Only a week from Tropical Storm Sandy and already the National Weather Service is indicating we are in for a Nor’ Easter this coming mid-week. I’m not complaining, we fared well in Western New England in the last storm. In our town top winds were in the 60 mph range, most of the vicinity lost power and phone, and there was some serious tree damage in some areas. The electricity and phones were back on for most within a day or two. Still, seeing the absolute devastation that the monster storm wreaked on the Mid-Atlantic states is absolutely sobering. To some degree we pay the price for inhabiting storm prone areas, but with super storms like Sandy even those who paid heed to past events were caught in the fury of this record low-pressure storm.
There is no accounting for loss of life and a life’s worth of earnings and assets. There is just nothing fair about it. And that’s something to be considered. Does fairness have anything to do with the equation of life? In the natural world, tragedy is an everyday fact. This is something humans have grown insulated from. Predators kill prey everyday. Each life lost is nutrition for those that utilize the food source. What may be tragic for those who are preyed upon may be good fortune for those successful predators. On any given day on this planet there is an earth quake, a tornado, a hurricane or typhoon, severe thunderstorms, and disastrous floods that maim, take life, and leaves someone or something in a state of shambles. It is simply a fact of life.
The human species has learned through many forms of technology to protect ourselves from many of these natural disasters. Many of us live under a roof, in an insulated house, where can drink fresh water and cook our food. We sleep in comfortable beds, eat wonderful meals, and enjoy light during the night time hours. We have defied nature to the best of our ability and done so for generations successfully. We are now, as a civilization, dependent on corporate provisions of electricity, fuel, food, and transportation. We seem to think we are independent but, in fact, rely on an economic system to give us the essentials of life. And when this economic system breaks down all hell breaks loose.
Our lives are so comfortable that we forget how powerless we really are. While natural disasters are common on this planet we just assume they will not happen to us. And when the system is broken by a hurricane, earth quake, tsunami, or whatever we seem stunned-like it is not an expected part of life. And because we live in these false bubbles we are, for all intents in purposes, unable to provide for ourselves in these rare times of tragedy. I was puzzled recently by events highlighted by Hurricane Sandy. There were people who were stranded for a couple of days and waiting to be rescued. There houses were surrounded by knee deep water and there automobiles inoperable. I was struck, not by those who are physically disabled and who simply cannot respond in a crisis such as this, but by the able bodied who couldn’t bear to walk away from their submerged homes in knee deep water. They waited for the National Guard and first responders to carry them away in large trucks with big wheels or, in some cases, motor boats.
As someone who makes a living, even in my advancing years, by sloshing around in knee deep water in boots as I march through one swamp after another, I understand that it is my familiarity with unknown water depths that makes it not quite so scary. Still, I wonder just how soft as a society we have become. Have we lost all of our survival instincts? Will we perish if there is no one to rescue us? There is not a question in my mind that I have the skills, will, and fortitude to survive almost any natural disaster as long as I am not seriously injured. And with the uncertain weather patterns that are ahead I feel fortunate that my wife and I have learned these skills through not only my many wilderness adventures but my general life style. We grow much of our own fuel. We cut wood for fuel. We lived for many years without electricity and understand how to get water, energy, and entertainment without a dependency on others. We are lucky. Luck as the result of sacrifice and lots of hard work, I suppose.
And I wonder if its not time for the majority of our populace to begin understanding what real independence is. There are many skills that can be learned. And for our brothers and sisters that live in suburban and urban environments you can all learn, joyously, together. Growing food, getting water, distributing both food and water, harvesting energy, and learning the possibilities for alternative transportation can be an uplifting experience. The process of learning these skills in a community setting can be a real and valuable group learning experience. For example, many urban and suburban areas now have groups dedicated to food security. These are valuable groups that are planning increased independence. Building community while learning to be truly independent could be the experience of a life time. I’m thinking if people learn these skills prior to any earth shaking events than we will all be much better off. And if they are not needed, that’s OK, we can pass them on to our children. Perhaps they’ll have use for these skills at some juncture.
Don’t get me wrong. Last year when Irene ripped through interior New England and every road and mode of transportation was eradicated we were glad to get help from government. But in the face of all of the hell and fury left behind by the devastating floods, and long before any government agencies sent help our way, we were in the trenches working like beavers to correct the damage. Men and women on tractors, others with shovels in hand, began the arduous task of opening roads to allow safety vehicles to pass. Only a few years before our area was struck by the great ice storm of 2008. Tens of thousands of trees were broken off and laid on the ground. Miles of roads were covered with millions of board feet of timber crossed every which way not allowing any one to go one inch in any direction. Scores of miles of power lines and telephone lines lay underneath the millions of uncut cords of woods. I remember surveying the damage the next morning. My response was to get out my chainsaw, cut a path down our long, long driveway and then cut a car and a half wide path east on the road we live on. While my wife and I were working I could hear other chainsaws in the distance; others who were doing exactly the same thing. There was some comfort in knowing that. By the end of the day we had cleared 3/8ths of a mile of road to a spot where there was less damage and we could get out to help others. I remember how tired we were that night. My bones ached to the core. But I was proud at what we had done. And even though our youth is way, way back in the rear view mirror of life I knew that we demonstrated that we were still on top of our game. We were still survivors.
Quite frankly our unprepared culture scares the hell out of me. We need less shopping and more gardening. We need less golfing and more husbandry. And we all could use a lesson in entertaining ourselves rather than being entertained by others. And if the proverbial shit ever does hit the fan, a prepared urban and suburban culture, a prepared nation, will directly benefit all of us.
We’ll sleep better at night knowing that everyone is safe and happy in their own homes and communities. And if you need help, just ask, after we bail ourselves out we’ll be there to help you.
And we know that if you are ready, you’ll be there to help us too!
Written for www.wildramblings.com in November of 2012.