I wonder about the people who live in these places.
I have always been fascinated by harsh environments. The relentless heat of the Atacama Desert. The cold, windy, thin-aired regions of Tibet. The remote isolation of Pitcairn Island. The International Space Station. Someday, the Moon or Mars. In particular, I wonder about the people who choose to live in these places.
From my comfortable perspective, I can’t imagine making the sacrifice to live in the extreme. You’d have to be very motivated, either by the desire to conduct research or the ability to make insane amounts of money, or you’ve been given no other choice. That last bit would be my definition of hell.
I can’t imagine being born on an island in the most distant reaches of the ocean, and never knowing anyplace else because you’re too poor to leave. I would hate to feel trapped and miserable in perpetual snow or heat. It really demonstrates how weak we are, when faced with the forces of nature. I feel really grateful for my circumstances.
Well, until yesterday. Nature reared up and slapped us in the face on that day. A snowstorm beyond all reckoning. So bad, in fact, that I couldn’t make the 25-mile commute to work, even if I stuck to the major arterial roads. The slightest hill had cars spinning out. The on ramps to highways were full of collisions and abandoned cars. I’m glad we were stocked up on groceries, because I wouldn’t have even wanted to go a block down the street to the grocery store in this mess.
Sometimes you choose the environment, and sometimes the environment chooses you.
Even if it were true (and it’s most definitely not) that rhino horns held medicinal properties, that doesn’t give you the right to kill them.
I’m not a violent person. I don’t even believe in the death penalty. But when I stumbled across this article about three rhino poachers getting killed by a pride of lions, I have to say that I was kind of pleased by the justice that Mother Nature meted out.
Even if it were true (and it’s most definitely not) that rhino horns held medicinal properties, that doesn’t give you the right to kill them. And if you are stupid enough to break into a game PRESERVE full of wild animals to commit this crime, you certainly can’t blame the lions for viewing you as a delicious midnight snack. You were about to do what you do, so they did what they do. Fair’s fair.
You were committing a crime. You were in a place where you had no right to be. Nature stepped up, leaving nothing but your shoes and your gloves and one skull behind, along with the nefarious weapons you planned to use to commit your atrocity.
Sometimes justice balances the scale in unexpected ways. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: If I didn’t believe so firmly in karma, I’d probably implode under the sheer weight of my righteous indignation. Fortunately, a little of that weight was lifted this time around.
As I write this, I’m huddled over the space heater at work. The very marrow of my bones feels like it’s frozen solid. Will I ever be warm again?
At home I keep the thermostat in most of the house at 55 degrees, the bedroom at 60. Otherwise the electric bill would give me chilblains. I get into sweat pants and a thick hoodie, huddle under a sleeping bag, and practically hug the stuffing out of my dogs in order to leach a little body heat from them.
I feel like I’m at war with the Snow Miser. Actually, it rarely snows here, but it’s a raw, wet cold, which makes it seem even colder. It will be a long, slow, teeth-gritting slog until May. How the homeless survive in this city is beyond me.
And yet in Florida I was miserable from the heat most of the year. The humidity was such that stepping outside always felt as though I were entering an unpleasantly hot bath against my will. The only respite there was January. It was the one month that didn’t suck the life out of me.
All this makes me realize what a narrow realm of temperature we humans can comfortably inhabit. How is it possible that some people refuse to take global warming seriously? It’s a really bad idea to mess with Mother Nature.
Anyone who watches PBS even sporadically knows that the early Europeans who settled the Americas were downright terrified of the natural world. At first their settlements clung to shorelines and they kept the dense forests, full of unknown creatures and other, incomprehensible humans, to their backs, behind fortifications whenever possible. Swamps, deserts, and high mountain passes often signified death.
Even as late as the 1800s, a lot of the nature paintings leave you with a vague sense of foreboding. I used to be bemused by this. I thought it was quaint, and simply due to ignorance.
But then I went to Yellowstone National Park and I quickly gained some perspective. This was the kind of nature those settlers encountered. Not the highly sanitized, easily accessible, and thoroughly understood nature that most of us come across, where all the animals do what you expect them to do (which is run away when you say shoo), and if you twist your ankle help will soon be on the way.
No. Yellowstone is hours away from any significant civilization, and indeed is itself hours across by car. I can’t even imagine what it would be like on foot. That kind of immensity and isolation is not something most Americans ever face. There’s no real way to explain it to those who haven’t. It can be daunting.
