Recently this dry summer, I had reason to venture upon the wild hills above the family vineyard in Alexander Valley. With the fire of 2019 having swept through the area, it was easy to move quite freely due to the absence of matted poison oak, blackberries, manzanita, Madrone and various Oak species being burned out. I happened upon some of the ancient water springs on the northern hillside that once fed the house water since it was built in 1853. Spring boxes were constructed with mortared rocks which still allowed space for the water to collect and then be slowly fed to an underground cistern built for the house. I remember when I was a child, every second year we would cut away the lush vegetation that would grow up around these springs and bail out the sediment that had collected in them. When I was still the lightest of the family, I was lowered down legs up by my grandfather and father in order to scoop out the sediment into a larger bucket on a rope. Navigating centipedes and spiders that clung to rocks that made up the walls, gave special life to certain scenes from Indiana Jones movies to me some years afterward.
Walking the hills half a century later, I pondered redeveloping these natural water sources as a backup to our amazing modern well which requires electricity to function. Going back to the time before electricity was available, all you needed to supply the house with water was a source at higher elevation, gravity, hand digging tools, some mortar, rocks, pipe and some planning ahead. One of the things I wish I had asked my grandfather was more details about how he kept things dry enough for the mortar to set while still efficiently capturing the water. As I carefully trod and slipped on the steep hillside through the new blackberries and horsetails that announce the springs presence, I grew hopeful about the future even during these trying times full of uncertainty and challenge. Despite the difficulties we may face in the world (pandemics, supply chain disruptions) and during a very dry year, these precious ancient water sources still remain a reliable touchstone to the past and to the ingenuity and resiliency of our ancestors. These springs have seeped their life-giving water in a modest but stalwart fashion during wet and dry years including the 1976/1977 drought which I witnessed first-hand. This is a very hopeful reminder during challenging times.
Download the complete newsletter here: Springs are Hope Eternal