Shower by
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Prompted By Guilty Pleasures

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The first Earth Day was in 1970.  As if to punctuate that wake-up call, In 1976-77, I was living in San Francisco through what was the worst California drought of the century.  Shasta and other reservoirs were down to puddles. I learned a lot about hydrology, how our water was dammed and diverted from the mountains through the Central Valley to the brackish delta, the water wars history, the sacrifice of the Owens Valley lake to supply the LA Basin , why the Colorado no longer flowed to the sea.  We almost did away with showers and flushing toilets.  The mottos were: “Save water—shower with a friend”, and “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”.  The routine was: Turn on water and collect in bucket until warm—wet self—turn off water—lather and wash—turn on water to rinse—end!  Use the cold water in the bucket for plants. Lawns died and xeriscape gardens became a thing.  No washing cars or hosing down sidewalks.  I used the merest trickle of water to wash dishes in a plastic tub in the sink, emptying the gray water onto landscape.  Leaving a tap running was a crime.

The routine was: Turn on water and collect in bucket until warm—wet self—turn off water—lather and wash—turn on water to rinse—end! 

After a three-year interim in Seattle, I returned to the Bay Area where managing water scarcity had become standard.  We were all accustomed to low-flow shower heads, water restrictions, and lawn-less yards.  When Sally’s cousin visited from Chicago with his sixteen-year-old daughter, we were aghast when she took a shower at our house—and we heard the water running for a half hour straight!!!  What was she doing in there???  We were trying to be hospitable and said nothing, but privately raged as she used up our monthly allotment.

Water is becoming increasingly commodified, polluted, and at risk worldwide. Showers are nothing to take for granted. Travel teaches so much, but apart from desire, you need time and money to do it (and now, justification for your carbon footprint).   My chance came in 1989, when I took a “sabbatical” from work (time off but no pay).  We splurged on a very pared-down trip to Africa, well-worth every penny.  One of the stops was in Kenya, where we signed onto a backpacker level mini-safari—a week getting stuck in the muddy roads, bumping over ruts, dodging elephants, climbing old volcanoes, and camping where Masai guards accompanied you to the latrine at night (lions!).   After a week of dirt and dust, we had the luxury of staying overnight in extremely basic cement rondavels, furnished with only a cot (but better than the tiny tent on the ground).  And behind the rondavel, there it was–a shower!  A precious shower.  The coldest, iciest, take-your-breath-away, and best-worst shower of my life. Unforgettable. Truly. I still remember it with every hot shower I take.

Following many years in California, I moved to the closest thing Canada has to a desert (lee side of mountains, cacti, rattlesnakes, fires, drought) despite the beautiful valley lakes that belie the arid ecosystem.  Every year we have water restrictions. There are also floods, heat waves, infrastructure damage, deforestation and fossil fuel industries that exacerbate climate change. The endless hot and cold running water that I accepted without question as a child I now recognize is really a major technical, and fraught, accomplishment. But when the reservoirs are overflowing with the spring freshet, or we have long winter rains, or I am visiting some wet part of the world, I let the warm shower water run nonstop while I wash my hair, lingering just a little to feel that heated, fresh, abundant water coursing over me.






Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: been there, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    You describe the water restrictions with such clarity, Khati. Now I feel guilty for enjoying my hot shower! But I do know that water is increasingly a scarce commodity and I am always careful to turn off the tap when I brush my teeth.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Michigan and Massachusetts have not been hit as hard by drought, and I didn’t learn the water lesson until I lived in California. Water has always been necessary for life, and easy access to clean water is a major goal of all developing countries. Unfortunately water scarcity is becoming more of an issue to huge swathes of the world—and not the only environmental issue rising before us.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    It’s so sad that we have depleted our resources to the point where taking a warm shower has become a guilty pleasure. Using a hose attachment to rinse off saves a lot of water, so that’s my concession. It used to gall me when Trump complained about low-flow showers and toilets, but now we know why he needed a powerful flush.

  3. Thanx Khati for your ever-thoughtful and lovely writing. We do take so much for granted – as we surely realize during these past Covid years.

    We have a house in a Connecticut community where water main breaks occur at times, and we’re reminded how hard it is spending hours without water..

    And am remembering a beach house my folks rented for many simmers that had an outdoor shower adjacent to the front porch. It was delightful showering there with the ski above and and within earshot of the voices of the family moving about the house!

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    A long hot shower is a glorious thing!

  5. John Shutkin says:

    What a tough and perfectly described story, Khati, from the first Earth Day right up to the present day of climate change crisis. And your descriptions of the pleasures of showering — something so many of us still take for granted — are beautiful. Sadly, these pleasures should not be guilty ones, but I believe you are correct in describing them this way. And I will try to remember that the next time I’m thoughtlessly lingering in my own steamy shower.

  6. Marian says:

    A beautiful yet sober reminder of our water issues, Khati. I do feel somewhat guilty about my long showers, but because my skin and hair are very dry, I take a “full” shower only every four days, with “spot washes” in between. That’s how I rationalize the longer shower. Ah, well ..

    • Khati Hendry says:

      It turns out we don’t need anywhere near as many showers as we take—as long as we aren’t sweaty and dirty (something I rarely am anymore). It just dries out the skin, and spot washing is fine. Don’t need to wash clothes so much either. I rationalize a longer shower by taking fewer as well.

  7. Suzy says:

    Having lived in California since 1974, I am painfully aware of the need to conserve water. We usually take short showers, have low-flow shower heads, don’t flush, etc. But last week our water heater broke and we were without showers for two days. We were heating water on the stove to wash our face and hands, like Little House on the Prairie. And when we got our new water heater, we each succumbed to taking a long hot shower! (Not together, although I do remember the “shower with a friend” slogan.)

  8. Yes I ran into that water scarcity over in Bermuda where their household water come from collected rain water in their cistern. I brought my bad habit of using too much water with me and as a lodger I was nicely, with a British accent, told to ‘knock it off’.

  9. Jim Willis says:

    Interesting piece, Khati, on something we too often take for granted; until the water stops flowing. SoCal has certainly had its share of droughts over the years, as well as power issues.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      I appreciate engineering and infrastructure more and more, as well as the need to develop technology that doesn’t destroy the earth in the process. Surely we can steward water better. The coming years will be “interesting “ times.

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