And there are bears that maul and wolves that run in packs and bison that will gore you and moose that can easily kick your a** if they’re in the mood. Step off the designated path and you can fall through the earth’s thin crust and have the skin boiled off your bones before you can say, “Westward, ho.” You can also freeze to death, drown, fall off cliffs, and be struck by lightning.
Mother Nature may be at her most beautiful in Yellowstone, but she’s also in a foul mood much of the time. It’s always a good idea to peek out the window before stepping out of your Winnebago, because you never know what will be waiting for you on the other side of the door. This is probably why 98 percent of tourists only view Yellowstone from the safety of their car.
Ah, but what a shame that is. Because Yellowstone is nature in its purest, most raw form. You will never experience anything like it. Venturing into it will make you understand exactly why settlers were so afraid of the natural world, but it will also make you realize why, in spite of that, and maybe even because of that, they pressed forward.
The first 10 years of my life I lived in Connecticut. After that we moved to Florida, with its foreign, subtropical climate and 3 inch long cockroaches. I always felt as if I were in a third world country. This would never feel like “home” to me.
Now I’m in Seattle, and the climate is very similar to that of Connecticut, although the winters aren’t nearly as harsh. Just like in New England, the leaves change colors in the fall here, and apples grow. You see all sorts of flowers that come from bulbs that did not thrive in Florida. Daffodils. Tulips, Irises, Crocuses. And other plants like Forsythia and Lilac and Pussy Willows.
I can’t tell you how much emotion is evoked in me by seeing these things again. These were the flowers my mother adored. They filled the yards where I used to play. Feeling soft grass and moss beneath my feet again and smelling the loamy earth rather than the lime-laden sand of Florida nearly brings tears to my eyes.
Even though I had never set foot in Washington State until I moved here 6 months ago, everywhere I turn, it feels as if Mother Nature is saying, “Welcome home.” And that means everything to me.
Aw, jeez, I need to stop surfing the internet. I just came across a website called Recent Natural Disasters, and it gives you all the reported disasters all over the world, 24 hours a day. I have a hard enough time avoiding my tendency to anthropomorphize nature, especially when it seems as though the planet is becoming more and more pissed off.
Typhoon Haiyan has certainly displaced thousands of people, but it’s only the latest in what seems to be an increasing number of natural disasters, from the expected to the downright bizarre. I mean, who expects flooding in Saudi Arabia? But that’s been happening, too.
And I’m stunned by how many of these events have escaped my notice up to this point. Here are but a few of the headlines from the past few months:
Whether you believe in Global Climate Change or not, don’t you sometimes get the feeling that we as a species are no longer wanted on this planet? And if so, who could blame Mother Nature? I mean, we take and take and take, and what we give in return is pollution, destruction, and devastation. If a guest in my home were behaving this badly, I’d kick him out, too.
It can be a heady experience being a bridgetender. After all, you are operating a piece of equipment that can weigh several million pounds if you work on one of the larger bridges. You also control the flow of marine, vehicular and pedestrian traffic. You can make people very late for work. If a boater is rude to you, you can make him paddle in circles for a while before opening the bridge for him. (Not that I’d ever do this, of course, but one hears stories. Cough.) Because of this power, a friend of mine jokingly refers to me as the “River Goddess.”
Last year, the five drawbridges in Northeast Florida that are managed by the Florida Department of Transportation opened 18,000 times. That’s a lot of people depending upon us to get where they’re going. And despite the fact that a lot of people assume we do nothing but sleep on the job (which infuriates me, because while I cannot speak for others, I have honestly NEVER slept on the job myself), the vast majority of us take bridgetending very seriously. Someone’s life could be at stake if we didn’t. Just Google “Drawbridge Death” some time, and you’ll see what I mean.
But just when you start to get a massive ego, the universe has a way of putting you in your place. For example, check out these photos that a coworker of mine took while on the job on June 26th, 2009.
He was minding his own business when he saw this huge water spout going up the St. Johns River. There are actually several really good Youtube videos of this same water spout here, here, and here. This was a very bad day to be a bridgetender.
Fortunately this water spout, when it did hit land and turn into a tornado, somehow missed all the bridges and actually caused no injuries or fatalities to anyone in Jacksonville. But it really goes to show that Mother Nature can very easily slap you down if she wants to. If this River Goddess had been on duty that day and that water spout had decided to hang a sharp left, she would have been one very unfortunate statistic indeed.