Yep. I live over an earthquake fault, have to drive through a tsunami zone to get home, am within about a hundred miles of three large volcanoes, and live on an island that is only tied to the mainland by one bridge and two ferries. Do I worry much? No, at least not about that.
Someone asked me to teach a class on everyday risk management because I’ve done many things that were considered risky, but I did them safely. My approach to risk inspired my personal title of chicken adventurer. (No, that has nothing to do with taking chickens along on a bungie jump.) My adventurous friends might consider think I’m chicken, but more sedentary types think I am adventurous. I bicycled across the United States by getting off the road before rush hour. I climbed Mt. Rainier thanks to a guide service (RMI). I’ve run marathons, hiked the Wonderland Trail, and spent considerable time in the Cascades every month of the year (until I moved to Whidbey) some of which ended up in three books (Twelve Months at Barclay Lake, Lake Valhalla, and Merritt Lake.) I’ve done those things because I was willing to head out into something that might be uncomfortable, and was very willing to turn around when I encountered an avalanche slope, bad weather, heavy traffic, or the stares that told me I’d walked into the wrong bar.
My risk tolerance is high, or at least it seems that way to many people. I think my engineering background helps. It isn’t because I think everything is taken care of by backup systems and safety factors. My engineering experience proved to me that there is risk everywhere, and that living life is aided by realizing the likelihood and magnitude of various risks.
A friend and I had a conversation on Thursday, the day before the Sendai quake and tsunami. She lives within a few houses of the shore, and only about six feet above the high tide line. Should she worry about global warming? It’s easy to see one risk and concentrate on it. We walked through the scary possibilities. The sea is already rising, probably from global warming. It can also come up from tsunamis, especially local ones within Puget Sound. The Antarctic ice shelves can calve and kick off tsunamis and raise the sea, a double hit. Storm surges can flood for a day or so. But we live in an earthquake zone, which can spawn tsunamis too, but it can also raise or lower the land by many feet within seconds. The most likely scenario on any day is that nothing will happen. The risk of any of these things happening is smaller than the risks involved in driving to work. Drive careful. Drive defensive.
Every place has its hazards. Map lovers can get lost clicking through hazard maps from many agencies (your tax dollars at work – in a good way). Rather than being inundated by them, I realized that my life was rarely affected by quakes, waves, severe weather, and other worrisome hazards. They are worrisome, but I don’t worry about them every day because I’ve taken at least some precautions.
I live on an island, which can be worrisome, but the area is semi-rural. Except for a few weeks per year, there’s plenty of water coming from the sky, which I don’t always celebrate, but I do use for filling my rain barrel. The local land and shore have plenty of resources, wood and food. My hiking gear is good emergency equipment. My bicycle is backup transportation in case the road to the neighborhood is blocked. I even fantasize that I’d use the kayak to paddle the three or four miles to the mainland if all else failed. I suspect it would be much easier to hitch a ride on someone’s sail boat. I don’t do everything the Feds recommend, but each thing I do lessens the impact of hazards that are real but rare.
When I see videos and hear the news about cities in crisis, I am glad to be farther out. It will take longer for official help to get here, but resourceful people with a lot of resources can be more comforting than, say, sitting in a powerless waterless condo waiting for FEMA to ride into town. Rural life has its risks too. The nearest hospital on the island is about 45 minutes away on a normal drive. That’s a statistic I don’t like.
I have a few provisions set aside. There’s an earthquake kit in the backyard that I should refresh. I built a woodshed, and made sure it was stout and large enough to double as a shelter. My house is 100 feet above sea level. Fishing gear is ready, though I’m out of practice. And some provisions are actually disguised as luxuries. My wine collection is really backup supplies, sort of. Power’s out? Pop a cork. I wish I had a root cellar. That’s handy food storage for the right foods. A day of wine, cheese, apples, and maybe some smoked meats is a nice picnic.
All of this talk about risk and preparedness over-emphasizes the worry. The impact on my life is the opposite. Because I understand the relative risks and because I’ve taken some precautions I can spend more time enjoying every day. This is the same writer’s phenomena I’ve noticed when I wrote about various adventures. A five second mishap can fill pages of detailed description, consequence and insight. Five hours of free time spent quietly sitting by a lake is only source material for a short paragraph unless a stunning revelation is included. This post may be about risks, but it is really about freeing up lots of time.
There are things I worry about. Health care, house maintenance, why my car’s fuel mileage is dropping, and when my portfolio is going to radically improve. There’s been enough evidence of the consequences of those worries over the last two years. (I’m feeling better now, thank you.) I’m continuing to remove the excessive negative feedback wiring within my grey matter. Natural disasters are natural. They will happen. I can’t control them, but I can control my response to them. Control is de-stressing. I’d be less stressed if I had enough money to pay for any health care bill, to pay for every house improvement, to fix the car and have a motorcycle as backup, and to have enough for play, extensive philanthropy – for a long and prosperous and happy life. The Washington State Lottery is up to over $8 million. That would do it.
In the meantime, I watch the news, hope for the best, and then get ready for the rest of my day. A big worry for today? What am I going to wear to the dance?