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A world so fragile
Comfort for the Apocalypse, February 2022
When the Rivers Rise (Part One)
Growing up on the edge of the vast rainforest that makes up the spine of Vancouver Island, I was never afraid of rain.
Sometimes it came in a downpour, filling our gutters and dripping into the basement, other times as a mist casting a murky filter over trees, farmlands, and the little Anglican Church we passed by riding the orange school bus. The fun and colour of Halloween costumes were ruined year after year as our mother covered them with black garbage bags to keep us dry, our heads and arms poking out of holes cut by our father expert with an X-acto knife. At Christmas time we dragged our freshly cut tree out of the forest on a trail of mud, and left it outside for a day or so to become cleaned by the rain. No white Christmas for us. Even in the summertime when we went to Shuswap country in the Interior, we could count on at least a handful of summer storms sweeping with some ferocity across the vast lake, visible and audible for hours before the rain hit our shore.
When I left high school I moved to Vancouver, the fourth rainiest city in Canada, where I never carried an umbrella even on the wettest of days. My life was guided as much by literature as by anything at that time, and I aspired to encounter the rain much as the characters described by Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction:
They strolled calmly and smoothly, their bodies perfectly relaxed. They did not hunch away from the rain but rather glided through it. They directed their faces to it and did not flinch as it drummed their cheeks. They almost revelled in it…. accepted the rain. They were not at odds with it, they did not deny or combat it; they accepted it and went with it in harmony and ease.”
As Robbins’ narrator observes when he un-hunches himself and approaches the rain in the way of his hosts, “I got no wetter than I would have otherwise, and if I did not actually enjoy the wetting, at least I was free of my tension.” This seemed to me the only sensible attitude if one happened to live in a damp environment. You could either do as my co-worker did for years and complain every single day about the weather, or you could just get on with your life.
After a few years of living in East Vancouver, I discovered the antidote to the concrete-grey winters lay just over the bridge in the masses of hiking trails on the North Shore. On the urging of friends who hiked year round, I invested in rain gear and developed a love for “water” hikes in the wintertime, those journeys into the mountains across the Burrard Inlet where torrential rain, waterfalls, and rushing rivers might combine to create rainbows or enveloping fogs which transformed the landscape into something primeval. No matter what was happening in the city of metal and glass, the forest always breathed life in great sighs, the mosses and fir needles glittered with water flecked with many shades of green. On the wettest days I might be the only one on the trail, and I carried the joy of a secret discovery–a place one could be alone in a city of more than a million people.
I have always felt lucky that I do not suffer from wintertime Seasonal Affective Disorder as many people I know do. The wet weather brings a feeling of coziness when I’m inside, and when I’m out and about I mainly experience it as a cool drink of water. Good windshield wipers and a rain jacket will get one through most conditions, and as a life-long west-coaster I have shrugged off the complaints of transplants who cannot adjust to the “damp cold” of living by the ocean. I have been complacent about the rain, undisturbed by the continual water feature, mostly just glad it’s not snow we have to deal with.
At least that was true until recently when I found myself white-knuckling it while driving through a rainstorm in a mountain pass on the way to visit my parents. It wasn’t the water splashing up from the oncoming traffic, or the occasional pool causing my car to hydroplane that worried me; I have driven through much worse in my life. Instead I feared that the road might suddenly wash away under my tires, as parts of it had only months before in one of the biggest natural disasters in BC history.
Even now, I am still trying to wrap my mind around the flooding of November 2021, when four months worth of rain came down in a 48-hour period. Weather forecasters had warned about incoming atmospheric rivers (colloquially known as the Pineapple Express), and so it wasn’t surprising when the deluge started on the Saturday night, but by Monday morning, it was apparent that this rainfall was something like I had never seen before in terms of intensity and the damage it caused.
In near-biblical proportions the rivers rose up and mountainsides came down. By the end of the storm every major highway in the province was shut, more than 600,000 farm animals had died, thousands of homes evacuated, railway passages scoured clean of track and rail, and four people were dead from a landslide in the mountains between Pemberton and Lillooet. In the town of Princeton, outside of which I share a small cabin with friends, the Similkameen boiled over the dikes and down the main streets, through doorways and windows, burying town roads and yards in thick mud and debris. Not far up the road, the whole town of Merritt evacuated in a great flurry as the river breached the town sewage plant, carrying waste water out into the street and into homes and shops.
