Twenty Years On

I’m not really sure what to say. Most of what I’ve been thinking has been shrouded in cold anger laced with sorrow. The abyss has been looking back at me recently, and that part of my personality needs to stay quiet and under control. Meditating on September 11, 2001, and events since then inclines me to loosen the chains binding that . . . anima . . . and allow her free rein. Those around me don’t need to see that.

The United States was attacked. In the years that followed, Great Britain (London bus bombings) and Spain (Madrid train attacks) were also hit. Almost 3000 people died on September 11, 2001 in the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and on Flight 93. Others likely died because organ transport flights were grounded with all other air traffic. Air ambulance flights were permitted on the 12-13th, under very, very strict limits, then other types of aviation returned to the skies. The Hudson River corridor even reopened, much to the surprise of a lot of us in aviation. the DC area remains in effect a no-go-zone for the average Sunday flyer.

The United States was attacked. Don’t forget that. No matter what the current pundits claim, or insinuate.

We’ve been critiquing and rehashing everything that came after ever since. “No Blood for Oil.” “Not in my name.” “Don’t Invade Iran.” (That one always left me scratching my head – no one WAS talking about invading Iran.) Now . . . I’m staying away from current events for a reason.

Don’t forget. Tell younger people where you were, what you were doing, what you thought. Tell them the truth as you remember it. Tell them about the bravery and courage, the sacrifices and the efforts that followed. Tell them also about who celebrated the attacks, and why.

Lest we forget, lest we forget.

[Actually, I think I can say one thing I’ve decided on. I’m not one of the Winged Hussars. I’m one of the ones inside the Gates of Vienna, doing everything I can to hold onto civilization and what’s of value, and to help the defenders, so that there’s something left when the relief forces arrive.]

Those who know will know.

Groundwater Users and the Future of the Ogallala

Short version – there are a lot of claims on the water under the plains, and a lot of ideas for what to do in the future. Some are more realistic than others.

Ted Turner – the Atlanta media and baseball team dude – talked about returning the High Plains (western area over the Ogallala Aquifer) to quasi-Ice Age status by seeding it with elephants, lions, and other African fauna sort of, kinda, like the Pleistocene megafauna. We will skip over the lack of ground water-fed springs and streams, the totally different precipitation patterns as compared to the last Ice Age, and a few other minor details. Let’s just say that his idea died the death it deserved. At least for now.

Another proposal, this from two professors at Rutgers, looked back to some of the New Deal programs and involved removing domestic livestock and crops from the region. Instead, a “Buffalo Commons” would allow bison to roam as they once had, and tourism and bison management would support the economy of the region, minus a lot of the current human residents. Again, the lack of surface water leaped to mind as a problem, along with the human tendency to dig in and hold when someone from Outside says, “I have a great idea. Let’s you leave and then we can . . .” There’s some value to some of the Poppers’ proposals, but also some big problems.

The Ogallala still has water. Some parts of the aquifer are getting thicker and gaining water. On average, among all the states on the Ogallala, 85% of the water taken out each year is used for irrigated agriculture. A good rule of thumb for an average year in southern Kansas, the Oklahoma Panhandle, and Texas is that one and a quarter acre-feet of water are needed per year per acre of water. An acre-foot is 326,000 gallons, more or less. This will cover one acre of land in one foot of water. The Oklahoma Panhandle, per the USDA (Ag department) has 230,000 acres of irrigated crop land. Those crops require, on average 290,000 a/f/y. Three-quarters of that is wheat and field corn, with another fifteen percent or so grain sorghum. In a wet year, irrigators use less. Dry year, more water, unless it is so bad that there’s no point in irrigating any longer. I’ve seen that. Even with super-efficient center-pivot systems, the blast-furnace wind evaporates the water before it touches the plants’ leaves, let alone the ground. You watch plants die before your eyes. Kiss lawns good-bye. Those years are rare, thanks be.

Flood-furrow irrigation uses the most water per acre in an average year, because it is less efficient.* It also requires a lot more attention by the farmer, and a lot fewer acres can be sloped the proper way for good flood-furrow watering. Water flows through pipes with holes in them, and flows out of the holes, down the furrows, and into a ditch or “tailwater” pit where it soaks into the ground. Each length of pipe runs for X time, and then the farmer turns off the water, moves the pipe by hand, and starts again. There’s a pretty high evaporative loss.

Center-pivot systems can be much more efficient if the newer technology is used. These are the giant sprinkler systems with nozzles that hang down below a central pipe on legs. The pipe rolls along, around and around a circle, and water sprays out. The ground doesn’t have to be as level. One farmer used 222 a/f/y on 245 acres in Kansas. When he switched to center pivot, that dropped to 155 a/f/y. You still lose water to evaporation, especially if it is windy or the nozzles are set too high in the air. A different Kanasas farmer switched from flood to sub-surface drip irrigation and went from between 10″ – 15″ of water per year to between three and a half and five inches per year. That’s a lot of water.

In some places, like western Kansas and parts of Texas, the depth to water has grown so deep that the cost of pumping it exceeds the value of the crops produced. Those acres are taken out of production for irrigated grain and turned into dry-land grain, or pasture. Yes, it uses far less water. You are also less likely to get a large grain crop, and the farms are larger, so fewer people live in the area. Small towns fade away along with the irrigated acreage. What is good for the individual is not always so good for the community.

