A Landscape of Contradictions

Desert

For me, the Owens Valley is a place of contradictions and moral confusion. The lake is a perfect example.

A large water body went dry from overuse by a faraway people. The situation caused dust storms that made people sick. Communities and ecosystems were destroyed. And how was the situation addressed? Covering the lake with gravel. How many ways can we find to tell a people and a place that they don’t matter? Anywhere else it would be too much for words. In this place though, it seems oddly rational.

And maybe it should. When one steps outside the realm of metaphor, symbolism, and emotion, it was a sensible solution. Before the gravel, horrible dust storms swept through towns making people sick and damaging property. Now they don’t. Sure, people fighting for the lake could have been indignant and refused any solution short of ending all water extraction from the valley, but they wouldn’t have gotten it. What they would have gotten, were more dust storms.

As an outsider I can afford to be indignant. I can afford to be a purist, and deride such cynical solutions. But for the residents of the Owens Valley, they have to be pragmatic. They’ve lived their entire lives in this context; in a land of dry lakes, whirling towers of dust, and moon-like landscapes, always with the knowledge that that water (their water?) was needed somewhere more important. I’m not quite sure how they do it.

Think about that the next time you water your lawn.

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