Five years ago. Jackpot!
I wrote this piece about five years ago. It ran in the Lane Monthly. I re-share it with a dose of humility and awareness that the world has a way of challenging our thinking.
Waiting for The Big One
“Humanity today is like a waking dreamer, caught between the fantasies of sleep and the chaos of the real world…terribly confused by the mere fact of our existence.”
Evolutionary biologist, Edward O. Wilson, The Social Conquest of Earth.
The end of the world is nigh. That means imminent, soon, impending. So say the experts and it appears that many people think the threat is real because lately more than a few of my friends have asked me what we’re doing to get ready for it.
It is confusing. Is the big one the devastating earthquake seismologists say will ravage the Northwest? Is the big one the asteroid astronomers say is careening towards the Earth, like shotgun pellets at an unsuspecting pigeon? Is the big one renewed threats of nuclear holocaust that State Department analysts say is possible due to deteriorating relations with Russia? Is the big one the environmental collapse threatening all living things due to global warming or an Avian Flu pandemic the World Health Organization says might break out at any time if I don’t get a flu shot? Is the big one a catastrophic Category-5 hurricane, a communication destroying solar flare, a collapse in the global economy, a tsunami obliterating the west coast, a famine inducing drought, a plague of locusts, or even the Armageddon some believe is God’s way of showing how much he loves us? I get confused because with so many contenders to be “The Big One,” I’m not sure how to prepare. If from one second to the next a four-minute Richter Scale 9 shaker lets fly and we lose our roads, electricity, communications, and food supply for an extended period, what then?
Throughout the ages, there has been a steady stream of prognostication about shit hitting the fan. There is never seems a time when we can live without fear from something knocking the crap out of us. It’s a wonder we even get out of bed.
I understand that scientists and spiritual leaders feel compelled to alert us to these things. Disasters do happen, like the 2011 Tohoku quake in Japan they are still struggling to clean up. And honestly, I would take perverse pleasure in saying goodbye to many elements of modern civilization. I’m not deluding myself into thinking that by packing a storm shelter full of beans and rice, barrels of water, and a cache of ammunition to keep the real and human wolves at bay, we can ride it out. Yet, I struggle to understand what good comes from someone telling us there’s a one in three chance that in the next fifty years, Idaho will become a coastal state. What can we do to prepare for that?
Honestly, if the North American tectonic plate “corrects” for the pressure of the sub-ducting San Juan Plate and the 700-mile Cascadian subduction zone goes all “full-margin rupture” so that my home and an estimated hundred forty thousand square miles of the Northwest bends down then springs back like a diving board underneath an Olympic diver, what can we do to prepare? Should we set eyebolts into the corners of the house and tie the corners off to some trees? How many packs of batteries, bottles of water, and vacuum-sealed pouches of camping chili do we need? How will we fend off the desperate “city people” when Trader Joes are looted and cannot get resupplied?
I don’t blame people for worrying when bombarded by a condensed dose of horror each day. Still, I have no inclination to prepare a bunker with a hand-cranked radio and a year’s supply of Meals Ready to Eat so we can ride it out until the coast is clear. I do keep a two-week amount of food strapped around my waist at all times land I do worry about forest fires because I love my donkey and cat and am concerned how I’d get them away from a big fire but other than that I think that many predict dire scenarios as a way to sell us something or distract us from other matters. As for anything the Federal Emergency Management Agency, F.E.M.A. has to say, how’d that work out in New Orleans? Even the Red Cross list of emergency supplies is baffling. I’m not sure what birth certificates, home deeds, and entertainment supplies will do for you when the continent goes all snap, crackle and pop.
Living my own life is challenging enough without fearing disaster scenarios on which highly qualified researchers lay odds. I don’t read newspapers or magazines. I don’t Tweet, Facebook, or watch television. The only radio I listen to is sports radio, where they wouldn’t know a hurricane from a dropped punt. I’m not “In the loop” of all of the impending disasters. Still, I’m not spending a single second worrying about it if for no other reason than I have not one iota of control over any of it. I will not walk the Earth afraid of everything that can end my life.
If it all goes boom and some bunker junkie with his s–t ton of supplies aims a fully loaded Kalashnikov at my heart while I plead for mercy, I’ll have to react. Seen, from a Red Cross Helo, I’ll be a sorry sight eating freeze-dried crow by the fire as the Cavalry drops pouches of hermetically sealed Beef stew and a boxed set of Curb Your Enthusiasm into my outstretched arms. Until then, I’m going about my business and singing R.E.M.’s “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”
Life is life, and death is death. You get what you get.