However, irrigation tech and how people use the water are both far more efficient than they were twenty years ago. Better breeds of grain and other crops use less water, or are more salt tolerant, or both, so irrigation takes less water. Almost all the groundwater districts in all the states focus on best use for the water, and really encourage people to be as careful as possible. Ninety percent of farmers and ranchers are mindful of their water use, and try not to overdo it. Water is expensive! Fuel for pumps costs a lot, whether you use diesel or natural gas. Yes, there are people who don’t give a fig and pump as much as they can, devil take the hindmost. The water management districts have teeth (outside of Texas), and will take steps when legally possible to rein in the abuse.

Fifty years ago the Ogallala only had fifty years left at most. Today, well, it is still producing water. Water conservation is normal. Urban areas that depend on the aquifer try to encourage water conservation, although . . . It’s about as successful in some places as you’d fear. That’s one of my high-horses, so I will try to stay on the ground. Turf grass that’s not bred for your area, cities that demand lots of green and non-xeriscape plants around commercial properties, places that require close-clipped lawns (which use a lot more water in summer), swimming pools that are not covered when not in use, so evaporation goes on 24/7, all these things steal a lot more water than people think.

If people are careful, the aquifer still has a lot of life in it. If we are stupid, well, we can kiss the region’s economy bye-bye, and with it a bunch of food crops, and fiber as well.

*In some places, when done properly, flood-furrow is more efficient than center-pivot in terms of water use. A lot depends on the farmer, the humidity in the area, and what is being grown.

Sources:

This paper goes into some detail about efficiencies.

http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Oc-Po/Ogallala-Aquifer.html

This is a contrarian view, arguing that federal policies are killing the aquifer and doom awaits. It is possible, true.

Just basic info, from Oklahoma State University.

Thursday Tidbit: Arthur and . . .

Drak, I give in. Here’s the start of the answer to your question.

He considered the matter, then pushed his chair back from the desk and stood. The child hummed to the music as she counted the books, confirming his earlier tally, less the recently sold. Tay, her Familiar, napped under the sales counter. The lemur likely communed with the other Familiars as he slept. No customers disturbed the moment. Not that he objected to their trade—far from it!—but a moment for Hunter matters was needful. The child wore a simple black blouse and skirt, appropriate for the sticky heat that filled Riverton, trapped in the river valley. She moved with gentle grace, despite her plaints of clumsiness. He watched, smiling a little, then brushed through the bead curtain. The soft clatter warned the child of his presence. She turned and dipped a small curtsy. He acknowledged the honor, then said, “Silver, what know you of,” he caught the word, changed it, “vampires?”

She too hesitated before speaking. Slowly, with care, she ventured, “Ah, they are the cursed undead. True vampires, not,” she waved the inventory list at the books. “They are not romantic, or tragic heroes, or especially attractive unless they try to be.” The child swallowed. “Ah, you don’t want one in the neighborhood. I think, perhaps, sir, staking or beheading one will destroy it?”

He caught himself before he frowned. Why did she sound fearful? Had she encountered one? He set the thought aside for now. “Correct, although there are other ways to destroy a nosferitau, or strigoi or moroi as others term them.” She released the tension in her shoulders and hands. Should he speak of the observation? Yes. “I ask, Mrs. Lestrang, because the younger Hunters and a woman of the clan report finding signs of a nosferitau. It is hoped that only one lurks, but the sign had faded in the recent dampness.”

The child’s crooked smile echoed his own feelings regarding the recent rains. “Master Saldovado, if this is damp, I fear to imagine wet.” She sobered. “Should I pass the news to Master Lestrang?”

“Yes.” Half-familiar cords came from the speakers above their heads. The child gulped, her right hand moving to touch her silver St. Michael medallion. He too listened. “Prince of the Night” by Stygian Black. Perhaps coincidence, perhaps not. The dark shimmer of the door chime ended the conversation, and he returned to the office. The sooner he resumed cross-checking the customs fees with the charged prices for imported goods, the sooner the chore would be finished.

When Corava Istrate, his sister-by-marriage, and her Familiar arrived that afternoon, she said, “Unchi Art’ur, an owl called twice, then twice more as the youngest Hunters trained. Your nume fiiu said that the call matched not the owls known to this land. Imperotessa reports that Wings pursued her prey elsewhere.” Corava frowned, reaching to touch her grey head scarf. She had yet to remove it before starting work. “The other magic workers have not looked for traces.”

Once the sun rose, traces would burn away, were they in full sun. “Thank you. I have warned Silver that a nosferitau moves.” How did he know? He frowned to himself and held that thought for later. “Please help her with the inventory.”

Corava’s Familiar, Raj, the over-size Pallas cat, took Corava’s place in the doorway.

“Something moves,” Raj said, golden-brown eyes intent on his. “The other Familiars and their mages sense ill presences. Shadow told Beaker.” She sighed. “Much would be simpler could Beaker act freely, or Letters came into his full gifts.”

“Hmm.” Perhaps that explained his own certainty. “Should we, the Hunters, go seeking?”

Tay, the magic-whitened lemur, joined Raj. She looked to the lemur. He sat and lifted his forefeet, as if he were a pan-scale. “Find the ill, or one of them.” He lowered his left paw. “Wear yourselves out and yet face a second foe.” The right paw descended until both paws balanced once again.

He nodded. The possible gain and possible risk balanced. He need not act just yet. “We watch and wait. A false track is worse than no track.”

Orange eyes held his. “Indeed, Hunter-born.”

Irritation erupted in the shop. “What? No, they didn’t— Tay!”

“Raj, you bad cat!”

