Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Weathering life's storms

The radio announcers said that a major ice storm was coming. It was expected to land in my area last Thursday, bringing with it freezing rain, ice and hail. Thursday came and went and there was nothing, save for clear skies and a gentle breeze. Not even a sprinkle of spring rain. Friends several hours west of me reported icy conditions, but I thought the storm would die out before it made its way east.

Friday morning, 5:30 a.m., I woke to the sound of pellets smashing against my bedroom window, the bottom screen already encrusted with opaque ice. Standing on my tiptoes to peer through the upper window pane, I could just see in the dim early morning light the tree branches, the bird house and the clothesline, all perfectly encased in glass.

By 8:00 a.m. I was outside doing chores and splooshing through ankle-deep puddles of slushy ice. The trees -- cedars, tamaracks, white birches and pines -- bowed in deference to the storm, their thin backs hunched like very old men. "It won't get too bad," I thought. And still the icy rain fell.

I came inside just as the power flickered on and off and back on again. And still I clung to my convenient belief that everything would be fine. But by 10:30 a.m., the wind had picked up and I could hear ice shards crashing to the ground, shattering. Then from deep in the woods I heard shots like those fired from a muzzle-loaded gun. Trees falling.

I made sure all the animals were safely in the barn before shutting it up tight. Back in the house I told the kids (home as buses had been cancelled) to stay away from the trees. Better yet, stay inside. Still I ignored the nervous gnaw in my stomach and held firm to the belief that things wouldn't go bad. Minutes later, the power went out for good and the house fell completely silent.

We've been through this before -- twice in 2011 when windstorms knocked out power to 150,000+ homes. Back then I said, no, vowed, that next time I'd be better prepared. And yet as soon as the power and my comfortable life returned, my plan of preventative action was shelved. I didn't stockpile food or water, nor set up a permanent location for the generator, which is too heavy for me to move on my own.

I've written articles about emergency and disaster preparedness and I'm the first to say (preach?) that planning makes the actual emergency far less stressful than ignoring it and hoping for the best. But Google "ignore disaster warnings" and you'll find 8.2 million hits and hundreds of examples of people who fail to heed warnings of floods, storms or other major natural events. While sociologists have various theories on our propensity to ignore warnings -- sometimes it's because people feel they have no other choice (say when their home is situated on a flood plain) or because they believe things won't get bad -- I think I ignored the warnings because I simply didn't want one more thing to deal with.

Lately I feel like I've just been keeping the floodgates under control and one more drop of rain will cause them to break and a torrential cascade of water to flow. Lucas is away this month and while I know that he'll be back in May, he'll be going away again. As I've said before, his path takes him away from the farm and while I don't yet know what that means for me, or us, I know I'll be facing more challenges on my own. While it's easy for me to fall prey to "I'm such a victim" and feel sorry for myself, I want better for myself and my kids. I want to show them that I am self reliant and strong and I can manage, even when faced with a raging storm.

For three days I vacillated between moments of explosive frustration and surreal calm that descended in unexpected moments, like when I found myself gazing upon my daughter happily colouring under a halo of beeswax candles, or when my son came to me with a hug saying, "It could have been a lot worse, mum... this is actually a really great weekend." He was right.

My children helped me see the beauty in the candlelight, the profound quiet, the absolute darkness, and inspired me with their sense of fun and adventure. They felt safe and secure, despite the storm both outside and within me. I helped create that. And so while this past weekend gave me a practical life lesson (again) that it's up to me to better plan for the next inevitable power outage, more importantly I learned that I'm strong enough to get my family through this and future storms.

Wilderness experts say that it's not necessarily your training that gets you through a survival situation, but how you handle it -- do you stay calm or crack under the pressure of it all? As one expert put it, having survival skills is important, but having the will to survive is essential. Stress can crush or create a person, bringing out strengths and willpower he or she never knew existed.

Today there is once again clear skies and a gentle (now warm) breeze, and except for the downed trees that litter the farm's landscape there is little evidence of the storm. Nature doesn't hold on to her anger, and every day is fresh and new. That, too, is a good life lesson.


Miriam said...

Thank you, thank you for writing so honestly, in this post and the one from February that you linked to. I admire your insight into your struggles, and your clarity, and your bravery in writing about it all.

We are reasonably well prepared for shorter-term emergencies. But even though we won't starve or die of cold if we had to go three days without power, I think we'd go crazy! Somehow "entertainment" isn't a preparedness category I've thought much about...So good for your kids for taking it all in stride - they are setting a good example for all of us! said...

Thanks for your comment, Miriam. I often struggle over whether to write about this stuff -- will it be read as self indulgent or whiny? But this is who I am and this is my current reality. It could be much more difficult and I am very fortunate to have the life I do, but it can be scary and hard at times, and I need to acknowledge that.
Yes, kids are wonderful for teaching life lessons...

Susan said...

Fiona, you manage to present everything in such an honest and forthright way - no whiny-ness or hand-wringing. It is admirable. And I think it is important for anyone who has a similar dream. It's often overwhelming when you're doing it by yourself; but the alternative is unthinkable. Cheers to you!

Maggie DiStasi said...

Yesterday I received a newsletter from an entrepreneur with the header "don't let anyone else know about the hell you're going through..." I didn't even want to read any further because for me, hearing about other people's hellish moments helps me get through mine!! I appreciate your courageous and meaningful sharing, Fiona. It sounds like your path is taking some very exciting (and of course, simultaneously terrifying) twists right now - go, girl, go!!! (Again, because it inspires me in my own twisty journey :))

mrsd said...

"This, too, shall pass", you done good, girl. Yes, I think we need to share each other's trials as well as successes. That's our humanity. Great post. I nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. Check it out here:

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