Memories of Time Stopping
Live long enough, and you come to understand that the world occasionally shifts its axis. In those moments, routines and necessities change: time stops.
The coronavirus pandemic has increased the speed and frequency with which we ride the roller coaster of living. Optimism and pessimism rise and fall like tides. People struggle with having the most basic form of control taken away. Humans, with their endless creativity and resilience, rally their optimism even as they “check the numbers” each day for signs that things will return to “normal.” One thing is sure: we are alive, and for some, experiencing the majesty of that for the first time.
Living in an industrial age, few of us experience a creature’s life. Few of us grow or hunt our food. We live in homes that are never too cold or too hot. There is droning predictability to things, and it is rare to experience the world independent of the filters of a culture that programs our thoughts. Our imaginations have been stolen.
But then, the world stops: work stops, school stops, church stops, concerts stop, bars stop, commerce grinds to a halt, and distractions like sports and socializing stop. For some, the sudden vacancy of time is a torment, for others, a pleasure, a reminder there is more to life than grinding.
I recall the other times before in my life of almost sixty-five years when the world stopped.
A hurricane in 1960, when my family sped home in torrential rains beginning to challenge the windshield wipers, casting doubt on whether we would reach our harbor, our refuge from the storm. Five years old, I still recall the tension and aliveness in those hours.
In 1963, three days after moving to an alien and frightening New York City, President Kennedy was killed, and our world went into shutdown, sequestered in a small hotel room with my parents and two sisters awaiting the move to our apartment.
A few years later, The Blackout, when the entire eastern seaboard lost power 1and the homes and streets of New 963, York went dark. People poured out of their apartments and by flashlight united in curiosity and support, not typical behavior by New Yorkers who to adapt to a dense world of humanity by maintaining an impenetrable shield of detachment.
December 1974, I was traveling on the West Coast and got a phone call that my mother was dying. I took a plane back east the next day; four days later she died. More subtle was the stoppage of time from this. Three years later, time resumed.
A few years later, another hurricane barreling down on the city. I was visiting a friend on Long Island and drove like a maniac to get home to the Bronx before the storm. And, the irony of ironies is that once I made it back, instead of staying inside, I put on a raincoat and took to the barren streets, as the storm began blowing wires and roofs, anything not battened down. Soon, the rain came and torrents of water washed the filth of New York City’s streets it all into the river. Walking in that I felt so alive!
Fifty years into life in the Northwest, I have experienced blizzards, prolonged winter power outages, and shutdowns when the basics of life like candles and cooking over the woodstove connected us to our lives. How often do you truly appreciate that you have a warm home and a roof over your head? How often do you appreciate that you have the tools and instincts to survive?
None of these events held us as does, COVID-19, with the entire globe in its hands. A tiny, mindless virus with seven billion people in its gravity. The virus reminds us like the haunting words of Point Blank, by Bruce Springsteen that, “No one survives untouched.” No one survives untouched in time we will share for the rest of our lives; the moment when the planet turned, time stopped, and we survived, feeling every moment of our precious lives.
For many of us, this will be the defining moment of our lives. Embrace it, help others who need your strength, and trust the steady beating of your own heart.
Hi All: This is the local newspaper for whom I write. They are an amazing team of people making a community newspaper relevant. The editor started rocking it when she came aboard and then a new owner has only infused it with more energy. Have a look. More to come.
“Be sure to visit chronicle1909.com – your best hyper-local news and information source in the southern Willamette Valley. It’s still “under construction,” but has lots of live content already.”
In November of 1982, I was in the Bering Sea, working as a Biologist/Observer for the National Marine Fisheries Service and assigned to a Japanese Long Line vessel, The Ebisu Maru. The ship was 170’ long with a crew of twenty, fishing the Aleutian Islands for groundfish. One thing you learn when fishing in the North Pacific and Bering Seas is that weather comes at you hard. You learn to ride out heavy weather that makes the worst day shown on The Deadliest Catch television show seem like a summer day on Dorena Reservoir.
This storm came from Siberia, we had daily weather maps and there was time to prepare. Typically, bad storms lasted three to four days, and unable to fish in heavy seas, the crew took to their bunks for a much-needed sleep.
Once the storm arrived, I spent the first day asleep with my legs braced against the bed rails so I wouldn’t fall from my bunk to the floor. This storm was unlike others I had experienced, steadily building in ferocity.
