What Happens When The Water Dries Up? Or: Mid-April Blizzards, Protecting the Great Lakes, Meeting Claire Vaye Watkins, and Staying Sober
Over this past weekend—Friday, April 13 through Sunday, April 15—my area saw an accumulation of 18 inches of hail, sleet, and snow. The wind raged through the state, too, creating epically poor visibility, dangerous road conditions, and the risk of too-heavy, snow-laden tree limbs falling on people walking to their mailboxes.
“I’m really tired of winter,” said the state’s entire population. “Where is our promised spring?”
I stayed home from the Friday to the morning of Tuesday, April 17, waiting for the wind to cease hissing through our drafty front doorjamb, for the snow to begin to melt. When I woke up Saturday morning, I couldn’t exit out the front door; it was iced closed. I chipped away at the side door in my garage to take the Netflix DVD to the equally iglooed mailbox, eager to get Blazing Saddles in the mail so I could watch The Shining next. I still get the Netflix DVD service; my rural Internet is too slow and my phone data, albeit unlimited, is still too limited to perform well on streaming services. By the time I got inside, my felted wool mittens had soaked through from my efforts to escape the confines of my house, even if only to go a few yards away. I waited for my nose to thaw, cursed Wisconsin, threw the bird at winter, and started looking up adjunct creative writing positions in the southwest.
The nonstop ice and snow in this recent storm were unusual for Wisconsin in mid-April, but the precipitation is not. Wiconsinites are lucky; droughts are rare. Generally, we see rain consistently from early April through late November, when it turns into snow. What boring farmer talk this is, but I swear all the, “How’s the weather?” discussion has a point. Wisconsin’s water is desirable—so attractive that wealthy, conservative, heavily white towns in my state want it, and major corporations like Foxconn covet it, promising to put only 61 percent back of what they use from Lake Michigan into local aquifers.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Great Lakes are “the largest surface freshwater system on earth.” That water is a precious natural resource, and I’ve always loved living close to Lake Michigan. The grounding, positive, and reviving effects of large bodies of water are scientifically proven. Plus, as a little kid in Milwaukee, I could always tell which way was east. “Toward the lake,” I’d point, proud of my cardinal-direction compass-rose knowledge.
Of course, there are regulations to prevent unauthorized draining of our resources—the EPA, the Great Lakes Compact, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and municipal and regional laws. But what happens when the water dries up in other parts of the country? Or, horrifyingly, when cost-cutting techniques divert an entire city’s drinking water from a clean Great Lake (Huron) to a river of filth, such as the public health tragedy in Flint, Michigan?
I attended a reading last Thursday evening in Madison, featuring Claire Vaye Watkins, one of my favorite living writers. Her accolades are impressive, but even more vital and inspiring to me is her writing voice. It’s clear, strong and contemporary, without being offensive or overly dramatic. I got to talk with her a bit after the reading, and, like her writing, the author herself is thoughtful, animated, and cool. She seems like someone I could easily be friends with “IRL,” but I’m sure she hears that all the time.
Watkins’ debut novel, Gold Fame Citrus, details what happens when the water runs out. The California drought takes out Los Angeles, forcing the city to evacuate. As the rain dries up and the land, too, an ever-shifting dune sea inexorably alters—swallows, really—the landscape of the southwest.
The novel was surreal to me, as a resident of a water-rich state who lives in this humid area most of the time, but attends 10-day residencies at an MFA program in frequently drought-stricken Southern California. SPOILER ALERT: At the end of Gold Fame Citrus, the protagonist and her lover head east to H20-saturated Wisconsin. This is a dark and beautifully weird novel; Watkins’ topographical and climatological knowledge is powerful, and her opportunistic, wholly human characters, gorgeously flawed, make Gold Fame Citrus a book worth reading more than once.
Thank you to the Wisconsin Book Festival for bringing Watkins. I look forward to attending another fantastic reading this weekend—this one featuring Roxane Gay in Green Bay at Untitledtown Book and Author Festival.
While I’m talking about hydration and drying up, I can report that I’ve made It 17 days into Dry April, and I’m no longer craving a glass of wine every evening. Or a Manhattan or two every Friday. Why is it that I associate good whiskey with the end of a workweek?
My sleeping habits have normalized, despite replacing alcohol with a lot of tea, both caffeinated green tea and herbal. I feel good, healthy, able to concentrate for long periods of time, and, notably, less anxious than I do when imbibing on a regular basis.
This exercise has made me realize that I have an unhealthy relationship with drinking. I use alcohol to quell my anxiety before or during social situations, to relieve family-, friend-, and work-related stress, and as an end-of-day ritual. The (perhaps neurologically false and faulty) concept of liquid courage is nothing new, I realize. But some members of my family had substance abuse problems, and used beer, wine, brandy, and whiskey as excuses to stay up until all hours of the morning and smoke pack after pack after pack of cigarettes.
I don’t want to die a premature death simply because I’m stressed and become reliant on that glass—or two or four—of wine after work every day to ease my anxiety. There are other ways to ease that anxiety, and I’m spending much more time now finding those stress relievers:
- Water—drinking it, swimming in it, bathing in it.
- Reading a lot.
- Writing this blog that probably 10 people read, 8-ish of whom are related to me.
- Feminist television like Jane the Virgin and Good Girls Revolt that I can watch only partial episodes of due to the aforementioned streaming issue.
- Drinking all of the tea.
Life can be good sober. There are studies showing the potential health benefits of a glass of wine (four ounces) or one beer a day, but I don’t currently trust myself with an entire, opened bottle of wine beckoning from the counter after I drink my one allotted glass with dinner. Perhaps I will be able to hone that discipline with time.
In the future, I plan to use alcohol how I think it should be used—in moderation and among friends and family members at festive events. Since I am rapidly approaching the age of 32, my festive events currently include weddings, birthdays, special social gatherings (a going-away party, a housewarming party, etc.), and career milestones of myself and those close to me. I don’t experience any of those events more than once a week, though I would NOT be sad if I got published in a new literary journal every week. Those publications certainly call for a glass of wine. ;)
This month, though, I’ll watch the snow melt, be thankful for my state’s lakes, rivers, streams, creeks, and aquifers, read a lot, and remain on the “dry” wagon.