On Friday, before leaving on a weekend trip, we saw images of President Obama visiting Fresno and a farm west of Madera, and he used the occasion to announce almost $200 million in grants to provide some drought relief. Then he reboarded Air Force One for his trip to Rancho Mirage for a weekend of golf and playing host to King Abdulla II of Jordan. Nice work if you can get it.
However, it might have been instructive for him to ride with Mrs. Doud and me to the California coastal community of Cambria, where we saw effects of a drought that’s even harsher than the one we’re experiencing. Friends of ours in Cambria told us they were rationed to two units of water a month. A unit is 750 gallons. If you use more than that, you pay a 500 percent fine on your water bill. The next time you’re caught using too much water, you pay 1,000 percent.
People have to use gray water provided by the city to irrigate their gardens, and that gray water — water which has been only partially treated — has to be hauled, either by the user or by a commercial hauler. Our friends have a pickup, and they have put a 250-gallon water tank in the back end of it to haul their gray water. We haven’t had that kind of rationing here. So far, we’re just supposed to cut back on yard watering and try to conserve. If the drought gets much worse, though, we can expect to be looking more and more like Cambria.
There’s still plenty of water in the Pacific Ocean, though, and we spent some time looking at it from various angles, including from the mountaintop vista of the landmark Hearst Castle.
William Randolph Hearst visited the property on which the castle is built many times during his youth. His parents, George and Phoebe Apperson Hearst, bought the multi-thousand-acre cattle ranch in 1965, two years after W.R. was born. The family would ascend the hills by horseback, and camp out, albeit in style.
In 1919, after his mother’s death, Hearst began to carry out his grand plan of building a grand house on the hill. He was aided by Julia Morgan, California’s first woman architect, and together they spent the next 28 years building it and decorating it with pieces of historic art which Hearst acquired during many visits abroad. As one tour guide described it, “The castle is a big art museum, inside and out, one in which people lived.”
The house is built of concrete, fronted with white marble tiles, and at the time it was built was considered quite up to date. It had all the “modern conveniences,” including private baths for each suite of guest rooms, electrical heating and lights. Virtually all rooms have a view either of the Pacific or of the surrounding hills.
At this time of year, those hills normally would be green with grass, but not this year. They were brown, just like the hills between the San Joaquin Valley and the coast were a dun color. Many of the trees in those hills were dying or dead. Only on La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill) were the woods and gardens still green, irrigated with water from a natural spring from which water is piped to fill the needs of the castle and its grounds.
Back at the ocean, as far as the elephant seals that use the beaches around Cambria were concerned, there was no drought. They could be seen lying around on the beaches, flipping sand in the air with their flippers and occasionally keeping appointments to make little seals. The bull seals tended to rest a lot between appointments because they each had to work with about 40 female seals to keep their jobs.