Learning Gratitude from City Drains

Category: Musing

I had no idea that volunteering to take care of a city drain on our block would mean so much to me.

Last winter, we northern Californians had record rainfalls. By January, 23 trillion more gallons of water fell on us than usual, and it was far from over. Up to this point of record rainfall, we were only a few weeks away from having to ration our daily water usage. In two months, a drought that had lasted decades was over.

Our towns, cities, and streets were flooding daily. San Francisco sent notes to citizens asking us to adopt a drain and keep it clear of debris so water could flow out as fast as possible. We were directed to a website with all the drains near us that were available for “adoption.”

We selected a drain and even named it! We were quite proud of “The Flow Must Go On,” but there were others that were quite clever: Flow Boi, It’s Draining Men, and many others. 

It turns out that as soon as I got my “thank you for adopting me” email from my “drain,” I took this responsibility very seriously. I walked straight over to my drain and found it was covered in leaves. I ran home to get a compost bag and cleared my drain, but on my way back, I saw another drain full of leaves. So I cleared them too.

The next morning on my way to yoga in my yellow Wellies, all I could see during my walk in the pouring rain were the drains. Some were flowing; others were clogging up. The rain was pouring so fast that one clogged drain would cause a section of the street to flood.

I quickly moved the leaves out of the way with my boots, trying to clear them from running over the drain. Someone walked by and started to help. Another person grabbed a compost bag. They lived near the drain and hadn’t gotten to it yet, as it was only 9 a.m. They thanked me for helping with the drain they had adopted just a week before me.

Throughout the coming weeks, I saw more and more people looking out for drains as they walked or parked their cars after work. We were all in this effort together, a simple act of clearing drains so our streets remained drivable and our homes stayed dry. We were doing it for each other. We were doing it for the community. 

The rains eventually stopped, and as I walk now, I’m transported into our fire season. It’s hot here (like everywhere), and we’re bracing ourselves for the season. San Francisco has a Civic Pride volunteer group that is growing in numbers. I’m learning that taking care of our home shouldn’t be left up to the city workers. These days, there just aren’t enough of them.

This isn’t the case only where I live, but it’s a challenge everywhere. I didn’t realize how much I took for granted until I adopted a drain. I put out my garbage, and it magically disappears the next day. A pothole forms due to storms, and a few weeks later, it’s patched up. I have no idea when it happened or how or who helped. All this infrastructure that keeps a place livable happens behind the scenes, and I rarely saw it or appreciated it.

Now when I walk to yoga, I see every drain. There are thirteen in my ten-minute walk. I think of my very small part in taking care of them. I feel warmth in my heart when I think of everyone pulling together in the pouring rain. And now, without the rain, I don’t have a drain to care for, but I do have a community that needs attention and care. I’m not sure I’d be as active as I am today in other areas of our city without caring for “The Flow Must Go On.” I’m so grateful for the experience, but mostly for the wake-up call.

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