Jim O’Donnell, New Mexico
It’s the wind that gets me.
It typically comes out of the southwest, although lately it seems like it is coming from every direction at the same time, and it’s fierce. The house creaks with every gust and the windows shake in their frames. The west side of the house is forever cold from the wind. Sometimes you can actually feel a draft making its way into the house and it chills you to your spine.
The wind sucks the water from the grasses and junipers and pines and sage. Even the cactus suffers. The wind turns a spark into a conflagration. When it really blows they announce Red Flag days because of the fire danger. We have Red Flag days all the time now. The sky is often so full of dust and smoke and pollen that you have to seriously consider wearing a mask or a bandana. The mountains are masked in haze.
My ex-wife hated the wind. She said it made her brain feel swollen and muddled. She said it confused her heartbeat. She said her electromagnetic pulse stuttered. It was too much for her.
Last August, the wind blew the roof off the house. No kidding. It was a terrible noise. When I climbed up on the roof my stomach dropped; I didn’t know that was possible. I crawled back up there on my hands and knees an hour later, dragging a tarp and a bucket of rocks, then huddled the night with my kids in the one corner of the house I could adequately cover with the tarp. The rain poured into our little home. It squirted out of the ceiling lights and fans and I turned off all the electricity. We lay there and watched the lightening outside and listened to our house become a pool.
It’s only a fifteen-year-old house, but these houses weren’t made for this. The only rainstorm of the year and it floods my house.
I was born and raised around here, and I don’t ever remember wind like this. My neighbors, the ones who have been here a very long time, agree. Sure, maybe someone could argue that, technically, the frequency and the power of the wind haven’t changed over two thousand years and that all this is within the normal range of variability. Well, maybe. But that makes it all the worse somehow, because I don’t remember it like this.
Our community association meets on occasion to discuss our future. We share out some homemade cookies and some organic Guatemalan coffee and Ken from down the road always wonders why we don’t have any booze. “That wind will drive a man to drinkin,’” he says.
We live in a sprawling village just south of the Colorado border. There are maybe 3,000 of us scattered over a dozen or so square miles. We’re surrounded by public land.
We sit in a circle in our run-down community center and eat those cookies and some organic apples that came all the way from New Zealand. Most of my neighbors want to talk about the road. The paving. The speeders. The culverts. Some people want to talk about “sustainability,” about how to come together as a community, and how to support each other in the long haul and in the face of dramatic shifts. Food security tops the list of concerns. How can we all continue to eat in the face of climate change?
“All this talkin’ will drive a man to drinkin,’”adds Ken.
Mostly, ideas are met with silence. This isn’t a community of deniers, but like most Americans, my neighbors would prefer that this not be happening. When it comes to what should be done, they all seem confused. They’d rather just not think about it.
But the questions are still there, just under the surface. Is it happening? What will it bring? Should you stay? Should you go? Should you hunker down survivalist-style with your guns, or should you take on the much more difficult task of building community? What does it take to create a grocery store for the people? Can we get paid?
It seems that most people around here are resigned to the fact that something big and bad is coming and you’ve just got to let it come. Then you’ll have to adapt. Don’t stress about it yet. But I do.
It really is about the food and water. Practical stuff, nothing high-minded. I feel an added burden not only to bring in a salary to support my kids but also to prepare for the day when an income might not buy the food we want or need to eat. It might be too expensive by then, or unavailable. Or not. I don’t know. The not-knowing is what I don’t like, so I’ve set down the path of slowly building a compound of sorts where we can become efficient food producers.
And a fence to keep out the wind.
Mind you, this isn’t farming land. Our community sits on dry sagebrush flats at 7,200 feet. Summers are harsh, winters are even worse. Still, we have good well water (we think), and the river is less than two miles away. Behind the fence, I planted fruit trees, built garden boxes, and started harvesting water from the roof. Chickens should work too, for eggs and manure and meat. I’m a long way off from being able to feed us three, but little by little, I figure. I’m sure I’m further along than most.
Still, I sometimes wonder if we should move on from here. Quit my job. Sell the house. Find more fertile ground. Should we live closer to, or even with, my parents and my brother’s family? Should we build a support network there? What if I can’t find a job there?
We’ve got an emergency store of drinking water in the back closet. There’s also a box with white gas, matches, medical supplies, and an ax. We’ve got enough canned and dried food to last us a month. I never let the gas tank on the car get below a quarter empty.
Am I overreacting? Yes. No. How the heck would I know? I’m as confused as you. We’ve got one foot in the future and one foot in the past and under that arrangement we aren’t going anywhere fast.
I’m trying to talk myself into a gun. I’ve hunted some in the past. I’ve got elk meat in the freezer. Mostly I’ve shot and eaten rabbits and quail. True, there’s a river full of fish right over the hill. I’m more fisherman than hunter, I guess.
The young family down the road has decided they are out of here. They’ve found this island in the Caribbean where food is abundant, the soils are healthy, and the sea is full of fish.
“What about hurricanes?” I ask.
“I’ve been through a hurricane,” says David. “I’d rather face that than this.”
“This what?” I ask.
The forecast for tomorrow: “Mostly sunny, with a high near 55. West wind between 25 and 30 mph. Gusts reaching 40 mph.”
Another Red Flag day.
Copyright © 2013 Jim O’Donnell