Too Much of a Good Thing

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Lake Buchanan in Central Texas looks like the Mississippi River the past few days due to the excessive inflow resulting from the torrential rains we’ve been getting the past few days. Yesterday’s lake report indicated over 22,000 cubic feet per second were pouring in. The Highland Lakes dams, managed by the LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority), are operating 24/7 to control the flow the best they can, but there’s still too much water headed downstream for some areas and flooding is inevitable.

A few years ago this area was in a drought of record and the lake was at around 32% capacity at the worst of it. The buoy in the picture above was high and dry with the lake still hundreds of yards beyond it, as you can see below.

The picture below was taken in 2011 from the edge of the water looking back; the houses you see are supposed to be on the waterfront. In contrast, the picture above was taken from next to the two story structure just left of center, showing how far the lake has finally come up.

Droughts do, indeed, end and usually with a flood. That has certainly been the case here.

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1/2 Acre Challenge Week 2: Operation Iris Rescue

My poor iris took a beating during the drought the past few years while the cactus survived, then got entirely out of control with this year’s welcome rain. The iris perked up, too, and deserved a new home, which they now have next to my shed.  I also have a garbage can full of cactus ears that probably weighs 300 lbs. ratsass

I’m sure that most of you out there can relate to the picture to the right as far as my efforts to tame my little piece of Texas are concerned. That’s okay. There’s something satisfying about sharing my progress in cyberspace. Somehow it provides a certain level of accountability, too. Just in case ANYONE actually does care, my intent is documented and it will be harder for me to give up and quit, though it’s pretty likely that will happen as the mercury rises into the usual triple digits of a Texas Hill Country summer. Until then, I can at least get as much done as I can, whether or not anyone notices, much less gives a rat’s ass.

Eating an Elephant One Bite at a Time

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I live in a rural area on a half acre that I’m trying to tame. I must say that during the nasty drought that Texas experienced that past seven-plus years it was a lot easier to sit in my air-conditioned house and go outside as little as possible, like to the mailbox and back. Period.  Now that the drought appears to be over, everything is green again and our lake is back up where it should be, I’ve decided it’s time to make my place look the way I’ve always dreamed it could on the outside.

Usually I get totally overwhelmed looking at it, but have finally adopted a common sense approach of taking it on one thing at a time, about an hour a day. It usually takes me three separate days to mow the yard with a walk-behind mower, so today I finished what I started Friday. I cut back the cactus by my front door that was taking over the porch, and have a list of manageable chores on my list for the coming days, like cutting down several volunteer hackberry trees and saving the irises from that unruly cactus.

So often when a task is utterly overwhelming, it’s easy to ignore or dismiss it entirely. How many things are you putting off because you don’t know where to start? Here’s the secret: Just start.  The satisfaction feeds your resolve and before you know it you’ve gained enough momentum to keep at it. I just hope I can get enough done before serious heat sets in, but until then I’ll tackle taming my little patch of land one bite at a time.

A Detailed and Convincing Post-Apocalyptic Tale that Hits Close to Home

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Without belaboring how it got there, the author has developed a detailed and convincing post-apocalyptic world. Modern as far as the vehicles, weapons and computer technology are concerned, other elements have a medieval flavor including a feudal social structure and a bit of sword play. In this case the holdings of the elite are not so much land itself but what all need to survive–water. In other words, a few have gained control of the water supply with the different “houses” within “The Collective” system jockeying for positions within their own hierarchy while keeping the unfortunate masses at bay. The complexity of the political structure is well thought out and demonstrates a keen understanding of human nature as a relative handful of individuals struggle to maintain what they’ve acquired while also trying to advance through whatever means necessary.

Victor Xonox is the primary villain among many. He’s cruel and ruthless regarding everything and everyone save his beloved daughter, Pheona. He maintains his position with the proverbial iron fist enforced with lethal consequences. No one is allowed to obtain water except through his distribution channels. Anyone found having their own source such as a well is quickly dispatched. And thus we meet Abel, son of a former Army Ranger, whose family has their own covert water supply. Discovery results in the usual punishment except Abel escapes, bent on vengeance. As you would expect, Abel’s quest results in his meeting up with a variety of interesting characters. Each is well-developed with a detailed background and agenda of their own which brings them vividly to life.

