Big Things Come in Small Packages

Two little books, The State of Water, and God Wrestler, have a lot to say and are gifts that keep giving for years.

The State of Water: Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource, by artist, poet, and naturalist Obi Kaufmann, is a small book (5 x 7 inches and160 pages) with a big message: environmental conservation and restoration are necessary as a matter of human survival.

In his introduction, Kaufmann writes: “I don’t spend too much time talking about groundwater, as my main scope of interest is surface water and how systems of rivers and aqueducts impact habitat for wildlife. My bias is to surface water solutions and systems, as that is my focus as a naturalist, a painter, and a lover of the natural world of California.”

The book is both analytical and art-filled with an undercurrent of dire warning that gives birth to Kaufmann’s own brand of optimism. It is a mélange of facts and figures of California’s convoluted history of its water systems made clear with Kaufmann’s full-color maps, delicate watercolors of riverine wildlife and the ecosystem that supports them.

In five chapters, Kaufmann demonstrates how science and art can work together to deliver a powerful message of hope. He grounds us in “The Big Picture,” an overview of the state of water. From there we zoom in to learn more about “The Northern Rivers,” “Southland Water,’ and words of hope with “A Moment of Restoration,” where he discusses his dream of restoring Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley. Finally, he presents “Patterns in Conservation,” reminding us of our responsibility to be stewards of the land: “As much habitat as we can return to wild, endemic patterns,” he writes, “is investment in our own rich and resilient future.”

Following publication of The State of Water, Kaufmann immediately embarked on The California Lands trilogy: The Forests of California, Volume 1 (Spring 2020), The Coasts of California, Volume 2 (Fall 2020), and The Deserts of California, Volume 3 (Fall 2021).

Obi Kaufmann is the author of the best-selling California Field Atlas, which was published in 2017. (; Heyday, Berkeley, California). Kaufmann lives in Oakland, CA. Available in fine bookstores everywhere and


God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion

With a sense of reverent irreverence (irreverent reverence?) L.A. poet Rick Lupert brings the Torah to life in his 21st century.

Abraham, Jacob, Joseph and his brothers, pillars of ancient wisdom, led Lupert in the way of Torah in the guise of modern applications, such as the 1968 musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, and Lupert’s young son. 

Who knew the story of Abraham would go on for so long and with such vitality? For instance:


Like Joseph, I know what it’s like to

not have a father for decades.


Mine, hidden in the Egypt of Texas

Pretending he was someone else


While I built my empire in

The land of California.


Like Joseph’s brothers, it was me

Who showed up on his doorstep.


But I knew exactly who he was.

Unlike the brothers, I wasn’t there for wheat


Or even fancy coats. I just wanted to make sure

the space between us would


no longer be measured in decades.

A cautionary lunch ensued


And then he brought me my sister

Like Benjamin, only a girl.


America became our land of Goshen

And we continue to flourish


Like the familial bond between Joseph

and his brothers, there is nothing to forgive.


We didn’t move to Texas, of course

The Egypt of our story.


I read ahead in the text and

It turns out things go south down there.


No-one wants to move twice.

But there is an airplane ticket in the future.


Next week, in fact. Round trip.

The first family lives on.


Lupert’s Topanga connection was, first, as a juror for a poetry contest in the Topanga Messenger (2015). He was recently invited last October to be the guest poet for a poetry night at Café 27, where he regaled a rapt audience for 20 minutes with a miniscule sampling from his collection of 23 books. The latest is Hunka Hunka Howdee! Poems written in Memphis, Nashville and Louisville, a travelogue written on the go in Memphis, Nashville, and Louisville. Two music cities, the birthplace of Rock and Roll, Martin Luther King’s final steps, and barrels full of bourbon are no escape from Lupert’s keen poetic eye and wit.

By Rick Lupert


Bill Mohr, author of The Headwaters of Nirvana, and HOLDOUTS: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948-1992, says of Lupert’s work: “The best of these poems come close enough to being both seductive satire and genuinely sentimental encounters that you will want to linger with their wit…Lupert’s deftly sketched poems will help you keep “one foot each on and off / the beaten path” of skeptical wonder at the world’s ongoing peculiarities.”

To build your own collection of Lupert’s poetry, his books are available at:;; and fine booksellers everywhere.

God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion by Rick Lupert

“Reverently Irreverent” ~ Rabbi Ed Feinstein

“Humor and depth abound.” ~ Cantor Ellen Dreskin

“Witty, knowing, wise.” ~ Rabbi David Wolpe




Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at

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