Catchment systems for water and other wants and needs
We have been living off-grid and on-land in Panama for a few months now. The property sustains eight people and a rotating cast of traveling guests. In Bocas del Toro, it rains 3x more than in Seattle and all of our drinking water comes from a catchment system. The rain hits the roof, travels down the gutters, and flows through a few filters before dropping into watercooler-esque bottles.
Maintaining the system is a shared responsibility and at times it became a tragedy of the commons. Conversations about buying water in town or when the next rain was forecasted began bubbling into everyday conversation. I don’t like sitting in circles of “what if what if what if” or scarcity, so I started tending. Clearing full bottles, combing partial bottles, connecting empty bottles. I learned the frequency to flush the filter and found that we had more than enough water with this slight increase in attention.
The rain feels different now. Sometimes I wake up to a big storm and know it’s funneling into empty bottles for our future glasses of water and cups of tea, without running down the hill to check. By catching during drizzles, we don’t have to wish for downpours.
This practice started my search for a thing I’m calling “empty buckets”.
I wondered if any of my other wants and needs were connected to neglected catchment systems, or if I could design some to keep things flowing. Most of the magic is knowing exactly what you want and having a concrete way to collect. I’m an ops person by training, so the system is often easier to dream up than the desire. I started shopping this idea around and an artist friend said, “oh yeah, it’s like keeping your online store open.” I told another friend and she shared that meditation and movement practices are her empty buckets.
Some of my own habits came into focus as the gutters, filters, and bottles that collect a sense of ease, strength, and other resourcing. Writing three messy notebook pages mostly daily a la Julia Cameron. Leaving the yoga mat on the floor as a place to land for quick stretches or long sessions. Carrying around notepads and knitting projects and books to collect ideas and rows and chapters. My Gmail folder called “people are nice” houses sweet notes and my document called “writing sandbox” provides a shelf for essay ideas and lone quotes.
In preparation for sailing from San Francisco to the Chesapeake, we cleared many obligations to focus on a singular goal. The action of getting from point to point has been fairly all-encompassing, but the turning point in Panama has been a time to begin tilling the soil for planting new seeds in the spring when we land.
Community, writing, resilience, imperfectionism, and our relationship with the earth all float to the top of my mind when thinking about what to build next.
This newsletter is my latest experiment with buckets and I’m grateful that you hit subscribe. Clouds Form Over Land is another system for catching, filtering, and pouring out on a weekly basis.
Want to try rainwater catchment where you live? Some slight modifications to your gutters and less than $100 of supplies will decrease your need to open the tap. We spotted one at Lamplighter Coffee in Richmond, VA last week. If you have a washing machine, you can reroute grey water into your plants by following these steps.
Renewable energy systems, composting, free libraries, and easy ferments are all empty bucket strategies. On Sunday, a friend sent this article about the abundance and bliss a man felt after getting solar installed on his family’s roof. Yes!
Are you placing empty buckets? I’d love to hear about them.