Archives For Texas

Nature’s Hazards

June 24, 2013 — 12 Comments

tumbleweedsNo matter where in the world you live, you are vulnerable to dangers uniquely associated with that locale. Some of us have moved around and weathered a variety of these threats.

My own family has survived earthquakes in our home state of Washington, ice storms in Oklahoma, nearby tornadoes in Texas, record-setting freezes in Minnesota, both droughts and failed levees in two different California cities along with a Super Typhoon in Guam. (Sometimes we’ve even been assailed by disasters that had no place occurring where they did, like a hurricane that knocked out our power for a full month in England, of all places!)

It’s quite possible that you too have experienced near misses when it comes to suffering Nature’s wrath. (I’d much rather attribute these things to fallen Nature than refer to them as “acts of God.”)

C.S. Lewis offers a wonderful description of Nature in Miracles.

You must have tasted, however briefly, the pure water from beyond the world before you can be distinctly conscious of the hot, salty tang of Nature’s current. To treat her as God, or as Everything, is to lose the whole pith and pleasure of her. Come out, look back, and then you will see . . . this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. How could you ever have thought that this was the ultimate reality? How could you ever have thought that it was merely a stage-set for the moral drama of men and women? She is herself.

Offer her neither worship nor contempt. Meet her and know her. If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch. But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed. The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence. She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilised. We shall still be able to recognise our old enemy, friend, play-fellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself. And that will be a merry meeting.

But, until that glorious day when Nature has been reborn in the culmination of the event that took place on Calvary . . . until that day, Nature remains a capricious neighbor. It’s best to know what she is likely to throw at you based on where you reside—and be prepared. Disaster preparedness is something that the wise will concern themselves before catastrophe strikes.

There are some dangers, however, for which one cannot adequately prepare. The prospects of mega-tsunamis terrify me (and I don’t even live by the sea). Then there are zombie outbreaks, which are apparently taking place on a frequent basis, if the plethora of media on that ghoulish subject is any indication.

The photograph at the top of this page reveals a grim threat to life on the American plains. There may be a few other places where these merciless creatures wreak havoc (the arid portions of Australia, perhaps), but I hope most of those reading this have been spared the visage of plagues of tumbleweeds racing across the horizon in search of victims to overrun, scar, and bury. As the picture shows, sometimes it is not even safe to shelter in a home during a particularly virulent attack.

I’ve seen many a wayward tumbleweed, while I’ve driven across barren desert terrains. Occasionally you’ll see them alone, scouting ahead of the mass for weak prey. If you see an entire horde, well . . . it’s probably already to late to flee.

This picture makes me shiver. It’s one reason I’m so happy to have moved home to Puget Sound, where the incessant rain* keeps everything green. I can put up with an occasional tectonic jiggle, if it means I don’t have to worry about being buried alive beneath a mountain of desiccated thorns.

_____

* The rainfall in western Washington is highly exaggerated. It’s true that for half of the year it receives more rain than the national average, but the other six months it receives less than average of the rest of the nation.

Also, I don’t believe it is an accident that one of the most commonly encountered tumbleweeds in the United States is Salsola tragus, an utterly humorless thistle that invaded from Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. Despite occasional eruptions, it seems to be lying in wait, for the most part, growing in strength for the final conflagration between humanity and noxious weeds and their allies, the triffids.

I had a disturbing conversation today. He was from Texas, a state my family resided in during my first Air Force tour. What troubled me was a recent experience he had that revealed even “down south,” where courtesies long forgotten by most on the west coast still prevail, rudeness is on the rise.

The man I was talking to is a crippled veteran, a Marine in fact. We were discussing the number of people who don’t think twice about “stealing” clearly marked disabled parking spaces from those who genuinely need them.

He related that as he returned to his car recently, there was a young man just getting out of his own vehicle in the adjacent, reserved space. There was no indication on the vehicle that it was authorized to use the space, and neither the man nor his passenger evidenced any disability.

The veteran said, “maybe you didn’t realize it, but that’s a handicapped space you just parked in.”

His words elicited an emotional backlash as the driver (in his twenties) unleashed a barrage of vulgarity and curses at this stranger who had dared to point out his discourteous act.

After his rant, the trash-talker’s father interjected, “hey, it’s none of your business where my son parks, anyway, what do you expect us to do?”

The Marine stood his ground and said, “someone who needs that spot won’t be able to use it if you’re there. If you don’t want to move it now, perhaps the police can persuade you to do it when they arrive.”

As he pulled his phone out of his pocket, the grumbling older man persuaded his fuming son to move the car before the call could go through.

As disgusting as this scene was, I’m sure it’s reenacted across the globe in hundreds of locales every day.

I shared with my new friend the first thought that entered my mind when I heard the question: “what do you expect us to do?”

I told him I would have been tempted to shout: “What I expect is for you, as a father, to feel some modicum of shame for the disgusting way your son is acting.”

What used to be universally regarded as inappropriate conduct now appears to have become the norm. This decline has been in progress for some time. C.S. Lewis referred to the slide in public mores in a 1945 essay.

“We have lost the invaluable faculty of being shocked—a faculty which has hitherto almost distinguished the Man or Woman from the beast or child.” (“After Priggery—What?”)

If I had been there to voice the words that leapt to my mind—and if the foul-mouthed individual didn’t beat me into deaf unconsciousness—I would be curious to see if my statement elicited the slightest glimmer of shame in either father or the son.

There is an irony interwoven into this tale, as is true in so much of life. Although I don’t hijack disabled parking spaces . . . there is much in my life for which I should be—and am—ashamed. As I consider my own selfishness and sin, I am reminded that I am no more deserving of God’s grace than either of the men I am so quick to condemn.

Here too C.S. Lewis offers wise insight. In The Problem of Pain he describes how it is only in sincere, naked self-examination and confession that we can see ourselves as we truly are. “Unless Christianity is wholly false, the perception of ourselves which we have in moments of shame must be the only true one.”

Shame is part of the life of the Christian. And, I would suggest, in the life of every healthy person. I’m not talking about debilitating shame that leads to despair or self-loathing. I’m referring to that shame that is itself a divine gift. The shame that reminds me I should strive to be a better person today than the man I was yesterday.

A shame that drives me to my knees in prayer and moves me to echo the prayers of millions of believers before me and this very day alongside me . . . “forgive me my trespasses, as I forgive those who trespass against me.”