An all-female expedition of 17 was set to arrive the next day at Sarara Camp in Northern Kenya, and it was my job to welcome them, spend time with them, and thank them for their hard work raising funds for women and wildlife. I settled in and familiarized myself with the camp, taking a drive in a tough, powerful Land Rover with an armed ranger and a Samburu warrior named James. We followed another group of guests tracking a herd of elephants. Everywhere I gazed was dusty, dry, and brown. So as a Californian, I felt right at home.
The local Samburu warriors and villagers seemed surprised that I understood drought. In the wilderness they manage in this remote part of Kenya, the rain had not fallen since May. Where I am from, the same is true.
The good news is that rain came the day the women arrived at camp. As the land soaked up the showers over the Matthews Mountain Range , everything around us came alive – acacia grew buds seemingly in hours. Dik-dik, tiny, elegant antelope no bigger than a chihuahua, scampered with even more energy and verve than usual. The elephants snorted, hooted and hollered. The eagles perched everywhere as the go-away-birds called without end. Every villager smiled. The Samburu warriors gave all credit to the women on their expedition. The lodge staff seemed lighter, relieved. The wells began to refill with drinking water.
As I returned home to the San Francisco Bay Area, the parched rolling hills of the Diablo Range reminded me that we have much in common with Kenya. Much of Inyo County is abnormally dry and all of Mono and Alpine counties are too. Good portions of Tuolumne, Mariposa, and Fresno counties are abnormally dry. This matters because these are the counties where the snow falls, and this is where our water for drinking, for farms, for Silicon Valley, for Hollywood, for all of us, comes from. Meanwhile in the easternmost portions of San Bernadino, Riverside and Imperial counties, where a lot of your salad comes from, moderate drought conditions prevail.
But the condition that brings fear is not just the dryness. It’s the winds. Santa Ana winds and diablo winds were at the heart of recent fires all over the state, from the Kincade in Sonoma County, to the Getty fire in Santa Monica. The fires are nearly out and the air has improved. We are all breathing and feeling more at ease.
As we look toward the winter in California, near-term forecasts don’t show any rain coming to California. The good news is that our reservoirs are full from previous years of good rains. But let’s not get complacent, thinking we’re all fine. In our shared climates, from Kenya to California, it’s important that we never doubt the drought. At the same time, we can never doubt the drought’s opposite – abundance. Abundance of knowledge, science, forecasting, readiness, dialogue, and preparation.
Droughts bring us together, they underscore our dependence on each other and on water. It is easy to forget that humans are good at changing course and behaving differently. Yet we are brilliant at adapting to new ways of doing things. Just look at the recent fires. We evacuated, organized, contained, and kept one another safer than ever before. In Africa, villages are working with governments and nonprofits to take care of the land and animals for their own benefit. They see the power in protecting not only their bank accounts, but the accounts of their livestock, trees, mountains and wildlife.
We’ll continue to monitor the drought conditions so that we can prepare and know as much as possible about where things stand. In that way we can help one another and be in it together. That’s the only way forward, on drought or on any other issue plaguing our species.