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December 10, 2013 > ACWD Column Reflections on Water: Remember WhenÉ

ACWD Column Reflections on Water: Remember WhenÉ

By Frank Jahn, ACWD Public Information Supervisor

The sense of anticipation was palpable as the crowd waited for the explosion.

The year was 1969. My brother and I, as well as a number of the neighborhood kids, were gathered in my backyard. In front of us stood my dad, a grim expression clouding his face. On the ground sat my eight year old sister who looked nervously at the large unstable object behind her. It would happen any time nowÉ

An hour earlier, my dad had gathered the necessary paraphernalia for an annual demonstration that had become legendary in our neighborhood. The ingredients were simple: an old inner tube, preferably from the tire of a large pickup truck; a garden hose; some baling wire; and children willing to suffer public humiliation.

As the crowd gathered, my dad began the ritual. He cut the inner tube, turning it into a long, hollow tube. Next, he wrapped baling wire around one end to make a water-tight seal. He then thrust a garden hose into the other end and used wire to seal it inside. Finally, he turned on the water and the black beast came to life.

A large inner tube can hold hundreds of gallons of water, and so it took a while before the dares began. But once it had grown to resemble a giant, black sausage it was obligatory for each spectator to take their turn sitting up against its quivering black mass. Someone would be unfortunate enough to be sitting there when it reached its carrying capacity.

The moment we were all waiting for had taken various forms in past years. Sometimes the inner tube would spring one or more leaks and drain slowly in an anticlimactic way. Sometimes the baling wire seal would fail, sending a miniature tsunami toward unsuspecting spectators off to the side. And sometimes there would be a mighty explosion, drenching anyone standing within the blast zone. Whatever might happen this time around, none of us wanted to bear the ridicule that would be ours if we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We had all had at least one turn in the hot seat when my sisterÕs turn came around again. She smiled Ð apprehensively Ð for the camera when my mom snapped a picture. And then, without warning, the inner tube had had enough, and with a muffled roar disgorged its contents all over her. Raucous laughter filled the yard as my sister burst into tears. My mom moved to comfort her dripping daughter, my dad set about cleaning up the mess, the crowd dispersed, and I walked away with an indelible memory.

Water plays a central role in so many of my memories.

For instance, there was the time in Icy Bay in Alaska when I watched millions of sun-illuminated rain drops streak across the sky like so many glittering diamonds.

And the time on the shore of the Alsek River in Canada when I had to outrun a wave created when the Tweedsmuir Glacier calved a skyscraperÕs worth of ice into the water.

And the time, when I was in grade school, when I almost drowned in Roslyn Lake. (Never mind the fact that I was in only three feet of water and simply needed to stand up to escape my doom.)

And the time in high school, when I was nearly swept over the lip of a 150-foot high waterfall.

As I search my memory, however, I can find no recollection of ever really wanting for water. Sure, there has been the occasional backpacking trip when my water bottle has run dry, but those were self-inflicted circumstances. In my everyday life, water has been a constant companionÉ there whenever IÕve wanted it. And not only that, the water has always been safe to drink, abundant, and convenient. If you grew up in the United States, I suspect your experience has been similar.

We live in a country where nearly everyone has access to clean, abundant, low-cost tap water. We are in the minority, however. Billions of people around the world lack this basic necessity. And if you were to ask these people how water impacts their memories, IÕm afraid youÕd all too often hear stories of children lost to water-borne diseases, daily journeys to the local well or river, and the time consuming nature of washing dishes or doing laundry.

As you celebrate this holiday season with family and friends, think of those whose lives are dominated by a struggle for clean water and make a commitment, no matter how small, to help alleviate that struggle. Leave them with memories of water theyÕll be glad to recall.

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