Panhandle Hooks and Transition Lessons

The upper Midwest just got clobbered by a doozy of a Panhandle Hook dumping plenty of snow followed by some serious winds gusting to 50mph (80kph).  I work the weekends, so I had the pleasure of driving through all this at 4am this morning.  Now the signs were clear – NOAA has been preaching this storm all week – heavy snow, bitter temps, massive winds.  Its gonna be brutal.   The troopers are adamant – no travel unless you have to.  Again and Again the mantra is clear – be prepared, be careful, take precautions.

I have almost no choice – I have a job to do and a team to lead, but I know the drill.  I own an AWD Subaru.  I mount dedicated snow tires.  I leave with plenty of time, wearing enough fleece line gore tex and merino wool that I could have walked the 20 miles to work if I had to.  And in case I do need to, I put snow shoes, flashlights and some food in the car.  My wife hands me some water as I walk out the door.  I fill the gas tank and put a heavy winter camping sleeping bad in the car in case I bin it and it takes a while for help to arrive.  Heck, I’ve taken performance driving classes and raced cars in my past; I know the limits of my abilities and my vehicle.  I am not self sufficient, but I am prepared for the reasonable issues that I may face.  I will be in a bad way if I wrap my Forester around a tree, so I drive slow to ensure that never happens.  But if I ditch it or get caught in a drift I will be fine for a day or two which is 4x longer than I will need to be.  I have added a significant amount of resiliency and self reliance to my treacherous commute.

While gassing up, I see 3 different cars pull up and people run into the store wearing track pants and sneakers or flats and a dress.   I went to school in South Dakota…  weather will kill you dead in minutes out there in winter and people like this would literally get talked to for endangering themselves and others by their lack of preparedness (in South Dakota you have to pay for your own rescue if you are dumb enough to get into trouble in a winter storm).  On the commute home the drifting was intense as the Alberta air was blowing down in full force.  The roads were clear when blocked by woods, but hit a field and the drifts were very real, and the roads glare ice.  The troopers knew this and had gotten sick enough of pulling people out all damn day that they towed out a 12′ tall flashing neon sign telling people to SLOW DOWN: HAZARDOUS DRIFTING ahead.    Sure enough – it got BAD about .5 miles later.  I lifted off the throttle, hit the hazard lights, and slowed to 30mph.  Then, predictably, three cars blew by me 1…2…3….  the first hit the drift, braked and of course started to spin on the ice as the weight lifted off the rear of the vehicle.  Of course the next two did the same and they all hit the ditch 1… 2… 3…

I pulled over and ensured that they were all ok and were able to call for a tow and then I drove on struck again by how surprised each of them were- one even muttering “what happened?”  The signs were there –literally– and they failed to heed them.   The conditions changed, but they failed to adjust their paradigm.

There are many lessons here.  In any population there is naturally a wide array of risk aversion levels.  In herbivores it is a classic tug of war between bolting at the first sign of a predator and wasting precious energy, or waiting a bit longer saving energy and perhaps even taking a few more bites of grass. Too risk averse and you can’t compete as you gradually become weaker and less able to produce.  Not risk averse enough and, well, you get eaten.   Mammoths in North America had evolved to regard anything smaller than a short faced bear as too small to be a threat.  But when the Clovis people arrived – massing 1/4 of a bear so of course no threat at all– they were summarily wiped out in mere centuries.    I was raised in an environment that valued preparedness.  I have often thought that one could draw a loose, but fairly accurate, line through male society along the line of Those That Carry Pocket Knives and Those That Do Not.   Go to any birthday party and when the stubborn ribbon hits, there is always one or two people there that quickly reach into their pocket to produce a small tool to do the job.

I come from a long line of knife carriers and this year my son will get his first knife – a right of passage indeed– and in a few years his younger sister will too.  There are also those who went to Boy Scouts (Be Prepared!) and those who did not.  The trappings really don’t matter a lick – the key point is that there are those of us that want to be READY to handle, well whatever “it” is.  We are a bit more conservative, a bit more thoughtful, and a bit more diligent.  We are also rarely going to be reckless and will miss out on situations that favor immediate response and action without forethought.  We make shitty venture capitalists but are great in a plane crash.

I suspect that many of the readers of this blog, many of The Choir in the Energy Descent Age, are “knife carriers”.  We are heading the NOAA forecast.  We put the snow boots and blankets in the car.   We see the troopers signs and slow down.  In the coming decades we will also likely be the ones able to pull over, walk down into the ditch and rap on the window with a friendly “You OK in there?!”  I salute you.

Be the Change.


16 Responses

  1. Heh. I used to insist that my boys wear their boots every day all winter. They would whine about it and I would ask what they would do if the bus slid into the ditch (we live in rural WI). That shut them up every time. #2 Son lives in Mpls and carries a mini-Leatherman. #1 Son lives in NYC and has no idea how to survive.

