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.