Welcome to the Apocalypse: Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable
I wasn’t going to start off this project by directly calling out the bad feeling I have about climate change—not to mention the potential collapse of everything we know and love—but that was before we had a 96-hour power outage caused by a near-hurricane on the BC coast in the lead up to Christmas holidays. Now, I can’t help myself: we’re going to have to get real here right away.
Ninety-six hours is a long time to be without power, but there were those who went without for more than two hundred hours after the worst storm in over a decade hit this part of the world. Everything got very dark (and oh, so deliciously quiet). Trees came down in the hundreds, decimating houses and cars, and blocking roadways for days.
Here are some of the things I learned:
A gas-powered generator isn’t the answer to the question of discomfort. City people often ask us why we don’t have a generator as though a $500 gasoline-powered noise maker will create normalcy during a long outage. Let me tell you, it won’t. Gasoline is an expensive way to heat the house or cook, and if transportation networks are disrupted for any reason, it runs out fast. We have a propane cooktop with enough propane to last three months, and a wood stove for backup heat. The best strategy though is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Water is a bigger issue than electricity. We are on a deep well, which means that our water pump goes out with the power. During this last outage, I realized that while we had lots of drinking water, I had not stockpiled nearly enough non-potable water for washing and toilets. If you are a city-dweller, I guarantee you do not have enough water for more than a day of use, and those rainwater collection barrels in the garden aren’t going to go very far. (Note to self: fix cistern pipe.)
Your neighbours need help and so do you. We went around and checked in on neighbours and friends to see how they were doing and if they needed anything. This is what solved our water shortage problem, as a friend had a full cistern we could draw from. Unfortunately, we found out a little too late that another neighbour was subsisting entirely on peanut butter sandwiches when we could have been helping her with meals.
People look for excuses to gather. Invite them over! When it looked like we weren’t getting power back until after the holiday, we invited a bunch of people to Christmas Eve dinner. With or without electricity we made a plan with our friend up the road (owner of a propane-fueled oven) to cook a 27-pound turkey for anyone who wanted to join us. This provided us all a bit of psychic relief after a few cold and dark days. In the end, sixteen people crowded around our table, and drank twenty-plus bottles of wine in celebration of the power coming back on that afternoon. Touching base early on helped us remember that we’re all in this together.
Rural people are going to have a lot more practice in advance of the long emergency than city dwellers.
This winter’s power outage was short, less than ten days in length, with most people having enough food and fuel to get through. In a bonafide long emergency things will get shakier, especially when we don’t have regular practice with discomfort. Given the reality of these times, we have to square ourselves with the fact that when “the big one” comes (whatever that looks like) government agencies will be limited in their ability to respond. We need to get better at working together.
Which brings me to the point of this project.
I feel strongly the peril of the times we are living in. As someone who has made a career out of natural “resource” communications in British Columbia, I have been awash in facts and statistics about climate change my whole adult life. I’ve watched the unfolding of terrible ecological disasters (like the Mount Polley spill) close up. Like so many others, I have choked on my fear and rage, have wanted nothing more than to go to bed and stay there rather than facing the world as it is and responding appropriately.
And by responding, I don’t mean standing in front of logging trucks (unless that’s something you really want to do). I’m not here to guilt-trip anyone into particular actions that might somehow “save” the planet. Instead, I want to encourage the best possible lives while at the same time getting real about helping each other prepare for an unknowable future. I think how we can do this is by focusing our strengths in service of life: if you are a cook, teach others to preserve food; if you are an artist, make art about love and survival; if you know something about neighbourhood water collection systems, apply for a community grant to build one now. And so on.
Learning to live as well as we can in a collective, with all the grace we can muster, is going to be absolutely necessary if we are to face this crisis honestly and begin the hard work of imagining a different future than the one we were raised with.
We can’t do every single thing, but each of us can do one or two things, and together in our neighbourhoods and communities that adds up to ongoing security and resilience in the face of change. It’s what I want to encourage and it’s also what I’m here to do. It’s what I’ve been waking up to with every small emergency in our fragile network - and I’m looking around at all of you who are waking up too.
Our feasting table - set for sixteen on Christmas Eve. Fortunately the power came back on which allowed me to get this photo.
This month's recipe: Sourdough brownies
Recipe adapted from http://www.wildyeastblog.com/sourdough-brownies/
This month’s recipe is a comfort recipe. Though it requires sourdough starter which you might not have in your kitchen, these brownies are so fantastic they are worth getting a starter going for! (Seriously, best thing I've ever eaten).
Yields a 9 x 13-inch pan
300 g bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 eggs, at room temperature
⅓ cup cocoa powder
1 cup mature sourdough starter
Preheat oven to 325F.
Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment as well.
Melt the chocolate and the butter together.
Whisk sugar, salt, and vanilla into the chocolate/butter combination.
Let cool slightly, and then add the eggs one at a time, whisking to combine after each addition.
Sift the cocoa powder over the chocolate mixture and stir to combine.
Add the sourdough starter and stir gently until it is completely incorporated.
Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until a bamboo skewer inserted in the center come out clean.
Cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife, invert onto parchment paper, and re-invert onto a cooling rack.
In the studio
Since the turn of the year I've been working on a small project of gift-making for people in my Zen Buddhist community using vintage Japanese textiles gifted to me by a new friend. Below are a couple of zip pouches which will become sewing kits. Sewing is a big part of the Zen tradition - we sew our own ceremonial robes and other items as part of our study. I like the idea of having a kit like this to take on meditation retreats for those sometimes-needed rakasu repairs!
You can follow my studio exploits at @birdsongtextiles on Instagram.
Three things that have made an impression on me in the last month:
The end of the world is over. Now the real work begins - an essay by author Kim Stanley Robinson
Wise Hope in Social Engagement - how do we engage with "hope"? A blog post by Roshi Joan Halifax
Thanks for being here to launch this project with me. You early subscribers encouraged me to get this thing done. A special thanks to Jill Margo for helping me wrestle this idea into shape, as well as Brian Green and Nadine Pederson for being early sounding boards and readers.
If you respond to this message, it will come directly to me - so let me know what you think!
See you next month and if you want to read more of me in the meantime you can find me at red-cedar.ca!