While some action-oriented stories lack detail, that is not the case here. I measure fiction through a system I call IDEAS, an acronym which stands for Imagery, Dialog, Emotion, Action and Suspense. As a whole, a good story has an appropriate balance of them all. In this regard Hillard did an outstanding job. Visual, societal, weapons and character detail were outstanding, dialog convincing, enough emotion to make the characters human and provide motivation as well as plenty of action and suspense.

At times I felt as if there were too many named characters and I had trouble keeping track of them all with their exotic names. However, life itself is populated with legions and given the plot and situations, having so many people around contributed to the story’s convincing tone. So convincing, in fact, that its dark and gloomy essence was hard to bear at times since I’m not usually a fan of apocalyptic and dystopian tales, especially ones as vividly portrayed as this one.

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On a personal note, I have seen a modern version of this story play out, albeit less violently. I live in the second row from one of Central Texas’ largest reservoirs, Lake Buchanan. In the above picture you can see it as it appeared on 29 January 2011. Little did I know when I snapped that picture that I may not ever see the lake at that level again.  Ironically, at the time we considered it low!

This area has been in a severe drought for several years and during that time I’ve seen the lake drained at the behest of those in positions of power, putting the drinking water of millions at risk. In a long and complicated story which, if written, would undoubtedly be the length of an epic novel, since 2011 the lake has receded until it eventually fell as low as below one third capacity.  Note the boat ramp in both pictures is one and the same with the second picture taken exactly eight months later.  The lake view vista is now obstructed as well with an exposed strip of land to the left of the distant stand of trees which in normal years is inundated. The second picture below shows looking back from the waterline to the houses, where the lake level should reach their retaining walls.

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Thus, I have witnessed first-hand how water can spark a political battle until at long last a local leader rose to the occasion and led a fight for the rights of those whose local businesses and property values had been decimated for the good of corporate rice farmers downriver who sold their product mostly overseas.

Residents along other lakes in the Highland chain deemed “constant level” (which just happened to have multimillion dollar homes along their shores) were blissfully unaware there was a serious drought. Meanwhile, along Lake Buchanan property values plummeted while resort and business owners closed as the lake was no longer accessible. Furthermore, what was left was too hazardous to enjoy since the pecan orchards inundated with the lakes creation in the 1930s were now exposed, giving it the appearance of an eerie swamp. In some cases, those who were once waterfront could no longer even see the water, yet were still required to pay the excessive tax rate they were assessed for their supposed prime location.

So how did this come about? Our former governor (and aspiring presidential candidate, by the way) at one time was over the state’s Department of Agriculture. Thus, he had a close relationship with corporate rice farmers on the far end of the Colorado River near the Gulf of Mexico. Some of these farmers were thus his appointees on the governing board of the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) who supposedly “managed” what are known as the Highland Lakes. In normal years, releasing water for the rice farmers to flood their fields, a practice related to controlling weeds, not the growth of the rice itself, was not a problem because winter and spring rains would replenish the supply.

This, however, was no longer the case with the drought. The usual release was made, nonetheless, which was further exacerbated by human error when someone failed to close the dam’s flood gates when they should have been. It was as if someone had pulled the plug in a bathtub and the lake fell to less than one third capacity, its precious waters eventually spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. And thus it has remained for years.

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This spring Texas received a lot of rain, relieving much of the drought in some areas, but much of it missed our watershed. Lake Buchanan is now at 52% while the others in the Highland Lakes chain are at capacity. Hopefully it will eventually be full again but so far that is not the case.

Clearly a commodity needed for life itself can be a powerful tool and those who seek position and control for selfish reasons will never hesitate to exploit situations that advance their personal agendas without regard for the good of anyone or anything else that stands in their way. Unfortunately, we see this every day. Thus, the premise itself of “The Collective” is highly credible given that there will always be despots like Victor Xonox who build an empire on the backs of those less fortunate.

The plot exposes and investigates the character of those with no regard for the lives of their fellow human beings. It inspires hope in that a leader or coalition of those opposing their evil intent will eventually also arise in the form of heroes and a few antiheroes. While this story had a reasonably satisfying ending, the author also left it open for a sequel which is sure to come. Whether or not you’re a fan of dystopian tales, this one is exceptionally well-written and worth reading as a reminder of what can happen when a few power-hungry individuals assume control of an essential commodity. I have seen it happen with near-tragic consequences from my front porch.

You can purchase a copy of this story at the link below.  Don’t think it couldn’t happen where you live.

The Collective