“Sometimes you get to see just how little you’re actually in charge of."
~ Anne Lamott
Modern mankind, particularly urban dwellers, can be under the illusion that they have cheated or transcended nature and have power over the elements. In our well built and insulated houses with central heating and double glazing, electric light, washing and cooking appliances, refrigerators, we seem immune to season, time of day and weather. In control. Of course, every now and again we come down to earth with a bump. That veneer of Self Power control is only thin and can be insubstantial, our feeling of invincibility whipped away from us in an instant. The power of the natural world is awesome and potentially devastating. Earthquake, volcanic eruption, tsunami, tempest, forest fire can obliterate even the most organised and well provided for.
I was thinking of this a week or so ago as, through the medium of Twitter, I was in conversation with a sangha member in Hawai’i, where they were preparing for the imminent arrival of Hurricane Madeline, shortly to be followed by two others. There can be a price to pay for living somewhere that sounds like a paradise. The nearest I have come were tornados in Michigan, taking shelter in basements from the eerie stillness and yellow-green light that presaged the coming winds.
Having been, for much of my life, a townie, apart from holidays in Cumbria and Scotland, I became much more aware of the power of nature when I lived on a boat off the North Essex coast and sailed many others. Even though the boat I lived on was permanently moored, we needed to take note of the wind strength and direction and the tide tables. If abnormally high tides were forecast the local policeman would cycle along to warn us to loosen our guy ropes so that we wouldn’t be swamped. High tides meant that the gangplank and even the road onto the island could be covered. Many a driver has had to be rescued when trying to drive through the water on The Strood, the road that leads to the island, unaware of the terrific pull of the tidal waters. The local lifeboat, as with the Mountain Rescue teams in the Cumbrian mountains, where I have spent considerable time, are called out more for people foolishly unprepared, unaware of the environment and the speed with which conditions might change for the worse, than for more major disaster.
We’re no longer living as precariously as hunter-gatherers but we are more vulnerable than we like to admit. What can we do? Well, plenty and most of it common sense. Large scale and small scale - take as much care as you can of our planet and resources, know the terrain, train in your sport, listen to the weather forecast, dress appropriately, carry supplies and clothing for deteriorating weather, put up storm shutters, seek shelter when advised to, drive to the conditions, don’t set out to drive/climb/sail when things are likely to get worse or others may have to risk their lives to rescue you…and so on.
But we can’t insulate ourselves entirely from that awesome power of our planet. So we should be more modest and more realistic - we have far less power and are far more vulnerable than we like to admit.
I remember sailing my small boat along the Essex backwaters, reacting, almost by instinct, to the constant subtle changes of wind and tide. I felt heartened by the powers that surrounded me and the realisation that, through those forces, we could all disappear and, within a number of years, it would be as if we had never existed. The Earth would be fine, as would many other species. Indeed, wiped clean of our interference, they’d probably be better without pesky mankind. But I didn’t wish for it imminently, of course!
Namo Amida Bu