Burton on the Bay:
Where the Water Doesn't Go
As drought continues, all nature contemplates economies

I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.

     -G.K. Chesterton, 1874-1936


Berkeley Springs, West. Va.-Okay, readers, into the mouth of what famous person did Chesterton put those words? One hint only, the person built the most legendary boat of all time, which rules out what would probably be the first guess of everyone, W.C. Fields, who wanted nothing to do with water except to shower away a hangover.

In no way was the Titanic or Queen Mary or Queen Elizabeth involved. This boat had to be even bigger as below its deck it housed a male and female of all living creatures on a relatively young Earth.

So now you have it. In "Wine and Water," Chesterton thus quoted Noah, who the author suggested said those words often to his wife when he sat down to dine. But Chesterton didn't let us know whether Noah took along two of each wine, a white and a red.


Drought's Economies

When I came out here to the slopes of the Mountain State to check on the drought far from the Metropolitan area, wife Lois and I had dinner at Coolfont Resort with Sam Ashelman, its founder and proprietor, an erect, genial and gray octogenarian who takes water seriously. And the same goes for just about all natural resources.

At the time, he was deliberating within himself a drought-fighting measure that would be a first in the more than 30 years since he carved a recreation and fitness center in the mountains just south of Hancock, Md. Should the dining rooms of Coolfont not serve water unless requested?

After we told him that policy was already in effect back home - and no one was griping - I detected that he was leaning more to adopting it at Coolfont. Accusations of copycatting would not stand in the way of saving precious water.

But Sam had already implemented one measure at his popular mountain hideaway that one can't imagine being copied back home. Hell, we hadn't even thought about it in the Burton household where water conservation is the byword.

Coolfont visitors are asked if they would be willing to forgo fresh towels and face cloths daily in the interest of saving water. Not interested, no sweat: You get the daily change unless you ask not to. But already 25 percent of guests, including the Burtons, have agreed to use the same towels at least a couple of days. And Sam was worrying about whether to hold back on water in the dining rooms unless it was requested!


To Each His Own Towel

This towel thing brought to mind life on the New England farm during the Great Depression, the early days of which also witnessed a drought in the East, a drought that was to linger much longer in the Midwest. Not a drop of water went to waste; gardens and other vegetation got all used wet stuff.

Despite hard times, Uncle Jack, Aunt Caroline and Aunt MiMi managed to go off to college, working their way through.

Back home, at the kitchen of the farm alongside the sink, which had a balky big iron hand pump, was a rack upon which hung two big towels Grandma Burton had sewn from bleached grain sacks that had not been subjected to her wizardry of making clothing. On a small table was a basin for water.

Cleanliness was Grandma's byword. When hands were dirty, one was expected to wash them, the same with the face - and always before meals. The towels were shared. You took the driest and dried your hands and face.

When MiMi came home from college for the weekend, she announced that sharing towels was unsanitary. Henceforth, everyone had to have their own towel for the sake of good health.

How Grandma fussed. Burtons were clean, and Burtons being family shared, and what could be unhealthy about that? On and on she went about new-fangled ideas.

MiMi persisted and the kitchen towel rack from then on held a collection of towels, one for each member of the household, though most - being of cotton bleached to remove the brands of chicken feed - looked pretty much alike. We had to remember which position our personal towel had on the rack.

Presumably, the to-each-his-own-towel practice didn't mean much difference in the use of water carted from the well a hundred yards or more distant on Mondays when the big metal washtub was pressed into service along with the hand wringer and big copper boiler for hot water.

But at a big spread like Coolfont, the savings could be appreciable. That satisfies Sam, and those who take fewer towels also enjoy a measure of self-satisfaction.


Will Fall Fail?

Berkeley Springs is known for its baths, springs and refreshing mountain water, and each day Sam has well-water levels checked at 9am. Springs that feed the water supply are also monitored. Streams below some are nearly dry, and Sam worries.

Water is not only needed for drinking, washing, laundry and such but also for the organic gardens that supply the dining rooms with the big bright red and chemical-free tomatoes and other veggies. The soil is dry and powdery, and water is added sparingly.

The mountains are dry, moreso at the top. Some creatures are working their way down the mountains to get what water is available at lower levels. The big question is starting to be asked: What will the drought mean in two months?

Western Maryland and much of West Virginia's economic well-being is dependent on fall foliage, when leaf peekers come from everywhere to see the mix of yellow of the tulip poplars, the reddish brown of the oaks and the brilliant reds and oranges of the maples.

Drought KOs fall foliage. Already stressed trees are making their own survival decision to shed some leaves early. The leaves left will be more brilliant than ever. But will most have already fallen at traditional foliage time?

The leaves of the burning bush in the front yard of the Burton home on Stoney Creek in North County have already started to turn red. Some have fallen weeks ahead of schedule. But it's a big bush, and too much water would be needed to help maintain its usual foliage schedule.

One catalpa tree needs water badly. It's a runt. Has always been since daughter Heather pushed into the ground a small pruned branch from the original catalpa 20 years ago, and amazingly it rooted. But being in the shade of an oak originating from the Wye Oak and some maples and other oaks, it has had a tough time in the competition for sunlight and water.

Now a straggly 18 feet high, too big for traditional and legal watering, it prompts our concerns about its survival after two decades of persistently defying lopsided odds. There is little I can do but watch, wait and worry.

And the drought continues.

| Issue 33 |

Volume VII Number 33
August 19-25, 1999
New Bay Times

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