Every year on the last week of August, we head off with a couple of friends, our dog and their dog, and go camping. Usually we cross to the mainland and into the Cascade Mountains. This year wildfires and smoke veered us west to the Olympic Peninsula where we skirted the edges of the National Park and camped along the north shore of the state, gazing across the Strait to Vancouver Island, Canada. Soft, end of summer days: one long beach ramble, one hike through National Forest, one drive out to Neah Bay to peer over the western edge of the Continent and walk reverently through the Makah Nation Museum.
We were keeping a close watch on the weather because a storm was predicted. It arrived right on schedule and we hustled out of camp early Saturday morning, made the last ferry to run the gap before gale force winds took over the rest of the day. We got home at 11:30 AM, 30 minutes later our electricity went out for 24 hours. Camping continued.
Two immediate lessons: 1) it is easy to get by on almost nothing if the almost nothing you have is exactly what you need; 2) It is harder to live so simply at home when the house is full of conveniences that “aren’t working.”
The July 20 issue of The New Yorker published a well-told, well-researched article on the Cascadian subduction zone that runs off this gorgeous coast. In this piece, scientists predict that when the building pressure releases from the juncture of the Juan de Fuca plate and the North American tectonic plate, the northwest edge of the continent, will experience “the biggest disaster ever known to North America.” The article goes on to say, “By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded the region will be unrecognizable.” Chris Goldfinger, paleoseismologist at Oregon State University, states the odds of a big Cascadia earthquake happening in the next fifty years as 1 in 3.
Dire warnings floated like flotsam on the tides of social media for several weeks. Journalist Kathryn Schulz was both praised and excoriated, the New Yorker put out a second piece reminding people how to stock up for disaster, and survival gear sold out in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver stores. And then it was a hot, dry summer and we focused elsewhere.
But inside me lives this awareness of vulnerability. We moved here from MN with long-term survival and sustainability in mind: a climate with water, where food can grow 12 months a year, where we could heat the house with a wood-stove, could live in woolies and survive. We have taught disaster preparedness to island newcomers and hosted a dialogue for the church, community, and county groups who are supposed to be ready to respond.
This is my chosen place: if it liquefies into Puget Sound I am willing to ride it down. If I survive, I have skills that will help others survive. This is my chosen community: whether we face 24 hours of home-based camping or 3 months of drought, fire, and smoke, I am talking up core values of sharing and caring for the folks around us as well as for ourselves. I am here to make peace, to hold space, to make a story we can live with that encodes a way forward.
I know how to camp, to grow food in a garden, to harvest seaweed and clams, to help neighbors meet in the middle of the road. Since electricity came back on the washer-dryer cleans my clothes, the dishwasher cleans my dishes, the lights turn on and off, hot water runs into the sink, toilets flush, the computer connects to the Internet, my phone recharges. And I move into the week thinking—okay for now, but remember: it is easy to get by on almost nothing if the almost nothing you have is exactly what you need.
I want to be part of exactly what is needed that helps us face whatever comes.
I am enjoying the beauty while we remain here together.