The Familiars slapped paws and bolted, no doubt seeking refuge among the boxes in the far corner of the workroom. He kept his eyes on the bare, cream-painted wall until he mastered his amusement. The small masters truly were a law unto themselves. Should he arise and see what mischief had transpired? No. Better to pretend ignorance, as he did with so many other matters. He returned his attention to the pending import tariff changes for media and books. They had been left unaltered for half a decade. Someone had felt the need to rectify that oversight, alas.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

“A Famous Victory:” Blenheim and Memory

Someone over at MGC posted the Robert Southley’s poem about the Battle of Blenheim, as part of a discussion about ordinary people doing hard duties while the Great and Powerful . . . do their thing. I bristled a little, but that’s because I have firm opinions about both sides of that conflict. So, first, the poem:

THE BATTLE OF BLENHEIM

by: Robert Southey (1774-1843)

T was a summer evening, Old Kaspar’s work was done,

And he before his cottage door Was sitting in the sun,

And by him sported on the green His little grandchild Wilhelmine.


She saw her brother Peterkin Roll something large and round

Which he beside the rivulet In playing there had found;

He came to ask what he had found, That was so large, and smooth, and round.


Old Kaspar took it from the boy, Who stood expectant by;

And then the old man shook his head, And with a natural sigh,

“‘Tis some poor fellow’s skull,” said he, “Who fell in the great victory.


“I find them in the garden, For there’s many here about;

And often when I go to plough, The ploughshare turns them out!

For many thousand men,” said he, “Were slain in that great victory.”


“Now tell us what ’twas all about,” Young Peterkin, he cries;

And little Wilhelmine looks up With wonder-waiting eyes;

“Now tell us all about the war, And what they fought each other for.”


“It was the English,” Kaspar cried, “Who put the French to rout;

But what they fought each other for I could not well make out;

But everybody said,” quoth he, “That ’twas a famous victory.


“My father lived at Blenheim then, Yon little stream hard by;

They burnt his dwelling to the ground, And he was forced to fly;

So with his wife and child he fled, Nor had he where to rest his head.


“With fire and sword the country round Was wasted far and wide,

And many a childing mother then, And new-born baby died;

But things like that, you know, must be At every famous victory.


“They said it was a shocking sight After the field was won;

For many thousand bodies here Lay rotting in the sun;

But things like that, you know, must be After a famous victory.


“Great praise the Duke of Marlbro’ won, And our good Prince Eugene.”

“Why, ’twas a very wicked thing!” Said little Wilhelmine.

“Nay … nay … my little girl,” quoth he, “It was a famous victory.”


“And everybody praised the Duke Who this great fight did win.”

“But what good came of it at last?” Quoth little Peterkin.

“Why, that I cannot tell,” said he, “But ’twas a famous victory.”

Blenheim, fought near the town of Blindheim* on August 12-13-14, 1704. The Franco-Bavarian army collided with the forces of the Holy Roman Empire under Prinz Eugen von Savoy, and General John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough. The French goal was to break apart an alliance that opposed the merger of France and Spain, and to capture Vienna. The English and Dutch fought as one group, the Imperial forces as a second group.

Those of you who have read Elizabeth and Empire know blow-by-blow how the fighting went, because that’s the conflict I based the final battle on. For others, I recommend: https://www.forces.net/services/army/blenheim-battle-created-marlborough-legend. However, the web-site comes with the caveat that it is very English, and I personally would give Prinz Eugen more credit. Which does not take away from Marlborough’s genius, especially in logistics. He managed to move an army from the Low Countries all the way to Bavaria without the French noticing, at a pace that was not matched until the 1900s. The Imperials acted as the anvil for the Anglo-Dutch hammer. It helped that Eugen and Marlborough were personal friends, and had worked together before. They trusted each other implicitly. The result was one of the most impressive victories in all of the wars against Louis XIV.

As with almost all battles, especially ones of this size, the results were horrific. Civilians had been burned out of their homes along the English line of march, part of efforts to starve and disrupt the Bavarians enough that the Bavarian ruler would back out of the alliance with France. Wounded men burned to death in cottages in one of the villages. Men and horses died by the thousands. The results . . . are as Southey describes. The Thirty Years War would have been only three generations past, and the memories were refreshed by the War of the Spanish Succession. Early Modern armies were worse than locusts, floods, and fires combined. They carried waste, destruction, and plague with them, no matter how careful the commanders might be.

There are worse things than war. Not for the poor people caught between the armies, or those who starved because the Anglo-Dutch and Imperials burned their crops and devoured their livestock, no. But had Louis XIV captured Vienna . . . I really do not care to imagine Europe remade in Louis’ image, thank you. I give him about 90% of the blame for the messes he got into. He sent his armies into the field for his own personal glory, since that would reflect on France, and he was France, at least in his own mind. Louis is one of my least favorite historical characters and always has been.

I also have a very soft spot for Prinz Eugen von Savoy. It’s hard not to admire someone who managed to accomplish everything he pulled off, especially someone who does it on a Habsburg budget! And I can sympathize with the grudge he carried against Louis XIV. I admire Marlborough as well, for different reasons. Emperor Leopold I . . . played into Louis’ hands, and they were fighting over Spain. More precisely, which one would end up with offspring on the throne of Spain. No one asked the Spanish, of course. Leopold is also the one who bailed on Vienna in 1683 when the Ottomans came knocking on the door. Granted, he had a reason, but I’m not really a fan. He was pretty average as Habsburgs go, from what I can tell.

So, was the battle a waste and all for nothing, as Southey’s poem implies? If you were a Bavarian citizen, probably. In terms of stopping Louis XIV and blunting the Franco-Bavarian threat, it was critical. For the average trooper on any side, well, it was another battle, a chance for loot, perhaps, and one collision in a long war. The English were all volunteers, some of whom I have no doubt were “voluntold” by judges, relatives, or others that the man really needed to go fight on the Continent or Else. Others were German mercenaries, conscripts, volunteers, and who knows what.

Blenheim, looking back from a high historical vantage point, was important for a lot of people. But it didn’t make things better for anyone, aside perhaps from the people in Vienna who did not face another siege. That’s the problem with dynastic wars. You don’t really have a hero or villain, not like in WWII or Korea. I root for the Imperials just because I detest Louis XIV. Well, that and because of their commander.

Indeed, it was a famous victory.

*I had the chance to visit the battlefield, but opted not to because the people with me were not interested. I regret that a little.

Tuesday Tidbit: The Scavenger’s Feast

In which Tarno and the boys attend the vigil before the feast. NOTE: Yes, this is a slightly different version of the story than is told in Miners and Empire.

Of all the gods, only the Scavenger’s feast fell on the night and the following day, rather than from dawn to dusk. For once the watch turned blind eyes to people in the streets after dark, because the Scavenger commanded it. Tarno banked his fire carefully indeed, then led the boys out of the salters’ district and up to the main temple, in the far northern part of the city, near the old market. Bitter cold air oozed between the houses and warehouses, making Tarno glad that he’d found heavy things for the boys. They’d likely crowd the bonfire even so, but at least they wouldn’t risk losing a finger or ear.

“I don’t like it,” a thin voice said ahead of them. The shapeless bundle of woman waved at the air. “Too cold, too early.”

“Green winter, full graves. White winter, hungry graves,” the equally well-wrapped man beside her recited. “Cold kills the bugs and weeds.”

“And schaef, and fowl, and great haulers,” she declared. “And men.”

And drove up the price of wood, Tarno sighed. Already rumors came in from outside the walls about fuel wood growing dear. “Some say ’tis because the Great Northern Emperor visited th’ land, and the cold stayed after him,” a hide seller from the east had told Rand Graber. “His goddess wants the snow and cold back, so she can extend her domain. I don’ hold to such, but some do, and seek more and more wood to hold against the winter.”

That had led to much talk and market gossip until Rella’s Daughter had explained. “Yes, the Great Northern Emperor is also a priest of Sneelah, goddess of the  Cold and Ice. She is also a goddess of battle magic. Battle magic is banned, and for good cause.” The Daughter had pointed with her staff to the painting on the side of Waldher’s new chapel, the painting showing the strange beasts that had appeared in the years after the southern king poisoned the magic workers. “War magic does that to beast, land, and man. After the Great Cold, some men twisted magic to bad uses, and the first emperors had to stop them before the land itself twisted. No battle magic, no shaping beasts or plants. Healing that which ails, yes, but no beast-mage can, oh, make a blue schaef.”

“What about a well behaved great-hauler?” someone in the crowd had called.

“Like as not it will be smart, too, Per, and then where will ye be?” A second voice demanded.

Master Weisblat, the head of the tanners, had offered, “He’ll have his accounts in order for the first time in years, but th’ bird will refuse to pull and will join the scribes, like as not.”

After the laughter died away, Rella’s Daughter had said, “Sneelah’s time is not come. Winters will be hard or easy as they are, not because the Great Cold returns.” Something in her eyes and voice had told Tarno that she spoke as more than just priestess, and he had bowed. The question had not arisen again.

Now, two eight-days later, people flowed into the old market. Not everyone, because some preferred to make their devotions by day, or they feared the cold because of age or illness. Young children and nursing mothers too were exempt from the night worship. Tarno kept one hand on Donton. The boy did not care for crowds or night, and if he began to fear overmuch, Tarno would take him home and pay the forfeit. The stars above seemed to glare down, as hard and cold as the stones under Tarno’s boot soles. Everyone breathed smoke, or so it seemed.

Tap, tap, tap. Metal rang on stone. Tap Tap TAP! Thrice more metal struck stone as the gathered priests of the dark god banged the butts of their staffs against the steps of the old temple. The dark shapes loomed in the cold, flanked by two rats, each the size of a large man. “All hail the Scavenger, lord of the darkness.”

“All hail the Scavenger,” the crowd called in return.

“All hail the Scavenger, lord of the land-hidden.”

“All hail the Scavenger.”

A cold voice chanted, “All hail the Scavenger, lord of death.”

“All hail the Scavenger.”

“All hail the Scavenger, lord of what remains,” a priestess sang.

“All hail the Scavenger.”

The priests turned as one and marched into the open temple doors. The Scavenger-born followed first, then those who could fit into the temple. Everyone else gathered around the fires now burning in the market, close enough to hear the priest and priestess who remained on the steps. The fires’ light made the rat statues seem to move, bending and nodding as the wind stirred the flames.

The priest intoned, “After the Great Ice retreated, only barren land and water remained. Dust covered what was not marsh or lake or river. Of life, no sign remained, for the beasts of the cold had left, but nothing could feed or shelter the beasts of the south. And so the gods took counsel.”

The priestess raised her staff in both hands over her head. “They divided the world and blessed it, Gember and Korvaal, Yoorst and Rella, Radmar and Maarsdam, Waldher and Donwah, and the lesser gods of city and village. Only the Scavenger did not speak, for he had been forgotten. His sister, Donwah of the Waters, found him in the dark, secret places and told him of the other gods’ choices. Great was His anger, but only for the time of the beat of a heart. Then He smiled.”

“Truly, sister, we have the better part.” The priest raised his hands and staff as well. “‘For we have all that is hidden, yours in the waters and mine in all that lies under the land and in the night.’ Only slowly did the younger gods realize their error, that they had chosen the lesser part. For this reason the Scavenger is the great lord, the lord of the hidden, the lord of the broken places, of the secret deeps and all that from them comes. All praise to the Scavenger!”

“All praise to the Scavenger!” The crowd’s words echoed off the walls of the temple and the bonfires seemed to bow to the rats. The rats nodded, accepting the homage, or did they? Tarno shivered. Donwah guarded the mysteries of the waters, but her brother guarded the greatest mysteries of all.

The priestess lowered her arms. “Do not fear the Scavenger, lord of the darkness. Darkness is the time of rest and growing, of prayer and sleep. No man can work without rest, no beast labor all day and all night. Sleep is the gift of the Scavenger as salt is the gift of Donwah and the Scavenger.” She waited.

“All praise to the Scavenger.”

“It is right to give thanks, and praise, to aid the lost, to grant mercy to the dying stranger, to bring gifts of the soil to the light that they may bless man and beast,” the priest chanted. “Do not fear the Scavenger, but go carefully, mindful of his depths.”

“All praise to the Scavenger,” the chilly worshippers replied.

Tarno eased the boys closer to one of the fires, one in a less crowded corner. The Rella-born minding the fire nodded to them as she eased a log into the orange and red flames. Tarno watched carefully, lest either boy get too close and start to scorch his clothes. It happened every year, and he did not care to be this year’s warning. Donton clung to his hand as Kyle eased as close as was safe to the snapping heap of logs and coals. As soon as both stopped shivering and relaxed, Tarno took Kyle’s hand and they returned to the crowd.

The priest’s breath steamed as it came from the shadows under his hood. “Together, Donwah and the Scavenger blessed the Joss Valley with salt. Donwah’s waters enter Her brother’s lands and gather His salt, bringing it to the light. Without Her, men must dig for salt. Without the Scavenger, only the salt of Donwah’s seas would touch the land.”

Tarno made a face in the darkness. He’d eaten bread with raw sea salt as part of his apprenticeship. Ugh. It made the crudest of spring salts taste like pure honey in comparison. “All hail the Scavenger,” he called with the others.

“Oh lord of the hidden, lord of darkness, Scavenger of that which remains, hear our prayer,” the priestess chanted. “Show mercy on us when we forget Your honor, mercy when we fail to return Your portion to You.”

The listeners chorused, “Forgive us, great Scavenger.”

“Lord of that which lies below, hear our prayer, oh Lord of the secret places. Grant us Your gifts of salt and metals, of clay and stones of honor, that we may use them to Your honor and glory.”

“Scavenger, hear our prayer.”

The priestess’ voice sounded dead as she intoned, “Lord of the final secret, have mercy on us as we show mercy to the lost, to the stranger, to those who die far from home.”

“Have mercy on us, great Scavenger.”

Tarno led the boys twice more to the fire before the litany and worship drew to a close. Those not born to the Scavenger could leave and return for the feast after the rise of the sun, as could those with young children. Donton counted, so Tarno left a gift in the box at the edge of the old market, received a blessing, and herded the boys all the way to the south end of Halfeld Flus. Chilled to their bones, the boys climbed into the big bed with him, shivering until they finally slept.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Groundwater Woes? Well, Where are You?

“The Ogallala Aquifer will be gone in fifty years!

“In twenty years!”

“The Ogallala recharges and has gained thickness over the past two years.”

Which of these is true? The answer is yes, depending on where you are, and what uses you are talking about. Because the Ogallala is very large, and exceedingly variable in thickness, surface-water access, and usage over the length and width of the formation. The climate shifts from north to south and east to west, adding further complications.

Original image from the USGS. Accessed at: https://civileats.com/2019/11/18/high-plains-farmers-race-to-save-the-ogallala-aquifer/

The Ogallala is a layer of sand and gravel that was deposited between two and six million years ago. Enormous rivers flowed off of the then-young Rocky Mountains, eroding the fast-rising peaks and dumping thick layers of sediment all over the plains to the east. this sediment remained loosely-packed and porous, even after it was covered in tens to hundreds of feet of soil and dust and sand. Because of water-resistant layers of stone underneath it, the Ogallala catches incoming surface water and acts as an aquifer. You can drill a well into it and bring up good, if somewhat mineral-laden, water that has been filtered by the sand and by time.

If you are up in the Nebraska Sandhills, on the northern end of the aquifer (the indigo-blue blob), rainfall and snowmelt sink into the formation, helping to recharge it. In some wet years, and some parts of the Sandhills, the aquifer will gain water and the water table rises to the surface. In dry years, when people have to pump a lot for their cattle and to irrigate fodder crops, the level drops.

Farther south, the thickness of the aquifer tapers off, and the climate is drier and warmer. Here, the use of the aquifer, especially since the invention of center-pivot irrigation in the 1950s, has dropped the level ten, fifty, hundreds of feet. Some counties in Kansas have reached a point where it is no longer cost effective to pump from the aquifer (depth to water of 600′ in a few places) and have reverted to pasture and to dryland crops. At the far tail end of the formation, near La Mesa, Texas, the aquifer was never thick to start with, and it hit close to bottom in the 1960s just from private and municipal wells.

Most of the area now has Groundwater Protection Districts that regulate consumption, either through voluntary mutual agreement, or force of law. It depends on the state, the state’s water-laws, and when the District came into being. Some Districts focus on keeping water in the ground for perpetuity, others are trying to slow draw-down so the water will run out no sooner than, oh, 2100 or so. Everyone agrees that conservation is needed, and is good, and that the more efficient use we can make of the water, the better off all of us on the aquifer are. It’s just how to do that, and what the best use of the water might be that we politely disagree over. OK, loudly disagree, with the occasional shoving match, especially when outsiders pop up and announce that they are going to drain the water and send it: downstate, out-of-the-state, or to The Big City. Nothing unifies people like a common enemy.

The main use for the water is farming. Watering crops, watering livestock, and processing livestock are major uses. A pork-packing plant was proposed for part of southwest Kansas back in the 1990s. It was denied permits because pork processing takes at least three times the water per carcass as does beef packing. Irrigation has come a long way in terms of efficiency, from the old flood-furrow system where farmers moved lengths of pipe by hand, poured water onto the soil and then moved the pipes again, to modern low-flow, low-height nozzle center-pivot systems, to in-ground drip irrigation with built in moisture meters that only release water when and where it is needed by the plants. The cost has risen with the complexity, but water use per acre has decreased markedly. The development of low-moisture hybrid wheats and other grains, plus some experimentation with arid-region grains such as teff, has further reduced the need for irrigation water per acre, at least in average to moist years.

People also drink the water, enjoy swimming in reservoirs, and complain about the flavor and what the mineral-rich water does to your teeth. (They are stronger, and slightly brown from the fluoride.) Lots of people, millions of people, who brush, and flush, and shower, and water lawns not designed for the climate, and wash cars, and build pools and . . .

Ahem. Sorry. The wandering soapbox jumped me. I have some personal beefs with open pools and blue-grass lawns in semi-arid places.

Since this is already getting long, on Friday I’ll continue and we’ll look at hard numbers, playa lakes and springs, and different thoughts about the future of the region.

(Edited to change date of part two. I wrote 5000+ words on Monday and my brain is numb.)

Overheard in the Halls: Episode 29

*cue “Morning” from Peer Gynt Suite*

A teacher strolls down a long hallway, savoring the relative quiet. She raises her can of soda pop to her lips . . .

Voice from Around the Corner: AaaaaiaiiiiEEEEEEEEEEE!

Me: [races down the hall, cuts the corner and skids to a stop]

Jolted Junior: Spider! Spiderspiderspider Biiiiiiiig spider!

Me: [studies wolf spider heading for the outside door] You are quite correct. I’ll get the door for him.

The spider went in peace under his own power. Headed for the van used by the teaching sisters to commute to Day Job.

* *******

A confused soul wanders into my classroom during chapel hours.

Me: Can I help you?

Confused Soul: Um, I think this is my first period class?

Me: You are?

C.S.: Mumbles name

Me: No, you are in Brother Vector’s math class next door during first period. This is chapel period. Which chapel are you in?

C.S: Um, Protestant Two? I think? I left my schedule at home?

Me: Let’s go check with Mrs. Hutchinson.

C.S. [As we go up the hall to Mrs. Hutchinson’s room]: This is kinda my second first day. I’ve been sick.

Me: That’s quite alright. Some days are like this.

Indeed, she was in Protestant Two, and Mrs. Hutchinson took over.

********

I was being invisible behind the desk, covering a study hall while Sister Scholastica was on retreat.

Frazzled Freshman [sprawled in chair at study carrel] Uuuuugh, I’m doooomed.

Sober Senior [looking up from calculus book]: It’s only the second week of school. No one is doomed until the fourth week.

Secular Senior: Unless you are among the reprobate, not the elect. But that’s only if you’re Protestant. The rest of us are safe. [returns to history book]

Frazzled Fresh: I skimmed the stuff for English and I still busted the quiz.

Sober: There’s your problem.

Frazzled: But that’s what you do, right? Find something on the ‘net, answer the questions, get an A. That’s what we did at my other school.

Sober: You went on the net? For English? How do you think you can learn it without actually reading the story?

Frazzled: Magic?

Sophomore Standing at the Printer: Just read it. One short story won’t kill you.

Secular Senior [muttering from behind history book]: No, but Sr. Mary Conjugation will.

I stayed where I was, invisible, and trying hard not to laugh.

*******

Sister Scholastica (aka The Dean) returned from her retreat refreshed and out of the loop. We crossed paths in the secondary workroom.

Me: Good morning, Sister.

Sr. Scholastica: Good morning, Miss Red. [stirs coffee] How have things been?

Me: Mostly quiet.

Sr. Scholastica: Mostly quiet?

Me [counts off on fingers of hand not holding tea mug]: First hairy spider of the season, two misplaced student laptops, major communication lapse between here and the usual place so Señora Piñata is rather irked, and the junior students have been counseled about how to return to class when they come back from off-campus chapel.

Sr. Scholastica [sips coffee]: Generally normal, in other words.

Me: Yes, ma’am.

Saturday Snippet Two: A Quiet Haven

So, Margaret Ball over at MGC gets the credit/blame for this proto-story, and Cedar kicked it from idea into words-on-screen. It is in the Familiar-verse.

Martha heard the usual pattern of soft taps on the back door. He had a key, but never came in without warning her in some way. She dried her hands on the dishtowel and opened the door. “Enter and be welcome.”

He bowed. “Thank you.” He wiped his feet carefully on the mat, then handed her the brown cloth tote bag that he carried. “You might want to freeze it.”

“Thank you. There’s hot tea, cinnamon apple, if you would like some.” She peeked in the bag as he closed and locked the door. Fresh meat, probably venison or wild pig, not poultry. She did not ask, just as she did not ask about other things. “I have some spare freezer bags.” Martha busied herself bagging the meat and tucking it into the big chest freezer in the garage. He would be fixing the tea the way he preferred it, and sitting in the living room chair that she considered his.

Indeed, when she returned, he’d gently shooed Bauxite off of the chair. The black cat sulked as only cats could, back to both of them, soaking up the heat from the woodstove. He’d also added a small log before sitting. Martha sat as well and picked up her needlework, pinning more of a quilt top together. The blue and cream fabric comforted her eyes. After several minutes of quiet, he opened his eyes. She asked, “How are you?”

He smiled, revealing teeth a little sharper than most people’s. “I’m well. Just tired.” The smile faded. “Ah, may I stay the night? And tomorrow as well, perhaps? The storm will be here sooner than I’d anticipated.”

She considered her schedule, and the weather. No one would be coming to visit that she knew of. The plumber and the propane delivery man had both stopped in that morning. “Yes, you may. The bed in the guest room has clean sheets, and the plumber cleaned out the line in the bathroom.” She rotated the fabric and considered the seam allowances. “Tree roots in the line, as you would expect.”

“They do have a knack,” he replied, smiling again. “Thank you. I don’t want to impose.”

He never imposed, not even the night he’d first appeared, half-dead and badly injured, in her kitchen garden.

(C) 2021 Alma T. C. Boykin All Rights Reserved

Saturday Snippet: Master and his House

Art and Meister Gruenewald return to the Old Lizard’s lair.

Two days later, Art waited at Meister Gruenewald’s shoulder as the sorcerer of shadow worked a complicated spell. A layered series of shields and defenses unlocked, and they passed through a plain iron-bound wooden door. The defenses closed behind them, then the door thumped shut. M.G. relaxed, as much as he ever did. “Go,” he ordered. “We will discuss matters in the morning.”

Art bowed and went. The small, rugged fortress sat tucked against a south-facing slope in the highlands of the Black Forest. The building’s roots went back at least to the Romans, probably long before if Art understood the archaeology correctly. The dense, thick stone walls trapped the cold and never warmed, no matter how hot summer might be. Nor did they chill any farther during the winter. Or so Art’s dad said. Art enjoyed the coolness as he plodded up the stone steps to his room. Meister Gruenewald had worked him hard on that last day in Slovakia, and Master Pytor had tossed in a few surprises of his own. Since he remained among the living, Art assumed that he’d passed. “Yeah, I can see why Dad and Mike like having the Atlantic between them and their teacher.” He dumped his travel bag on the heavy wood and leather chair beside the table in his room and flopped onto the bed for a moment. Traveling by second-class economy train wore him out, in part because of holding an illusion for the entire trip.

With a grumble and groan, Art rolled into a sitting position, then stood. “Hot shower. All else follows.” Just how M.G. managed to evade utility bills, especially gas and electricity bills, remained a closely guarded secret and one Art preferred not to know. He appreciated the American-style shower, however. Washed, dried, and dressed in warmer clothes, Art descended to the ground floor and strolled to the dining room.

Szymon nodded and gestured to the food-laden table. Art touched his forehead with two fingers in a sort of salute and grabbed a plate. M.G. ate when he needed to, whenever that might be, as did his students. Food remained available and plentiful, in part because everyone chipped in as best they could. Over half of Art’s fellowship had gone into the communal food pool. Since M.G. provided housing and access to research materials, Art was not going to complain at all. He helped himself to pork stew, fresh peas and baby onions, Spanish rice with shrimp, and something in a white sauce that looked French. Nope, Scandinavian, or so his taste buds suggested as the flavor of smoked salted fish filled his mouth. Everything served could be kept warm over small heaters augmented by magic. Only M.G. could have gotten away with that kind of waste of power. Or was it a waste? Not to M.G. Art ate and let his brain rest.

“The journey?” the solid Polish sorcerer inquired.

“Mostly quiet, sir. We shared the car with a university hiking club on their way home.”

Szymon gave him a knowing smile. “Hiking club.”

Mouth full, Art just nodded. The young men had obviously enjoyed refreshing themselves with the regional beers during and after their hikes. Several had acted determined to continue enjoying the outing, loudly and with much song. Not in tune or entirely comprehensible, but enthusiastic and cheerful, thanks be. They reminded Art of some of the guys in the grad-student dorm back in Riverton, except the Germans held their beer a lot better. Well, they’d had more experience, and didn’t drink to get plastered, unlike that one dude down the hall.

Edite sagged into the chair beside Art. The Portuguese sorceress flopped against the high back of the chair and imitated a deceased heroine of a Portuguese fado. Art raised his eyebrows but otherwise ignored the drama in favor of eating. Edite straightened up and sniffed. “The new book in the library. It refuses to cooperate with me.”

Szymon finished his rice and asked, “The bestiary or the grimoire?”

“Grimoire.” She braced on the arms of the chair and stood, then went to get food.

Art ate more and looked a question at M.G.’s current assistant. Szymon lifted his empty hand off the top of the pale wooden table and turned it palm up in a shrug of sorts. “It is supposed to be from a Polish collection originally, then looted and taken to Berlin, and from there to Paris before being sold as an incunabula. Half of it is a manuscript, and whoever wrote down their spells and potions should have hired a proper clerk.”

Which meant no doubt that M.G. would want Art to tackle it. Art asked, “Any theme in particular, sir, or just a general personal collection?”

“General personal, although there are a lot of what appear to be transformation spells in it. Many are repetitions of the printed text, but two of the others seem unique. The book was sold as a treatise on were-transformations.”

Oh no. Art’s meal turned into a lump of lead in his gut. He finished his glass of mineral water and said, “A woman named Claudia visited Chlotilda and Pytor, seeking information on plants that could ease transformation spells. She acted wary of Meister Gruenewald.”

“How curious,” Edite said as she set her plate down. She sat, murmured a prayer, then picked up her fork. “Marija ball-called from Krakow, warning about rumors of someone experimenting with transformations. Only of animals into other animals, thus far. She didn’t have any further details. Heike and Walburga sent the warning to Marija. The pair were called to deal with something in Silesia. Marija didn’t have details of that encounter yet, either.” Edite waved her left hand with frustration as she began devouring the rice and shrimp. “Needs more pepper,” she pronounced, then ate more.

“I’ll see if I can get Master Lestrang’s recipe for curry,” Art threatened. “Even his Familiar is scared of it.”

Szymon pretended to cast a ward over the food table. “I ate one of Master Lestrang’s curries. One. I have not yet recovered.”

What would they do if they met his dad’s chili? Breathe fire, then flee, probably. Art gnawed on a slice of bread before using it to mop up the last of the stew in his bowl. The Europeans gave him slightly bothered looks, as if worried that his barbaric ways might be contagious. They’d never been hungry. He had.

Art slept very well that night. He dreamed just before dawn, and woke up shivering. He sat, head in hands, until the last shreds of the dream receded. “Ugh. How can I dream a reaction headache? That’s not right.” He didn’t say fair, lest the karma bus make a detour his direction. Bits of the fight with the crazy sorceress who had held Aunt Corava in raven form had blended into the story of the twit who tried to turn herself into a jaguar. Art had been on the edge of that mess, mostly holding a shield as Naphtha and Ink disassembled the spell after Gears and Conqueror had tracked the chick down. What had she been thinking, to cast a spell that required a spoken key to end? Art hadn’t lingered to find out. Not with a test to proctor at eight the next morning!

“I don’t like transformations,” he grumbled as he got ready to face the day. A quick glance out the window showed tatters of grey cloud snagging the higher peaks to the south, and misty rain moving in from the west. At least it would break the heat wave everyone complained about. Art ate a hearty and solitary breakfast, then went to the small weapons room and practiced again with blade and spell shield. Thus exercised and fed, he girded his mental loins and braved the archive.

(C) Alma T. C. Boykin 2021 All Rights Reserved

Nocturne or Matins?

There are days when you wake up earlier than you need to, and just know that returning to sleep is impossible. It was one of those nights/mornings. Two texts, both sent hours before they arrived, had kicked my fight/flight overreaction into gear, and midnight had passed before sleep arrived. At 0430 I woke from a rather odd dream – dreaming that I was dreaming about something – and after ten minutes gave up. At 0530 I tied my walking shoes and headed out, walking staff in hand.

A mild breeze stirred the cool, damp air. Not quite humid enough for dew, the morning still felt misty, enough that I could see the beams of headlights. Clouds, the remnants of storms overnight in New Mexico, hurried across the sky, hiding then revealing the waning moon and Orion. False dawn faded into true dawn, but sunrise would not come for another half hour or so. No colors save silver and dark, dark blue-black graced the sky. The air smelled of growing things now tired, of sweet flowers, a whiff of fresh asphalt, and moisture.

I had the sidewalks and roads to myself, more or less. The early-shift people had already departed, and the people who need daylight to labor were not yet on the road. I heard a few dogs, and a motorcycle or something else with a high-pitched engine racing along the straight stretch of road where people do that (much to the irritation of everyone else.) One bicycle commuter hurried past, his headlight flickering with each pedal stroke. A solitary jogger plodded along, thudding his way through the quiet morning.

Two or three birds chirped their opinion. The doves sleep in this time of year. A few cardinals are early risers, and anything that disturbs the grackles is greeted with loud, harsh dismay. The kites have begun moving south. I saw one toward the end of my stroll, warming up in a tree and waiting for heat and thermals. The cicadas stayed quiet. They favor afternoons and evenings for their conversations, harsh and whirring and loud, louder than lawn equipment, rising and falling in the heat, the droning sound of summer. A western kingbird perched on a road sign, waiting for cars to stir up the bugs in time for breakfast.

A bat fluttered past, darting and dodging ahead of my path. I see one or two bats a month during the summer, if I’m out early enough. The fox, another early riser or late-goer, crossed my trail last week. We avoid each other, after the little surprise as I was moving the neighbor’s newspaper. The fox was on the front stoop. I froze, he froze, I backed away, he departed. A bit like the Cooper’s hawk perched above the neighbor’s door two weeks ago. A younger hawk had found something in the chaos of ivy flowing down the front of the house. The senior hawk observed from the dormer peak. I opted to leave the paper on the windowsill and return later to put it in the basket.

Enough sunlight rounded the curve of the earth by 0630 that grey-white cloud towers appeared in the southern and western sky. Only a little paler than the fading night around them, they warned of another showery day in the offing. No one is complaining, not this year. The wheat is in, the cotton needs the rain, as do other crops, and the ranchers almost always want rain – at least until the first hard freeze. The southwest breeze, taking strength from the pending sunrise, teased my hair and face as I rounded the corner for home. As I unlocked the front door, I glanced over my shoulder. Orion had faded away, leaving the slender moon alone in the blue-grey sky.