Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Never take water for granted

Sunday December 5, 2021


After two weeks of reporting on B.C.’s floods, evacuations, washouts, and landslides, the CBC’s David Common was asked for his personal reaction to what he had seen.

            He paused to think. I could see him collecting his thoughts, to avoid rambling or repeating what he had already said. 

            Water, he said. The sheer power of something that most of us take for granted. 

            Indeed, most of us do take water for granted. It comes out of our taps, filtered, purified. (Although during this last few weeks, whole towns have had their water supply contaminated; some are under boil water orders; some can’t use their water at all.) 

            We drink it. We cook with it. We use it in our dishwashers and our laundry. We pour it on our gardens, our lawns, our houseplants. 

            I sluice water down the drain for my shower; I flush it down the drain from my toilet.

            I light my house, I cook my meals, I run the computer that I’m using to write these words, with electricity – which, in B.C., is over 90% generated by water power.

            All through the summer, my windows look out on Okanagan Lake. It’s a huge reservoir, holding twice as much water as the Grand Coulee Dam. People loll on its beaches, paddle in its shallows, sail on its surface, fish in its depths.

            We think of water as benign. Friendly. Necessary.

            Colonial settlers who came to this valley, a century ago,  didn’t have abundant water. Geographers class the Okanagan as semi-desert. Today’s orchards and vineyards became feasible only after early settlers learned to tap the streams and lakes in the hills, to build pipelines and flumes to transport water down to their farms. 

            And sometimes I think of water as the universal solvent. I remember my Chemistry 101 professor explaining how the molecular structure of water helps it to dissolve almost anything. Even glass, if you give it enough time.

            But all of those presume water under control.


Friendly water turns ugly

            This last few weeks, water has gone out of control. 

            Our dams, weirs, ditches and dikes proved inadequate to control the downpour that came from not just one, but three, “atmospheric rivers” sweeping moisture up from the tropics. 

            When that flow of warm moist air hit the cooler northern climate, when it rammed up against the Coast Range and cooled even more as it rose over the mountain tops, it dumped a month’s worth of rain in 24 hours. And then did it a second time. And a third.

            You have to see the power of water to believe it. 

            I’ve seen it only on a smaller scale. Years ago, I got trapped by a flood in the Kootenays. The bridges on the back-country road from New Denver to Kaslo washed out behind us. At some of them, the force of the stream threw solid water up onto our windshield. 

            At Ainsworth Hot Springs, we were told the road ahead was closed. Coffee Creek was in flood. 

            Coffee Creek is normally a crystal-clear glacial stream, dancing down over rounded rocks. 

            Not this time. The water frothed like a chocolate milk shake. It filled the narrow canyon. It had risen 20 feet, barely passing below the bridge. 

            And it shook the earth. Literally. We could feel the pavement tremble under our feet as the irresistible rush of water tumbled great rocks five or six feet in diameter, many tons in weight, down the stream bed.


To an extreme

            One of the insights of Marshall and Eric McLuhan was that anything – yes, anything, even something beneficial – becomes harmful when taken to an extreme. 

            They used human constructs for their examples, 

            We build freeways to help traffic flow faster. But too many cars turn it into a parking lot. 

            We created opioids to ease pain. But overuse makes them addictive, even deadly. 

            Everyone needs mother love. But too much mother love can become smothering.

            The McLuhans’ principle words in reverse, too. Too much iodine is poisonous; too little affects your thyroid, causing goiters, loss of hair, depression, and constipation. 

            Too much authority becomes tyranny; too little becomes anarchy.

            It even works with water. 

            For too little water, try living in the Sahara. For too much water, come to B.C. 

            It takes enormous power to rip out long sections of paved highway. To carve canyons through solid rock. To carry whole mountainsides hundreds of miles.

            Where did you think flood plains came from, anyway?

            Never underestimate the power of water. Treat it with respect. Don’t expect it to always obey you. 


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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Your turn


Okay, you need some kind of explanation of why there were no Sharp Edges columns for the last two weekends. 

            The column I wrote for Dec. 13, connecting the sexual assault on a Chicago Blackhawks player ten years ago with ongoing violence in certain sports, offended a few people (including some at the newspaper that publishes this column). They felt that I was making light of sexual assault. 

            That was not my intention. If that’s how it came across, I apologize. I did not choose my words carefully enough. 

            I apologize especially to any who felt that I was treating their personal trauma from sexual assault as being less serious than other forms of assault.

            As Gertrude Stein might have said, “Assault is assault is assault.”

            I wanted to challenge what felt to me like hypocrisy. We, the public, react strongly against sexual assault, but in some sports we applaud physical assault. We rise to our feet to get a better view of a fight on the ice. We watch endless TV replays of a brutal tackle on the field. We pay big bucks for the privilege of watching two athletes knock each other senseless in the ring. 

            I was appalled at research showing the extent of brain damage among professional football players. 

            I don’t accept the argument that those athletes “knew what they were getting into.” Or, “that’s the nature of the sport.” That feels like the same argument as “the way she dressed, she was asking for it.”

            Then I woke up in the middle of the night, going over things I could say in my own defence. And I realized that my own reasoning didn’t make sense to me. 

            That was a painful realization. 

            So I decided to take a couple of weeks off while I reflected on what I’m trying to achieve in writing these columns. To figure out more clearly what I want to say, and why, and to whom. 

            I don’t have answers to those questions yet. Maybe I never will. But I think, I hope, that these two weeks off have made me more wary of trying to set the whole world straight.

            Getting my own thoughts straight might be a good start.





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               I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

               Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

               I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

               Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



               The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.





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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: water, BC, McLuhan, floods



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