  2. great thoughts here- it isn’t just about the road to work, it is the road of life as well. Thank you.

  3. Card carrying be prepared freak here🙂 It isn’t snow that is the problem here so much as the changeable weather. You learn to travel in company when on foot and always to take warm gear, food and, if you are really out there, a transponder or cell phone and a means of keeping a fire (lighting and burning). The stub of an old candle is great for getting wettish wood to burn for example.

    viv in nz

  4. Here, here.

    (I’ve lost three pocket knives to TSA–I’m much better about searching EVERY nook and crannie in the backpack before boarding!)

    I sometimes wonder as we approach a time when preparedness might just make the difference between surviving or not, what affect will the unprepared among us have on those who are diligently working to soften the blow? Surely they won’t just disappear! Another reason why community building is ever more key to our collective survival.

    Thanks for the great post.

  5. Nice bit of writing.. humanity, and indeed all DNA-driven life, comes in many disguises. The lightly dressed speeders you describe are just another expression of our genome.
    Epigenetic changes can be imposed on our offspring by such factors as maternal alcoholism and fat eating.
    The resulting tendencies (to hyperactivity , small size, for instance..) are transmissible to further generations of their offspring. All due to methylation of DNA which turns off certain chromosome actions. And it is eventually reversible through natural selection.
    Some day, at a time of great environmental disaster, one of these weedy but cunning little chaps may find himherself in the exact and only niche to ensure survival of the human race. High risk behaviour gets results , although the carnage is predictably high.
    Meanwhile while speed is king, plenty of organ donors.

  6. Also carrying member…living in MT and commuting every other week to a job 140 miles away (we are trying to take up the family ranch but someone still need to earn an actual paycheck) over the mountains. Got a subaru and full winter camping gear + cross country skis in the back. Even here where most everyone drives an AWD or 4WD vehicle I see people off the road in t-shirts and shorts (!) because they didn’t think and assess. I get frustrated about being the slow and steady tortoise from time to time but then I look at my full pantry, beautiful garden, healthy livestock, wonderful family and realize that’s all come from plodding on. And I know that we’re getting to live our dreams a little more each day. Thanks for all the inspiration!

  7. How’s this for frustrating – here in Australia, it’s illegal to carry a knife on you. Not just huge “that’s not a knife” knives, but little pocket knives as well. Grr.

  8. Ah I remember driving up and across Michigan in the winter to get to college. That was years ago… you are telling me things never change. This reminds me it is time to put the shovel in my car. The pocket knife is already in my pocket.

  9. Rob,

    Came to your site early this year by way of Michael Perry. Love both blogs…and I keep my pocket knife handy. Merry Christmas


  10. I hope you’re ready for more winter weather. Out here in OR we are getting heavy rain and the gustiest winds I have seen here so far. This will likely head out your way in the next 2-3 days.

    Wind gusts to 50+ make me glad I keep the chainsaw in the truck. Saturated soil and high winds make for many downed trees, and I live up a steep, curvy, rural road. Twice now I’ve pulled over to clear the road and come home with free firewood.
    We still have electric right now, but candle holders are mounted in strategic locations on the walls and the oil lamp is easy to find.
    I feel lost without my Leatherman.

    Drive safely.

  11. Funny; I do own a pocket knife, though I often forget where it is (the pocket of my barn coat). On my person, though, I always have water, high-energy snack food, a spoon, mints (for upset stomachs), Kleenex, and floss. And of course, the winter survival kit in the car this time of year. Depends on the environment I’m being prepared for! It’s annoying when you have to be prepared for two environments at once: felt pak boots and down coat for the drive in; dress shoes for the big meeting. Can I wear long johns under my dress slacks?

  12. Great post! Being from Buffalo and having to grow up in similar (maybe more difficult) conditions, I see the same stupidity here in NC where I now live. People here panic if 1″ of snow falls, and also panic if a hurricane or tropical storm is forecast. They buy all the perishable food up at the store (bread, milk, bottle water) even though the power is likely to go out. I buy the flour and have jugs of water ready. I’m amazed at how stupid the average person is…..most would starve if stranded IN the store for a week……..all this lends more credence to the wisdom of George Carlin.

    • In defense of the Average American, though, you can’t expect someone to know how to do something they haven’t been taught how to do. No one native to NC knows how to handle Buffalo lake effect snow. There aren’t enough plows and salt trucks – or trained drivers – to deal with it there, either.

      I’d love to see a “survival course” of sorts taught in high school. How to prep the car for the winter; how to build, store, and rotate a 3-day emergency supply of food; how to build a fire, put out a fire, and treat a burn…that sort of thing. We need some concerted effort to get this kind of knowledge into the background understanding of this coddled population.

  13. […] fehlenden Notfallausrüstungen: Der Blogger Rob Frost von One Straw lebt in Wisconsin und macht es richtig: I leave with plenty of time, wearing enough fleece line gore tex and merino wool that I could […]

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