Some Summer Reading Picks

July 31, 2008 § 5 Comments

The best way to learn about your local creeks, watersheds, and rivers is to go there and walk, bike, throw stones, kayak, etc., but, in case you’re looking for something to read on the bus on the way there, I offer some recommended reading. I will recommend other electronic reading and other books and publications again soon.

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Rainwater Harvesting by Brad Lancaster

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond: Volume 2 Water Harvesting Earthworks by Brad Lancaster (Rainsource Press, $32.95), Foreword by Andy Lipkis

This is one of the best books that I’ve read all year! It’s filled with lots of clear illustrations and step by step details on how to retool your landscape to catch and infiltrate rainwater. It features lots of real life examples, too. It’s a bit wonky, hence probably not for everyone. For us to remove concrete from our local waterways, we’re going to need to heal our watersheds. Brad Lancaster talks about treating rain as a welcome guest – invite it to slow down and stick around a for a bit. If we can allow rainwater to slow down and soak in, then we solve lots of problems for our waterways – water quantity (flooding), water quality (pollutants break down in the earth), water supply (increased infiltration means more groundwater available locally to drink), and greening our neighborhoods.
Excerpt: [A] well-designed and built [rainwater havesting earthwork] system can operate as a “beneficial ruin” once established since it can be largely self-maintaining. Long-abandoned earthworks located throughout the world still function and help support pocket oases of vegetation. Examples in the Southwest U.S. include check dams, terraces, contour berms, and stone mulches constructed by prehistoric Native Americans and more recently by the 1930’s Civil Conservation Corps projects. Each time I come across one of these old earthworks, I find a lost world full of life.
Totem Salmon : Life Lessons from Another Species by Freeman House (Beacon Press, $17.00)
This is another of my latest favorites. It’s a great narrative about an intrepid band of very human river activists in northern California who endeavor to preserve and restore salmon runs on the Mattole River.
Excerpt: A race of salmon is an expression of the river, the intelligence of the terrestrial home traveled to far seas – always to return to its place of birth. Salmon return to their riverine homes with the wealth of the great sea embodied in nutrients they will deliver to the waters and plants and animals of the forest at the completion of their lives. Migration is an adaptation toward abundance: more fish are born than the river can support; thus out-migration to the pastures of the sea. In the case of salmonids, migration and return is a dynamic ritual binding population to place.
The Los Angeles River: Its Life, Death, and Possible Re-Birth by Blake Gumprecht (Johns Hopkins University Press, $21.95)
A perennial favorite (and I am happy to be mentioned in the foreword to the paperback edition.) This well-written and very readable book is full of maps and historic photographs. It shows the histories of flooding, water supply, agriculture, and current efforts to restore. I learned a lot about the history of Los Angeles from this book.
Excerpt: [The 1768 Portola Expedition] entered “a very lush green valley,” [diarist Father Juan] Crespi wrote, where they found the [Los Angeles] river … It was a “good sized, full flowing river,” about seven yards wide , he estimated, “with very good water, pure and fresh.” … Just upstream from the point where they first saw the river, the explorers noticed another stream that emptied into its channel, but its large bed was dry on that late summer day. This stream we now know as the Arroyo Seco. “The beds of both are very well lined with large trees, sycamores, willows, cottonwoods, and very large live oaks,” Crespi wrote. … He noted the presence beside its channel of great thickets of brambles, abundant native grapevines, and wild roses in full bloom. Sage was plentiful near the river, and the calls of turtle doves, quail, and thrushes filled the air near the camp. It was “a very lush and pleasing spot, in every respect,” he wrote. “To (the) southward there is a great extent of soil, all very green, so that it can really be said to be a most beautiful garden.”

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