Reflections after a storm

I feel grateful, this morning, for the cooler temperatures, for the clear sky, that the rain cleared at last. For my warm dry house. And for the chance, yesterday, to have witnessed what Nature is capable of.

There’s clean-up to be done, and repercussions to be lived through, all across the province, of living through an all-time rainfall record-setting event (139 days after all-time temperature highs) – a mudslide has people on Reid Road sheltering in place, the train tracks near Walkerville have been completely undermined, trucks are caught here by mudslides on the Duffey, (edit: those mudslides caused fatalities RIP, with searches ongoing); bridges have been blown out through Vancouver (the Coquihalla Highway washed away in many places including near the Othello tunnels) and on the Island, there might still be an unmoored barge floating around (I don’t know the latest), some communities (Merritt) have been evacuated and their wastewater treatment systems are overrun, grocery stores in the interior have had their shelves picked clean. But in the pause, there’s a chance to take stock.

Reid Road mudslide, November 15 2021

Here are some reflections that came strongly to me this morning, as I pulled on my rubber boots and walked out to see what yesterday’s raging waters had left behind.

For every one degree of temperature increase, the atmosphere can carry at least 7% more water. If you were as shocked as I was, that the sky could hold that much rain, that big an atmospheric river, then consider that the climate negotiations at COP26 have been arguing over how much of a temperature increase we can fiddle with. (I’m voting for none. No more. From this point. I think we’ve had our chance to wean ourselves off our habits, and we’re in cold turkey territory now. Or, we let these habits/addictions take us to our demise. That actually is a choice. We need to exert our resolve on this.)

That emergency car kit I’ve been thinking about suddenly seems well worth the effort in putting together. It helps that the scenarios you’re packing for suddenly became viscerally imaginable… (A bag of chips, a power bar, a bottle of water, a blanket, a flashlight, a rain jacket, a packet of cards, could make 24 hours of sheltering in your vehicle between two mudslides a bit more pleasant.) Also, having your emergency supplies ready (a couple of days of food and water on hand, at your house, always, and a full tank of gas, as much as you can) means that you aren’t burdening the system – ie if no one has supplies, then everyone has to race to the store to grab the basics, and then that scarcity mindset kicks in. Everyone who has taken the time and capacity to have some basics to tide them over in an emergency, creates slack in the system. (And let’s admit, not everyone is privileged enough to be able to do this… so if we can, we create the slack for those who can’t. My best mate at University only ever had enough money for one tank of gas in her car, every two weeks, until her student support money came through, so when the car ran out of gas, she just pulled it to the side of the road and left it there, and then would walk back and get it with a jerry can, once her payment came through.) And what we’re learning through the pandemic, watching supply chains and globalization fracture left right and centre, is that the 30 year erosion of “slack” in all our systems, (thanks neoliberalism), has left things so stretched that there’s no buffering capacity left.

Mutual aid is where it’s at. If you want to build your resilience, then grow your involvement and connections in community. It’s neighbours coming to your aid, lending a hand, texting you an update or calling with a “you okay?”, it’s volunteer firefighters and PEMSAR team members who have been out in force, that get us through.

Most of our infrastructure was built for pre-climate change scenarios, based on pre-climate change science. It’s probably not up to par for what we’re increasingly experiencing. We need to think about ruggedizing what exists, and not taking shortcuts (cheapest price, quickest fix) with new infrastructure. And future-proofing what we do build.

Finally, the call to business as usual is a strong one. It’s like a rut, or a neural pathway, the desire to return to the familiar. Even this morning, after witnessing what seemed like a land-transforming, life-altering event, (a LOT of water came down through the creek behind my house yesterday, I can’t even tell you), today, everything feels normal, like a dream. Yesterday, standing in the rain, watching a watercourse completely reroute itself, listening to boulders tumble down a creek as if they were marbles, I was in awe of the power of Nature, and was feeling like the message was, “come on humans, it’s time to take more care, pay attention to the Nature, think about all of Life and not just your own life” and I was “hearing you loud and clear!” This morning, it’s bizarre how easily I am falling back to normal programming. Maybe, the destruction of bridges, the landslides, the actual damage that can’t be walked away from, is a gift, to help us to really turn and face the shifts we need to make in our behaviours and attitudes and systems…

Right now, I am typing away, listening to voices downstairs. A friend called to check in, a conversation is happening. I hope that you have this in your life, too. Drop someone a text or a wave, and ask, how are you today? This is the way we weave ourselves stronger. You don’t have to take responsibility for everyone. All the tiny little tree roots that are now exposed, after several feet of creek bank got washed downstream, has made me realize, a network is made of lots of small, overlapping interconnections. And outstandingly, what I can see, before my eyes, is that the trees held steadfast. The trees held it together. What does our future look like, if we learn to think like a forest?

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