Somebody Changed The Channel


As I write this, there is no way of knowing whether or how much it will snow in the near future.  Right now, a week after the big dump, most of us are giving a big sigh of relief.  The roads are mostly clear, the power is mostly on, and the week ahead looks mostly without snow.  We are not as resilient to heavy snowfall as folks back east because it hasn’t happened here that often.  Our pipes aren’t always well protected, our power lines are not clear of trees, and our roofs are not always up to withstanding a heavy snow load.

Judging from the mobs in the grocery stores on February 8, it’s clear that most of us knew what we were in for.  In retrospect, it seems like the inability to get anywhere was the predominant concern.  The fact that we are thinly spread out over the two islands is our Achilles heel.  We have a lot of miles of roads for such a small population.  There was a little grousing about the roads not getting plowed, but it is probably understandable to most of us that to expect prompt plowing of all roads large and small is not realistic.

I have yet to venture out in my car, although I’ve walked down to the road a few times to check it out.  My wife went off to work in her car on Valentine’s Day, so I know it is now possible.  I now have nothing but gratitude for “weathering” this as well as we have.  We have lost some trees and had a minor plumbing problem, but our power only went out once at the beginning, and we have been dry and warm and have had plenty to eat.  That is not to say that we weren’t out everyday working on one thing or another to cut our losses.  Our water system is gravity fed so we are not dependent on power for our water.  My son is considering putting a gravity-feed tank above his house for times of power outage—not a bad idea for those on private wells.

That gets us into the subject of lessons learned.  The big one is realizing how little control we have over our lives.  A trivial quirk of weather can completely derail our plans.  Another is not to forget to act on putting in place all the preparations you were wishing you had made after it was too late to make them.  This is especially apropos right now, because we might be back in the same predicament next week.  You have several days to make some preparations.  Don’t waste them.  How about that snow shovel you wish you had?

Another realization I had is that we live on an island with minimal health facilities and problematic fire and rescue response.  We have the best we can afford, but, being spread out on often sketchy, narrow roads, we can’t expect the kind of response you would get on the mainland.  In many ways, we are on our own, so take another look at the Vashon Be Prepared checklist and see what you might add to your repertoire.

On the bright side, we learned that we could work together as a community, helping others when needed and sharing freely.  We really depended on our social media to stay in communication and that didn’t fail us.  However, if it did fail us, what is our plan B?

As to the weather itself, in my forty-eight years here, I have never seen anything quite like this.  We have had some big snowfalls, but never several in quick succession.  Life-long islanders older than me have said the same.  I would hesitate to say that it isn’t, therefore, likely to happen again soon.  The frequent recurrence of 100-year floods in some parts of the country should warn us that the weather is not what it used to be.  This may in fact be a quirk, but we can’t count out the possibility that this may be a new normal.

I’m thinking again of our Achilles heel, our extreme dependence on transportation. We not only need vehicles but we need the roads they run on, and all have to be maintained.

Most of our resources are located in one centralized place.  Pardon me if I put in a plug for one of my favorite ideas: if we could distribute our supplies among a number of smaller centers, or villages, we could drive less and be less dependent on roads—silly, I know.  I haven’t gotten anybody enthused about my idea, which means it is either hare-brained or I am out of my time.  Still, if I had the opportunity to walk down the hill to our local pub to socialize over a beer with my neighbors a few days ago, I think I would have enjoyed it.