I know it’s raining buckets lately, but it is going to take more than a season of El Niño for California to recover from the drought.
As I watch the rain form into tiny creeks next to the sidewalk out the window and see the deeply dehydrated lines on the skin of my hands as I type, I can’t help but recognize a connection between the historic lack of water and shift in cultural climate as of late. I feel the dryness in my neighborhood as I walk through the Mission District in San Francisco.
I walk past an alley of graffiti, and a sketch by my brother Jason comes to mind. He always works in black and white with sharp, abstract shapes. The lines are thick and heavy, and the overall feeling I get from contemplating them is one of discomfort, and disorder searching for depth. There are descending stairways that float into nothing and foreign creatures that overlap the view of the center, like a marsh that desperately wants to climb out of itself and move as a stream, if only he could find the will and the guiding banks.
But it seems he has invested his future in the world of cold metal, distinct edges and intellect rather than warm soil, curves and instinct. These lines do not contain and support like the banks of a river, but separate and isolate like spears and armor. How does the young masculine fit into this unnatural culture that the wealth of Silicon Valley has created?
A recent study by the Campaign for Responsible Technology found that processing a single six-inch silicon wafer—which is commonly used to power computers, cellphones, and many other devices—uses 2,275 gallons of deionized water. This translates to an average of about 236,600,000 gallons annually from one production plant. That’s enough water to fill 360 Olympic-sized swimming pools. This is the cost for the convenience that our modern gadgets charge.
And local neighborhoods of artists and dreamers feel the displacement as well. Engineers and technology replace artists and rivers. The New Yorker reports that between the years 1990 to 2011, 1,400 Latino families were displaced, and the black community of the Mission District was cut in half. The winds of change are scattering dust in all directions.
Natural California appears to be scrub land and desert that has been turned to farmland by expensive irrigation projects that re-route rivers from as far as the Rocky Mountain range. The Sierra Mountain Range supplies a large portion of water to Northern California after it melts, but at the start of 2014, the snowpack was 30 percent lower than average. The worst drought in recorded history was in 2013, and as of this year 90 percent of the entire state remains in severe to moderate drought.
The major water reserve sites at Folsom Lake, Shasta Lake, Lake Oroville and the San Luis Reservoir are all at 20 or 30 percent of capacity. All this dryness makes way for fires. The Yosemite National Park experienced the largest wildfire on record. The rim fire burned from August to October 2013 and destroyed more than 400 square miles of land. Brown, cracked and charred earth replaces green, golden and blue in our modern surroundings. And that’s when we can see the ground at all, more than likely the horizon is full of a metallic skyline and the dirt is covered in gray concrete.
It is worth considering the structure and personality of silicon and other metalloids because modern city dwellers may have more silicon per square mile than greenery. Electronics work best in a cool, dry environment and they require precision and control to function. Silicon, which is used to make electronic circuits, itself is a chemical element, a nonmetal that is semi-conductive. It is found naturally as an amorphous powder and in a dark grey crystalline form. I’ve already mentioned electronics give off positive ions that accumulate in the air, and water helps diffuse this invisible smog.
Creatures adapt to fit their environments. Lizards are dry and scaly like the ground where they live. Mushrooms are soft and moist because they are part of a damp environment. Butterflies are light and spend their time in the air. Humans who live in a wild jungle are lush and alive internally. We imitate our surroundings on a cellular level. Humans in cities often complain of being wired, anxious and “always on.” The water within us works over time to conduct the electricity, wifi and excess sound waves all around us.
As my mother would say, you are the company you keep. When we work in front of computers all day, we become more like the machines. And we are not meant to be machines. We are part of nature. We need nature, and water in particular. But, as anyone who has ever seen the warning label on a hair dryer knows, electronics and water do not mix.
The elements in water are highly conductive, which means they facilitate fluidity; energy moves easily across water. When drops of water come in contact with the intricate wires and circuits of most electronics, the energy suddenly has a greater number of options for where to move. If the power supply remains constant, the device will have a greater capacity to use energy and will become so full of energy, so charged, that it may overload the small circuit’s capacity and cause heat, fire, or even an explosion. Applying the principle of deductive reasoning, we might hypothesize that the more fluid we are, the more water we take in and surround ourselves with, the greater number of options we make available for ourselves. We too have a higher potential to channel energy when we are well hydrated. And the reverse is true. Physiologically speaking, we have fewer options and less energy when we are dehydrated.
A single chip of silicon is a square structure that looks like a sharp maze. It cannot operate if even a tiny drop of liquid touches it. It follows rules that do not belong to water. Separation, control and manufacturing. My brother daydreams about transferring to the literal fog of the Bay Area. I’ve told him there was a time when he could have made it out here without a Bachelor’s Degree, just living on a prayer, but definitely not now. I can’t even make it out here, and I’m more or less established with three advanced degrees, but I still need to move across the bridge to make rent. Silicon Valley is unforgiving, a harsh master that demands his devotees fit into an extremely precise mold.
California has chosen to create a segmented wasteland disguised as ingenuity that is entirely driven by the mind. Value is defined by reason and profits control the course of growth. The rest is rejected or objectified. Buildings grow taller, bridges grow wider, and rent soars past the clouds. Water is rejected or commodified and needs to be contained. Intuition is scorned. Women and minorities struggle at the edges. As evictions displace more and more homeless men into the parks and under overpasses, even the sandy soil is thirsty for diversity. Roots dry up and plants collapse. The bay area proudly advertises this mind trap as a spiritual paradise, on the cutting edge of cultural advancement. Some days the smug is so thick I can barely breathe.
Analysis (literally, “to separate into parts”) is rampant, and the cells and minutiae of trees are obsessed over while the forest is cut down and sold. The extreme state of disharmony that modern culture has created is like chopping up a snake into little pieces and selling off each broken fragment as an entire snake. No one seems to care that the snake is dead, but they are happy to have and hold their very own portion of it.
The Mission neighborhood of San Francisco sits in a valley between Twin Peaks and Potrero Hill, so even when the rest of the city is cold and damp the sun shines on Dolores Park. The Mission has historically been a Hispanic spot, but over the last 15 to 20 years the original residents have been pushed further and further toward the fringes as a new wave of hipsters and engineers take over. The little river that once ran through the Mission was the first eviction. Mission Creek was once centered around what is now the Mission Dolores, but it was drained and filled in beginning in 1874.
Too many young boys have been brought up in a desertified culture that rejects the fluid. The concrete of our culture in urban settings drinks the watery parts of their souls, refuses to let them sink into the ground, evaporate into the air, or run off down a hill, and so these boys have only a slight chance that they may discover a path that will lead them back to the forest, the ocean, the feminine, the wild possibility of standing confidently in the sunlight and drinking inspiration from the moon.
The journey to inner freedom comes from a connection between their intellect with their instinct; their head and their guts. They are desperately in need of an image, a friend, a teacher or a book that shows them what a society that values masculine and feminine alongside one another might look like. Some miraculous drops of raining grace must soften and disarm the tangled sparks and wires around their hearts and liberate their warmth, their natural penetrating firey passion for life and beauty and love again.
Author: Eila Carrico
Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr/Kevin Cortopassi