WATER RITES by Peter Catalanotto, the cleverly talented illustrator-author of Robot and Monkey

My siblings and I affectionately refer to our mother’s daily ritual of water collection and distribution as “boot camp.” When we visit her home in the Southwest, the workout begins at dawn.

Before the sun begins to bake her yard, she distributes the water that has collected overnight in several large plastic bins and a rusty wheelbarrow, which are strategically placed at the bottom of gutter spouts and drain pipes. If it had rained the night before, which is rare, the teeming bins are emptied into fifty, large, empty juice and laundry detergent containers. These are then stored on the side of the house and used to water her yard until the next significant rain. By watering the plants and trees before daybreak, they have a chance to absorb the water before the sun returns it to the sky.

My mother also keeps a bucket in her shower and dumps the collected water (along with any unfinished glass of water a guest may leave behind) into a larger bucket on her back porch. This too is then doled out to her thirsty garden. Filling, lifting and then emptying these water jugs throughout her yard is a full-body workout.

I’m heading back out to visit my mother this month. After all the holiday feasting and Christmas cookies, a week of boot camp is just what I need. I’ll do my best to keep pace with my 81-year-old mother and her water-saving ways.

Here in the United States, we just turn on the faucet when we want water. That’s not the case everywhere in the world. In 2013, I was invited to facilitate writing workshops in the East African country of Rwanda. Between sessions, I often witnessed people, some on foot, others on bicycles, carrying huge plastic containers. It was explained to me that men and women came from miles around to the community well where they pumped unfiltered water to fill them. Upon returning home, they would boil the water to create a safe drinking supply for the week. Many Rwandans spent an entire day to simply acquire a glass of clean drinking water!

I was never one to waste water, but upon returning home to my Brooklyn apartment, I had a new appreciation of my access to safe, clean water and how truly precious it is. I’m grateful that people like my mother make the effort to conserve it.

Peter Catalanotto is an award-winning illustrator-author with over three dozen books to his credit, including Robot & Monkey, Matthew A.B.C and Ivan the Terrier. His artwork was described by Kirkus as “explosively joyful and expressive,” and in 2008 he was commissioned by First Lady, Laura Bush to illustrate the White House holiday brochure. Peter also teaches children’s book writing at Columbia University and has visited over 1600 schools in 40 states. Learn more at www.petercatalanotto.com.

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