We Drank Water Straight from the Stream

My thanks to the organizers of Blog Action Day for a great idea, well implemented, aAction_125x125nd here’s hoping that it changes the world. I’m certainly proud to be participating. I’m also happy to see this happening, belated or not.

I have to admit that it’s a bit disheartening to think that we were talking about environmental issues back in 1964 when I was a sophomore in high school in suburban California. So much of what Al Gore has finally convinced a lot of people is true was already there. My family joined the Sierra Club in 1964, in part because of an annoying 15-year-old (me) who wouldn’t shut up.

I’m happy to see the success of An Inconvenient Truth, and the success of blog action day. Later is better than never.

So much has changed for the worse in so little time. Here’s one simple example. My wife and I used to take our kids, now grown, into the high Sierra mountains in California every summer. Backpacking88We rented a burro at the Tuolumne Meadows stables in Yosemite, and went up into the mountains where we would be two or three days hike from the nearest road. You see the stream in the background in the picture here? We drank out of it, used it to cook our food, without any worries about salmonella or parasites or anything.  That picture was taken in 1988. We didn’t carry bottled water, we didn’t carry iodine pills, we didn’t boil the water, it was clean runoff from Sierra snowmelt. It tasted so good. It was deliciously cold, clear, and completely clean.

In fact, we used to carry aluminum Sierra Club cups on our belts. Instead of lugging water, the cup would bang Sierra_club_cuppleasantly along with the beat of our walking pace, keeping time to the hike, there in an instant. Streams came along at perfectly reasonable intervals, every half hour or so.

I just Googled the Sierra Club cup. They’re producing them again, but as a tribute to the past. They had been discontinued for at least 10 years. After all, what good is an aluminum cup for dipping in streams? Just get a plastic water bottle with a section top.

So that’s just a detail, I know, but details are the only way I can get a handle on this. Those days are gone now.  It hasn’t been that long. Our grown-up children, the oldest of them now in their 30s, remember that well. Our younger children,  now in their 20s, have no such memory. The idea of drinking water straight out of a stream sounds like some scratchy old black-and-white storyteller from the distant past.

When my kids are the age I am now, what else will they be telling their kids about? I guess polar bears and penguins are already doomed. “They used to live in the wild, dear, not just in zoos.”  Will they be telling them that there were streams running down the mountainsides, fed by melting snow? Yosemite Falls? The San Francisco Bay?


  • Charles Robinson says:

    I'm in my early 30's and grew up in the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee, and I have similar memories. I didn't know what the Sierra Club was back then, but we used to go to the mountains a few times a year and playing in the streams and drinking directly from them was a welcome treat. I loved the clean, cool air and the chilly mountain lakes. Picking out the different species as we bounced down the gravel roads was fun, too.

    Several years ago I went back to some of these places I played as a child and I was shocked by what a saw. Logging had laid whole mountainsides bare. Stone masons had come in and removed all the rocks, turning the gentle streams into garish ravines. People had drained their oil into the ground near a lake so much there were signs posted that the lake wasn't suitable for human contact. Several of the roads had been paved, and there was evidence of huge homes being built, which I can only assume would be used seasonally — but heated and cooled year-round.

    It was a tragedy and a travesty. I contacted the local media, whose response was "yeah, and?" Apparently the federal and local officials allowed all this to help support the ailing local economy.

    My thesaurus says frugality is a synonym for economy. I don't see that being the case here. Humanity's greedy consumption will eventually catch up, economics be damned.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *