2. I Avoid Work
Finally I come up with a short-term plan: I can put off reading the boxful of books by pulling them out and looking at their titles, and trying to remember why I brought those particular books to P.E.I. This will sort of look like constructive work, without actually requiring me to absorb any more depressing facts.
Right in front of me is this damn Marq de Villiers book (Water: the fate of our most precious resource). I just ran across it in a bookstore, and bought it. Why? I thought I should. I should have remembered I hate to read books I “should” read.
Cadillac Desert: the American West and its disappearing water, by Marc Reisner. What’s wrong with these guys who write about water? Why can’t they spell Mark? A friend recommended it, before I even thought of the water project. Why did it stick with me? It must have resonated with all that Palo Alto and San Diego stuff. Plus, when I lived in California some friends took me to northern New Mexico with them, and I fell in love with the place. Where there’s never enough water.
A Dangerous Place: California’s unsettling fate. Also by Marc (still misspelled) Reisner. It seemed like why the hell not, since I bought the first Reisner book, plus my two stepsons, Matthew and Eliyahu Sills, live in the Bay Area. Though I’m definitely not planning to write about earthquakes.
Collapse, by Jared Diamond. I actually read about half of this during the past school year on the bus to and from work, decided it wasn’t half as well written as Guns, Germs and Steel, got bored with the Vikings, and quit. But I’ve got the book anyway because there’s stuff about the Anasazi in it – see, New Mexico again – and I figure I might need it. Anyway I don’t like not finishing books once I start them, and there’s some stuff in the table of contents that looks promising, so to speak. If a book called Collapse can be promising.
Water in New Mexico: a history of its management and use, by Ira G. Clark. 839 very large pages long! Discarded from the Phoenix Public Library. (Of course – who would ever borrow it?) Bought from some online used-book seller for something like $75. Oh sure! Did I ever really think I was going to read this? Here’s the truth: my beloved admin, Rachel Ruggles, otherwise known as the more organized half of my brain while I was department chair, found some leftover faculty development money and told me I should spend it. Buying this book was probably intended to propitiate the Research Gods. I flip through it and toy, not for the first time, with the idea that this project will be an excuse to go to New Mexico and . . . well, what? Poke around. Go to Rancho de Chimayo, eat New Mexico green chili and drink Tecate. That’s the kind of research I’m good at.
Rivers of Empire: water,aridity, and the growth of the American West, by Donald Worster. I’ve got this one because my nephew, Josh Jelly-Schapiro, told me it was the classic on the subject and a great book. Josh is a grad student in Geography at Berkeley, so he should know. He’s busy writing an article on Bob Marley for the New York Review of Books, he’s on his way to becoming a public intellectual, which I definitely am not, so why not take his advice? Great, but now I’ve got to read it or else own up to Josh that I didn’t.
The World’s Water 2006-2007: The Biennial Report on Freshwater Resouces, by Peter H. Gleick. I read about this guy Gleick in a terrific New Yorker article (much more my speed as a scholar) and since Gleick obviously knows everything there is to know about water you can drink, and it’s probably all in this book, why not get it? Of course, I have no idea what I’ll ever get out of all these numbers, but oddly enough for an English prof, I like to count things. So maybe it will come in handy.
In this box, I also have a big black heavy plastic zipper envelope, stamped “Property of U.S. Government,” that came from my father, who died five years ago at the age of 102. My father was a mechanical engineer and after he retired from industry at the age of 65, he worked for the U.S. Army Mobility Equipment Command, until he was 84. This envelope is filled with clippings about water that I’ve cut from newspapers and magazines. Here’s one about the deteriorating ecology of the Sacramento River delta. A judge found that state water officials were violating the California Endangered Species Act, and he ordered the pumps delivering water to the Central Valley and Southern California turned off. They stayed off for ten days, which scared the crap out of some people. Here’s one about the Greenland ice cap, which dumps enough ice into the sea every day to supply New York with fresh water for a year. Turns out sea levels are rising twice as fast as people thought only a few years ago. Here’s one about drought in the West and fights between states over water rights. Here’s one about collapsing infrastructure, like dams and pipes. Here’s one about seawater coming up rivers in Bangladesh, spoiling the land, infiltrating the drinkable water. Here’s another one about Greenland: “Arctic melting accelerates.” Here’s one about the depletion and pollution of the Yellow River, in China. Here’s one called “Famous flock of million vanishes.” It’s about the death of flamingoes because Lake Nakuru in Kenya is drying up.
I think: It’s all too fucking much. This is exactly the problem.
There’s other stuff in the box, too, that fortunately doesn’t have much to do with water. I’ve got a philosophy book called The Sovereignty of Good, by Iris Murdoch, which my son Matthew Pei, a grad student in philosophy, gave me for Christmas. (Yes, our blended family has two Matthews in it, the better to confuse people upon first meeting us.) I figure I’d better read this quick, before Matthew Pei arrives in P.E.I., and try to at least have one clue about what my son is now up to.
Then there is a book that was parked in the bathroom at home in Cambridge, as light reading, for years – originally given to me by my wife, whose name is Vaughn (not Fawn or Yvonne). She is another of those admirable Canadians, her father having been an islander himself, Keith Jelly. His father, C.B. Jelly, was the inspector of schools for the town of Summerside, and the land on which my shed sits was bought by my wife (before she was my wife) because C.B. Jelly had a modest summer cottage on this very point, on the shore of the Northumberland Strait. For this same reason, Vaughn’s parents have a house only a short walk down the road, but Vaughn’s dad died a few months ago and so only her mum is there, with Vaughn’s sister Kathy and her family. Anyway, the last book that I pull out is called “I Love Him, But…”: the things men do that drive their wives crazy. I’m not too sure why I imported this book to the island. I already know how to drive Vaughn crazy.