You’ve already taken your big summer vacation, but now, towards the end of summer, your family may be asking what’s next. Many small towns across the USA tend to hold special celebrations towards fall, just as the temperature begins to drop. These festivals feature a wide variety of themes and often include parades, entertainment, and lots of food. If you take the time to attend one of these events, you won’t be disappointed.

Here in Wisconsin, we are in the lull between the county and state fairs. State fairs tend to be huge events that span a week or more and sprawl over many acres. You end the day with aching feet, too tired to think about the long drive home. So why not attend a county fair instead? That’s what my husband, Gunter, and I did this year. A few weeks ago, we enjoyed the home-town flavor of the local Polk County Fair in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin. This fair brought back thrilling high school memories of walking the midway hand-in-hand with my boyfriend’s ring around my neck. We were going steady and sat dangerously close on the Ferris Wheel and crushed tight on the Tilt-a-Whirl. Later my steady hit the jackpot and, with a flourish, he handed me the huge teddy-bear he won as his prize.

I pointed to the grandstand, “Wow, that looks so much smaller now!” I explained how, as a pre-teen, I’d modeled in front of those bleachers as a participant in 4-H, an organization country kids joined. I wore tight white slacks made of “white duck” and a red-and-white handkerchief blouse I’d sewn myself. The day Gunter and I went to the fair, the “demolition derby” was the main event; we sat on wooden bleachers cheering for drivers to destroy their opponents’ cars by crashing into each other until they could run no more.

DSC00458 Salvage Cars Being Delivered for the Demo Derby.JPG

On the trek back to the field where our car was parked, we stopped every so often along the livestock buildings to pet a calf, a llama, or a goat.  The top winners would go on to the State Fair.

DSC00440 - Copy Llamas in a 4-H exhibit..JPG

During the summer and fall seasons in Polk County, one can find a celebration of something almost every week-end. With a lake every four miles and many rivers between them, concerts at the overlook,” usually a village park, are common. You can search the local papers to find fishing tournaments; tractor and lawnmower pulling contests; soapbox derbies; car, truck, motorcycle and tractor shows; brew fests, wine tastings, rib fests, and fish fries; art exhibits; movies under the stars; Monarch festivals; quilting shows; and so much more.

My favorite celebrations are the annual town festivals, replete with marching bands, parades and coronations of all sorts from Cheese Queen to Pumpkin Queen. Amery has the Fall Festival; Centuria, the Orchard Festival; St. Croix and Taylors Falls, Wannigan Days; Osceola, the Pig Roast; Milltown, the Pumpkin Festival; Luck, Lucky Days; and Clayton, Cheese Days.

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Next year, consider celebrating America’s birthday in a small town, the kind of place where everyone knows each other as a neighbor, not just on social media. We celebrated in unincorporated Wanderoos, where the main street is only six blocks long. We stood to watch the parade until a resident offered us chairs he took from the village park! I’ll bet you that won’t happen in the city.

Recently, conversations during my AquaFit class at the Y have been about water. Not the water in the outdoor pool, but the lack of water due to California’s 4th year of drought. We dream up new solutions: “Let’s pipe in water from the Columbia River. Use up some of that extra rain that falls on Washington and Oregon.”

“The new desalination plant in North County is coming on-line this fall. That’ll eventually give San Diego County about 10% or so of the water we’ll need. We should build more plants.”

“But running it takes a lot of power, and that comes from fossil fuels.”

“Northern California wastes the water that could be sent south to farmers. They’re protecting the delta smelt by letting it run back into the ocean and draining reservoir lakes to protect a few steelhead trout.”

“Los Angeles wastes water too. 65% of the city is covered in asphalt and concrete, so storm water can’t seep into the ground water. Yet their flood-control system shunts enough water into the ocean to supply water to half a million people. So where do they take water? From the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Colorado river we all use.”

We don’t spend much time in Southern California gossiping about the weather (because it’s always pretty much the same). Here we ruminate about water. As Joan Didion wrote in her classic essay collection The White Album, “Some of us who live in arid parts of the world think about water with a reverence others might find excessive. The water I will draw tomorrow from my tap in Malibu is today crossing the Mojave Desert from the Colorado River, and I like to think about exactly where that water is.” San Diego recycles part of its city water supply in a program called “toilet to tap.” Now they changed the name of the program to “pure water” for obvious reasons, but I do not think reverently about the water coming out of our taps.

I’ve just completed a gardening project as head of our HOA (home owners association) landscaping committee. Our focus has been on xeriscaping and installing a dry creek as a “water feature” in front of the condo building. Because water rationing will only increase as the drought drags on, the creek will of course, contain no water.  What a contrast to the creek I installed last summer at our lake home in Wisconsin! That creek will funnel water off the yard because we have too much.

Dry creek using blue stones to contrast with the multicolor landscaping stones

Many California residents didn’t know what the term “xeriscaping” meant until Governor Brown used the word in his water-rationing speech last week, announcing that California municipalities will henceforth use 25% less water. Xeri means dry, as in Xerox®, i.e., dry copy. Xeriscaping is a landscape method developed especially for arid and semiarid climates that uses drought-tolerant plants, mulch, and efficient irrigation, such as the underground drip method. (Midwest and German friends, you don’t need to know this.) Our HOA committee boned up on xeri and now we’re proud to be ahead of the game. Our drought-tolerant trees, plants, and flowers now stand proud among multi-colored rocks, boulders and pebbles; and our dry creek, filled with smooth, blue river stones, winds around palms from the building foundation to the street, where it won’t leave one drop of precious water.

Palm trees used in xeriscaping

Last fall, I returned from lush Wisconsin with its 50 shades of green to parched, brown yards in San Diego. I told my friends about how I had to slope and drain that lot so that it flowed into a “rain garden” and then into White Ash Lake. Their reaction to my blog How to Drain a Wet Lot,” was “duh.” When I return to Wisconsin in May, I know I’ll find the same reaction when I describe our xeriscaping project to my neighbors there. The rainfall in Polk County in one month, June of 2014, was 9.5 inches; San Diego’s rainfall for that one year was 5 inches, 50% of normal.

For more on California’s water wars, go to http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/18/drought-look-ahead/

http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2015/apr/17/sacramento-drought-california-environment-water/

http://www.wsj.com/articles/to-beat-the-drought-l-a-looks-to-nature-for-help-1429199299

http://www.wsj.com/articles/californias-water-woes-are-priceless-1429051903