Monday, May 6, 2013

Nature's Tune - Thoughts on Safety

“At least once every human should have to run for his life, to teach him that milk does not come from supermarkets, that safety does not come from policemen, that 'news' is not something that happens to other people. He might learn how his ancestors lived and that he himself is no different--in the crunch his life depends on his agility, alertness, and personal resourcefulness.”
― Robert A. Heinlein

A late Spring snowstorm hit the Midwest and a city will grind to a halt. Flood and snow hit the west, catching many off guard. I pay attention to weather, the forecasts, the chances for a really bad day. I've learned first hand how nature is more than happy to cut off your breath with a choking whisper of disregard.
Few do. Hollywood actors return from the political fundraisers to their houses build on hillsides that do, and will for eternity, burn to the dirt line every few years. People move to the mountains, build houses the size of New Hampshire, including green lawns that have to be watered in the high desert and then wonder why there's a water shortage and they have to dig a new well so often.

As that commercial from my childhood went "it's not NICE to fool mother nature".

You never know from whence your own moment will come. A couple of winters ago in my own area, a woman talking on her cell phone on ice slicked roads drives into a small pond and drowns mere feet from the bank, somewhere else, someone killed by a falling branch, heavy with ice as they took the dog out. There will not be a Spring storm where someone doesn't try and cross a rain washed road only to be washed away and drowned. The unwary, the naive, don't last long in the world we live in now.
As a child I lived right on the edge of mountains, which I could see out my window, where I could hear all that was around me in the still, dark nights. In those days before the big box marts moved in and a highway came on through, you could live the sound of nature right outside the window at night. I'd listen for the screech of the owl, the tiny fairy feet of a chipmunk on the deck, the lumbering gait of a raccoon, looking for something good to eat, the tiny tracks in the pristine snow. So young, so idealistic, I'd yet to understand that nature often wears a benign disguise to hide the evidence of how both man and beast craft their own survival.

Later, as I was learning to hunt, I'd see the predators, a bobcat shadowing me, or the deer that I was stalking. There in the edge of my vision, deer rifle slung over the shoulder, I'd be watching him watching me. He turns, so thin as he moves sideways that his form seem no larger than a branch, a shadow of tooth and claw, and then he's gone.
A crack of thunder splits the night, a warning to take shelter.  As I hurry back to camp I know that somewhere tonight, blood, hot and dense, bringing both pleasure and pain, will soak into the ground, starting the cycle of life again. From the woods a cry of an animal lingered long on the air, leaving on the breeze the thin echo of regret.  Today you weren't worthy prey, tomorrow who knows

It's not just in the woods, when my mind has turned towards being prey. There's been times where I've turned the key in the ignition of a little Cessna, took a long hard look at the sky, and shut down the engine, tied it back down and headed in. But there were also times I flirted with the cold and the dark with the abandon that one gets when their youthful flesh is untouched.

We all take paths that seem exciting at the time, as we travel the wilderness of a heart, of a landscape. Everything is as it seems to be, you're not mindful of the dangers, the lies that flow from a warm front during a time of cold.  Yet sometimes, the sky clears, you look carefully at where you're at, and where you're headed and realize the wisest thing to do is to walk away, clean and with as little blood as possible.
Fear is a gift of nature, so that the field will be more fairly played. I still spend just as much time outdoors as I did as a young woman. The walks are often alone, but on my hip is a weapon always, especially when out West when the four legged predators are a little bigger than they normally grow in Indiana.

On the table by the bat phone is a stone I took from a field.  It was not party to anything I was looking at that night, it simply was there, marking the spot where I stood like an unblinking eye. When I picked it up, the rock was still warm, not enough to pull my fingers away, but enough that it possessed a luminance heat, not the sort that would burn, but a slow steady warmth that the dying fire may scorn, rain would dilute, but only time could truly deplete. I picked it up and held it in my hand, feeling it cool. Not everything of strength and density is cold. Watching a drip of water fall to the ground I thought, even a stone can weep.

I look at the phone that whispers to me with the deliberate murmur of its waiting. I know it's going to ring, somehow I always seem to know. It does, late in the evening, nearly dark. Somewhere on cold air, buzzards soar in strong wind, the stiff breeze giving them the illusion of regression. The truck's warmed up, it's time to take my things and go.
As I head down the road, a yawn escapes from me. My breath is frosty against the window as I turn past the cemetery, where angelic forms in shadowed marble muse, their eyes raised up above as if to ask why.

I can not answer that question, I can only drive the truck to where I've been called, scars hidden underneath a dark blue jacket, the letters that spell out my calling, splayed like snow across the back. I watch my path closely, eyes straight out on the road, checking for downed limbs or water underneath the clearing sky.

I look out at the shadowed form of fence and trees, broken branches drooping, the landscape empty and uncaring, even as it flows as liquid past, from right to left. What is left is silent blur, posts and caution signs, shattered with rain, dissolving into ground, each in their ordered place so soon to be disregarded. I open the window for the sound of nature, and hear it in all its glory, a song simple in melody and tone. It's repentance, and retribution, ecstasy and bereavement. A tune spun on the night air, a disembodied wind singing a lament for those who trod where they should not.


  1. Since I'm a literal guy, I'll comment on what you've written, and no what your saying...but, gosh, does it kill me to drive around the hills and Palouse and see folks trying to maintain a lawn worthy of a putting green.

