In 1848, after some hostilities, a U.S. State Department chief clerk named Nicholas Trist worked out a deal whereby we bought California, New Mexico and Texas from Mexico for $15 million and change — a bargain price for 1.2 million acres.
The Mexican signatories of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo probably consoled themselves with the thought that most of what they were losing was, after all, desert.
Most of it still is. Which is why water is so important out here.
In the TV Westerns I watched as a boy, many plots were based upon the trek through the desert — the merciless sun, the empty canteen, the parched lips, the alkali dust. The essence of these stories was you got to have water.
Without water, we are told in Bill Bryson’s “Short History of Nearly Everything,” in a matter of days your lips disappear, your gums turn black and the skin around your eyes contracts so you can’t even blink.
You and I are in no danger of losing our blink, but we are looking at a water shortage, which is why we were recently notified that we’ll face warnings and fines if we waste it.
It’s hard for me to cut down on my water use because I don’t use much, as those of you who’ve seen my car and the roses in the back yard can attest. I don’t ask for water in restaurants; in fact I don’t drink it at all unless I’m worried about kidney stones.
I shower daily, and although I could cut back on that I’m not sure how much the community would be gaining. I’d like to save that particular economy for a last resort.
But we can all do something. We can wash our vehicles less — I’ll wash mine even less than usual. I’ll continue to get my drinking water from diet soda and cans of olives.
And I’m confident that even if our present shortage becomes desperate, we can ride it out. We’re Americans.
Oh, we might whine and complain and throw hysterical tantrums at televised town meetings, but when there’s no other choice, we do the right thing.
And we’ll do it here, because the alternative is admitting that we overpaid for desert property 160 years ago.
It would be humiliating after all that time to have to sell California back to Mexico and immigrate to Seattle. That much water nobody needs.
SHERWOOD KIRALY is a Laguna Beach resident. He has written four novels, three of which were critically acclaimed. His novel, “Diminished Capacity,” is now available in bookstores, and the film version is available on DVD.