On the coast we experienced no major catastrophe, except for the lane of highway on Vancouver Island sloughed right off the edge of a cliff when the mountains above the “scenic drive” became a waterfall pushing millions of litres of water down onto the road in a sudden frenzy. In the weeks afterwards, we experienced the dysphoria of being cut off from the rest of Canada, with every highway closed and under repair. After months of voluntary isolation due to the pandemic, this forced separation seemed cruel in its redundancy, a point that didn’t need to be reinforced.
[Part 2 of this essay will appear in this newsletter next month]
February recipe: Chocolate Snack
This treat is a bit decadent and expensive to make, but it’s the end of February which is the month of chocolate as well as being my birthday month. This recipe comes from the cookbook Gather (Chocolate Nourish Bars) and is essentially a kind of chocolate bar with extra nutrition. I’ve halved it here and tried to make the ingredients a bit more accessible. Vegan and gluten free.
2 cups quick oats
1 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup roughly chopped pecans
1 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 bag (1 1/2-3/4 cups) bittersweet chocolate chips with a high chocolate percentage (I used 60% Ghirardelli chips)
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350. Toast oats, almonds and pecans on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 8-12 minutes, until golden brown.
Balance a heatproof bowl over a large saucepan of simmering water. Add coconut oil, maple syrup, chocolate chips, almond butter, cocoa, vanilla, and salt into the bowl and mix all ingredients together until melted.
Line an 8x8 baking dish with foil and then parchment paper, lightly grease the parchment paper.
Combine melted chocolate, oats and nuts in a bowl and stir to combine. Pour into the prepared baking dish and then tap hard on the counter to even it out and get rid of air bubbles. Refrigerate covered overnight until set. Cut into squares to serve.
In the workshop
The textile workshop has been quiet this month as I’ve been giving myself more space for writing, but I have finished a few small jobs. A major accomplishment was getting two quilts finished and out to be quilted (I pay a professional for queen-sized items, they are too hard to do well on a small machine). I picked up the one shown above on my birthday, and dropped off the second at the same time (it will be ready next week). Now I just have to get bindings on, and they will be ready for use.
While writing the newsletter this week I looked up the 2021 flood damage synopsis on Wikipedia - a sobering read. Flood relief and restoration efforts continue across the province, and many people in Merritt and on the Highway 8 corridor have not been able to return to their land and communities. This is also true for residents of Lytton, BC a town which burned to the ground in the heat dome last summer.
One of the best non-fiction books I’ve read in the last couple of years is the 2021 release God | Human | Animal | Machine: Technology, Metaphor, and the Search for Meaning by Wired columnist Meghan O’Gieblyn. In exploring fundamental transformations in human life wrought by digital technology, we are introduced to philosophies of mind, self-hood, and moral responsibility–ultimately coming to understand how blurred the lines are between techno-faith and religion. Sharp and accessible writing, O’Gieblyn is an intellectual force and a writer I look forward to more from.
“Listen. Attune your ear to the general discord, and you will hear the cracking of the ice caps, the rising of the waters, the sinister whisper of the near future. Is it not a terrible time to be having children, and therefore, in the end, to be alive?” So asks Mark O’Connell in the introductory chapter to Notes from an Apocalypse–and then sets about to find the answer. In his travels he encounters disaster capitalists, preppers, Silicon Valley billionaire culture, leftish ecological storytellers, and the sobering reality of ecological disaster all of which he recounts in a wry and engaging tone. This book offers a perspective on the pitfalls of survival culture and comes to some terms with which we might live in these curious (perilous) times.
Like most of the world, I find the events overseas this week upsetting though not particularly surprising. Barely on the heels of the pandemic there seems to be a pent-up demand for conflict out there, a need to “get back” whatever one feels they have lost. It is as though we are living in a perpetual state of “what next” these days, and I hope for the citizens of Ukraine (not to mention the thousands of people arrested in Russia for protesting the war yesterday) that the answer is not soaked in tragedy.
February is such a short month and things have felt compressed all around between work and other responsibilities in my life. My hope for the months to come is that we can emerge a bit more with the spring weather, unspool ourselves from the cocoon of winter Netflix, and find our way back to social life once more.
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