One of my responsibilities was to take weather and sea condition readings every day at six o’clock. The ship’s bridge sat twenty feet above the waterline, and waves were crashing down that were twenty to thirty feet above that! For the first time in my life, I wrote down Beaufort 10, only two steps away from a hurricane. The waves swelling and subsiding around us were close to fifty feet, and the ship rose and fell in troughs and peaks. The sea and sky were indistinguishable.
Fear crept into my mind as sleep became more a way of shutting down than it was restful. I slept seventeen hours the first day, but when I could sleep no more, I went to the bridge. During storms, the captain and fishing master took the helm for six-hour turns. The fishing master, who had fished and whaled in every ocean on the planet, calmly sat in the helmsmen’s chair,
singing in Japanese wearing a traditional fisherman’s bandana around his head. Each time a wave sent a harmonic vibration through the steel hull, the master looked to me and in broken English said, “My ship is strong!” If he was frightened, it didn’t show. I did not want to show my fear, so I put on a good face, but I thought I was going to die in the steel grey Bering Sea, north of the Aleutians Islands south of the Pribilof, Islands.
On the second day of the storm, I rested in bed while visualizing the welders as they had fabricated the hull of the vessel. I followed every seam as if counting stitches in a wound. Starting at the bow, I followed the seams to the stern. When that ended, I imagined there were Shachi (Japanese for Killer Whales) guarding the ship against danger.
It has long been lore that sailors may presage their death at sea, even accepting its inevitability. That may sound romantic, and it makes for a good tale, but at the moment when you confront death, if there is any choice in the matter, it never hurts to pray for your survival. I looked out of the porthole and said if I am to die here, so be it, but I didn’t want to die, and because of the calm of others and a deep mystical sense of my fate, I knew we would survive the storm. Full disclosure, I did a little bargaining by pledging that I would never go to sea again if I survived.
Three weeks later, I returned to Seattle, and except for a short sail between Newport and Reedsport, never far from land, I have honored my pledge. Though even on that short trip, I felt the fates weighing the fidelity of the promise once made.
This is a public service message from your local community poet. Stay home!
Now, back to our regular programming…
Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus. He was a contemporary of the older Virgil and Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature.
As the poet, Ovid once said
Here are the rules: any verse is okay, rhymes and meter optional, any language, add Your verse or verses as a comment and share with others and together we will write the Greatest Elegy in the History of Pandemics. Take that Publius!
Elegy to The Coronavirus Pandemic
We’ve been to London and to France
But now we’re staying home
Not heading to a Sardinian dance
Cause now we’re staying home
What need have we of coffee out
For now we’re staying home
With so much risk and so much doubt
Oh yes, we’re staying home
Who really needs a dinner out
Damn straight we’re staying home
Baseball and Olympic Flames
Not now, we’re staying home
We all will miss the precious games
Still now we’re staying home
it’s been announced that
the future is suspended
plans upended indefinitely
being in the moment
is current “superior” mandate
if there ever was one
how contrary it feels
to the world begotten
with a live shiny droplet
now a different particle
that escapes definition of life
works at cross-purpose
yet the universe will
deny it its nourishment
as we pray and hope sincerely…
It was Dunbar who wrote the poem, Sympathy, which inspired
Maya Angelou to title her memoir, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
First person to identify the three songs, gets a beer when this thing is over. nancy is responsible for the sun cleansing.
“Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side. Keep on the sunny side of life
“Sunshine on my pillow makes me happy.”
Good Morning World.
The river that connects us all is flowing deeply through my sub-conscious. Why else would I write at two in the morning?
I remember being a schoolchild, how excited it felt to awaken in the morning to a blanket of white powder and hear on the radio that school was closed!
A day of snowballs and snowmen was rich.
Yes, I understand this is different, but stepping outside into the crystal clear and cold air last night there was a panoply of glittering stars. I took a deep breath, inviting the air into my lungs and savoring the feeling. How sweet it is to feel human, to step away from the grinding machine of life in the modern world.
Each day, the red circles of Coronavirus clusters saturate the global map. In a few weeks, the circles will disappear and all will be in red.
Some of us will take leave, most will not, and when the red fades the machine will slowly come back to life.
Savor these moments. Savor———-these——–moments.
Breathe the air, drink water, stay warm, sleep, and join me on the river, exhaling the vapor of life above the flowing water.