patted me on the chest and said, “David, you don't have a clue.” 

He did, ask Jim Young — he was there.

So, in the space of time between the last paragraph and this one I have turned my collar around and slid my soap box behind a pulpit and would like to invite you brothers and sisters to join me in a little sojourn beside the Great River of Life. The River, Hopi elders tell us, is flowing too fast. Don't hang on, they say, don't fight it, keep your head up or your spirit will drown. I think of these words often as I find myself cueing up for yet another battle. And it is these sentiments that take me regularly to the River itself in search of guidance.

For me it is the Navarro and not far from my house. I like to sit and listen to the water. Most of you can close your eyes and hear the talking of the water. The bubbling and gurgling of small streams and the roar and thrashing of larger and faster flows. If you listen intently enough, in time, thoughts will come. Sometimes these thoughts bring understanding and new ways thinking.

One of the first things I came to realize as I sat beside the river was that for all of the roaring and churning whitewater that made the sounds that I listened to, mostly, even in the height of winter, water flows silently. Though most anywhere along the river one can hear the sounds of that river, unless you stand or sit directly beside what we call rapids, the water next to you flows in perfect silence.

Another realization came more from watching than listening and I invite you all to look for this the next time you're at the river. The water that talks, that makes the noise that we hear, is water that is trying to go upstream. It appears as if it's trying to jump back or to somehow not be part of the flow. I know this sounds weird but check it out. It's true.

So, here is the metaphor, or at least one. For all of us flowing down the Great River of Life, some of us make a lot of noise and try to get back upstream, most of us go silently, sometimes churned and swirled, sometimes abused with poisons and other noxious abuses, but in the end whether we are screaming and kicking or just going with the flow, we all get to the same place. We are all in it together and it is very difficult to split or stop the course of a river.

I just always seem to want to try.

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