    Heck, even in town, I hate trying to maintain a lawn. If I wasn't worried about the city of Richland, I would let everything that didn't provide food for the table(and a splash of color to my wife's life) die a horrible brown death.

  2. AMEN! (as I'm fond of intoning to Rev. Paul)

    Out here, newbies move 'to the desert', then act surprised when coyotes visit their back yards, or rattlesnakes sun on their patios.
    Or scorpions bed with them.
    HELL, they moved into their neighborhood!

    Keep safe and keep checking your six.


  3. Perfect handling of visual symbols. And the writing, always sublime.

  4. Bravo, Brigid! A truly thought provoking piece.
    Thank you,

  5. Well done as always! Thanks!!!

  6. People do not understand that nature is in charge. They just don't. They live in their cocoons and think they can hold nature at bay, at will.

    I take Scouts up into Canada every so often, up into Quetico Provincial Park. Older kids, 15 years old and up. It's a great trip, a life changer to a certain extent. It's wilderness up there. Parents ask me what the qualifications are for the trip. I tell them about age and badges and rank and physical ability that they have to have. All things you can check off and say "He's got that". Then I say something that gives them pause:

    "I have to be able to trust him when my back is turned. And I have to be able to trust that when I tell him to do something he does it immediately and then asks why - he doesn't ask why and wait for me to convince him that it's justified before he does it."

    Some of them take a few seconds to process that. Yes - I'm requiring maturity and instant and unquestioned obedience. Not a common trait among suburban adolescents. I end up having to explain why.

    "Quetico is not a Park District soccer field where everything's padded. It's not a State Park where all the trails are well marked and maintained. It's a wilderness. Every so often someone dies in the park. There are bears, and they're not named Yogi, and part of the briefing is what to do if a bear comes into your campsite. There's no car or building to run into if there's lightning and thunder, you ride it out in a tent. Cell phones don't work there, and it could be a day and a half's trip to a spot where they do. No one is going to come riding to the rescue. If your son starts arguing with me when I tell - not ask, tell - him to do something he might flip out of his canoe or break a leg or worse. I've done this trip a lot of times with no problems, but we'll be all alone out there and there are no absolute guarantees."

    Nobody's said no to their kid yet. But I've said "No" a few times to people when they ask if their kid can go.

  7. As always you don't just tell a story, you weave a mental tapestry that takes me along for the ride. Thanks for sharing.

  8. You are an amazing writer. I would dearly love to link you to a couple of people that are on the opposite side of the fence. But are they open minded enough to handle it...

  9. For me, it's the Sea that provides the reality check. And it's the first morning offshore that does it.

    After the first night, always the longest and darkest, when the sun finally revels an unbroken horizon, it gets real. It's only a silly little cockleshell, a stick, some rags, and the knowledge, experience, and courage of the crew standing against the uncaring, unforgiving Sea.

    It's always a gut check.

  10. greg - Brigid Jr. lives in the foothills of the Rockies, people trying to have a golf course lawn in what is essentially high desert. There's a price to pay for that.

    armedlaughing - I lived in the desert for a bit, "date beetles" I am certain are just the locals name for super roach.

    Mathew Paust - as always sir, thank you so mmuch.

    Vic303 - big hug, hope your family are all feeling better.

    Old NFO - hope you are home soon for some R and R.

    RonF - what wonderful wisdom, and I hope the parents learn from that. One of my favorite colleagues has a son who is an Eagle Scout. I watch how that has matured him, and all the skills he's learned. Bless you for what you pass on to the next generations.

  11. Went a few rounds on FB today with a friend of an old shipmate who was whining about something or other from his urban perpetual victimhood perspective. I think it was the "market's rigged -- the little guy's screwed -- we're all gonna die"

    It finally came to an end when I said "It's a jungle out there -- always has been, always will be someone wants to eat you. Deal with it. Teach your kids to deal with it, spot the jackals, and yet live to survive and thrive with integrity."

  12. Another great post.

    As for the part about the Hollywood actors returning from the political fundraisers to their houses build on hillsides that do, and will for eternity, burn to the dirt line every few years. When winter comes, they may also find themselves sliding into the sea or down a canyon. For in eternity, mountains want will always want to move to the ocean. It is all part of the nature that we live in and live with. The world of nature that you so eloquently wrote about.

  13. Uno Mass - for a time, as a child I wanted to be an oceanographer, but I realized (1) I was incredibly claustrophobic and (2) I found the human body and how it can be assembled and disassembled also pretty interesting (when you do career day with the forensic pathologist and you work after school at the funeral home you're not likely to get asked to the prom).

    The sea still calls, and calms.

    be603 - welcome. I see you have the "Sea Wolf" in your profile as a book you love. Big Bro was on that boat, it holds a special place in our lives even as "little sis" I didn't totally understand what all he did there at the time.

  14. A lovelier "Master of the written word" there has never been...

  15. Thanks, Brigid. I do appreciate it. I have to confess that I go up on trips like that for my own sake as well as the boys' - although when I go with the Scouts I can't bring a liter of single-malt along. A week in the woods does wonders for my morale.

    The stories I can tell about the changes I've seen in kids who have traveled the Eagle trail (and even those who didn't quite finish) ... it's why I still do this after 20 years, and for 9 years after my own son graduated out of the program (put in his Eagle app exactly 36 hours before his 18th birthday).

  16. The other answer to the question I get asked often - "Ron, why are you still doing this years after your son is out?" - is "If I don't, who will?"


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..