Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Slow Thaw, Sharp Wind, and Longer Light

Although the weather has not hit us as hard as further south, nonetheless we are feeling the effects of the longest cold snap snowstorm for more than decade. The train cannot get through due to deep snow, so soon mail and supplies will be even slower than usual. The woman who runs the cafe in the Cape Wrath lighthouse went south to buy their Christmas turkey and has not made it home yet. She is safe and warm and tucked up with a friend in Durness, but the roads are not clear enough for her to get home. She and her husband--stranded now at the lighthouse--can talk every day on the phone, and their Christmas presents are sitting there still wrapped and waiting.

In contrast with that, we have the climbers lost in an avalanche and the hundred or so people visiting the local hospitals each day with sprains, strains, bumps, bruises and fractures from slipping on the icy pavements. None of the stores have salt, so the slow thaw--the melt and freeze and melt and freeze is going along at its own pace. According to the regional paper, of the 100 visitors in a single day with slip-related injuries, 18 of those were actual fractures.

I have never seen any snowstorm that did not involve some public complaining about not enough plowing or salting or timely enough or so on. Snow management is largely a no-win proposition (Cur, if you read this, I hope you will add some Chicago stories here). But here I find it supremely ironic that after years of regulating and taxing independence out of us to create a proper nanny state, the response to those 100 or so falls was an indignant--well, why don't you get out and do it yourselves?!

I am stuck in the middle of that. Part of me says, well, yes, of course, that is quite right. On the other hand, I have read about the case of the person fined for sanding their pavement and putting up a sign saying Caution slippery surface. When someone did slip on it, the person was fined not because they had knowingly left a hazard to navigation there but because they had labelled it a hazard. They would have been better off doing nothing. Things like that very quickly condition people into doing less. We can become institutionalized very quickly.

It is easy to fall into familiar conversational and rhetorical paths and where our words go, our minds follow. This has been in the back of my mind for some time as I work with organiztaions that are vibrant and visionary and those that are not. And a general election is coming up which means the political rhetoric is filling up the air waves. I have been saddened to hear yet again that politicians seem preoccupied with personal behaviours--the answer to the looming food crisis is for us not to throw away as much food as we have been doing regardless of the government-mandated dates on the food or for farmers to be more productive while still famring sustainably and preserving the countryside. What are they doing? How is it that in lieu of policy changes or long term planning they offer us lectures about our own behaviours?

I won't mention the irony of their moralising against the backdrop of the Grand Barbecue they have been having with their own expenses. Instead, I want to humbly request that we all try just a little bit harder to raise the level of our rhetoric about what we want in our own communities.

I am going to suggest that a good place to start is a visit to a web site (civicreflection.org)
I know a bit about the people who started this project and the genesis of it. The premise is deceptively simple--we read books and use that as a prompt for guided conversations. We all know we can go through some books and some conversations about books and not be any wiser, but we can also cheat on all the other New Years resolutions. The essence is to read and talk reflectively. Read like you mean it. Think about it. Talk about what really matters.

The wind is whinging around the house and the snow is falling and blowing and blowing and falling, but the sun is striving mightily to get out of bed a bit earlier and linger a little longer. Sunday at dinner with friends, we celebrated the fact that at 4:30 the sun was not yet set. I am always reminded of the back of a chair where Benjamin Franklin and his unlikely companions had been cloistered to hammer out a constitution. A semi-circular sun motif adorned the back of it. As they concluded the last of the conversations to make the document, one wag commented that it was a sun setting. No, Ben Franklin declared, it is a rising sun.



At 1:25 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

As with the discarding of food in your blog, the response of the authorities to the Detroit bombing attempt is to impose more restrictions on passengers rather than sensible controls on who flies.

At 1:26 PM, Anonymous ampiggy said...

But you didn't want more complaining. Sorry.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Well, let's call that posing alternatives instead and it really gets at what I'm talking about. Just saying whoa--what do we really want to accomplish? Keep would-be bombers off the planes. Right, then how do we address that? I think visas, watch lists, no fly lists, and heads ups for dodgey roiund about flights and paying cash for same day flights all fall under that rubric, but most important would be --ta da--working together. Like remember that argument at our former employer about how often to sign off on document that lists people with certain privileges. And I said the real problem is not reviewing docs but looking at why there are such frequent personnel changes. Stuff like that.

At 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, looking at the big picture, maybe even doing a root cause analysis(one of my favorite tools) and not reacting to the crisis of the moment.

At 7:04 PM, Blogger Ruan Peat said...

I chat to a friend in Japan and she has some amazing things to say about waste, in Japan they have a system by where you are responsile for your waste, all of it, waste food and packaging. This means if you take a picnic, you take home the wrapping and any un-eaten food. If you buy something in a shop you can drop the wrapper in the bin as you leave, otherwise you accept all responsibility, and have to take it home. At home you have to split up your waste and take most to the dump your self seperatly, plastic bags fine, but seperate from other types of plastic, and so on, even food is cooked and uncooked, and you get fined if you bring too much! I would hate that system but one day it will need to be done here. We all have to be responsible for our own waste, footprints and future.

At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

At 2:47 PM, Blogger Hayden said...

oh my! now that is snowed in!

for the entire 33 years I was in SF I deflected worriers about our "big quake" by reminding them of the many, many people they lose annually in weather-related accidents. Now I'm here in MI again, and boy was I right!

the nice thing about being in the country is that - snow control is up to the individual. Period. Figure it out, be careful, no whining. And for the most part, our backroads aren't where the accidents happen... that's on the freeways that are plowed.

I see the US as reasonably determined/independant about getting things done. Where it breaks down here is in regards to medicine. No one takes responsibility for that, they leave it on the doctor's doorstep and whine. People expect miracles, and they don't expect to be part of the decision. It's a recipe for failure and the health stats reflect that.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hi, Hayden, certainly where you are self reliance is more than a leitmotif. But I think that get up and get on with it attitude is more common in midwest than elsewhere. I think Britain had that--especially up here--but is in danger of losing it with all this nanny state stuff.

I thought the lapses from the best of American ideals--most notably slavery and health care were astonishing both in their own right and by contrast with the rest of the culture.


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