Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Man v. Nature-No Contest ("Film at eleven)"

I reprint in its entirety from the Washington Post one of the most pathetically obvious non-stories I've ever seen in a major newspaper. This rocket scientist might just as well reported that the sky appears to be blue or that it tends to be colder in the winter than the summer. I shudder to think how many innocent trees gave their lives for such a lame piece. It reminds me of the Truman Capote quote when asked about what he thought about a Jack Kerouac book-"That's not writing, that's typing." Here's the article-rant to follow:

World Helpless Against Assaults of Nature

The Associated Press
Tuesday, October 11, 2005; 4:15 AM

WASHINGTON -- In a more hopeful time, buoyed by the promise of science, it was thought hurricanes could be tricked into dispersing, earthquakes could be disarmed by nuclear explosions and floodwaters held at bay by great mounds of dirt.

Such conceits are another victim of a year of destruction.

The planet's controlling forces romp over dreams like those. Usually the best that can be done is to see the danger coming long enough to run.

Rich and poor nations have taken the hit over a period so twisted in nature's assaults that one month, rich is helping poor and the next, poor is helping rich as best it can, and then the poor gets slammed once again.

The United States, giver of tsunami aid in December, accepted hurricane aid from some of those same countries in September. Now it is giving to South Asia a second time, in response to the weekend earthquakes. India is sending tents, food, blankets and medicine to its foe, Pakistan, geology briefly shoving aside geopolitics.

More than 176,000 people died in the earthquake and tsunami of December; an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 in the quake Saturday; perhaps 1,000 or more in Guatemalan landslides last week; more than 1,200 in Katrina. Asian beaches, mountainous Kashmir villages and American urban streets and casinos all were overwhelmed.

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

After World War II, nothing seemed too far-fetched for science, not once the atom was split and, again, not once men stepped on the moon.

In one of the most enduring efforts, still alive but hardly about to happen, man thought he could seed clouds, make it rain reliably and put a stop to devastating drought.

The effort continues, especially in China; there, rockets, anti-aircraft guns and aircraft regularly pelt the sky with chemicals. The results so far: China has lots of experience, but limited success, in making the rains come.

If humans are inexorably warming the globe, they've proved unable to fine-tune the megaforces to their benefit.

They can cause earthquakes, little ones, by injecting fluids into deep wells, filling huge reservoirs with water or setting off nuclear explosions, but they can't prevent any, says the U.S. Geological Survey. Any notion of "lubricating" tectonic plates to relieve destructive tension would only make things worse, if it made any difference.

Earthquakes can't be forecast, either. Danger zones and long-term probabilities can be surmised, but "there currently is no accepted method to accomplish the goal of predicting the time, place and magnitude of an impending quake," the survey says.

The idea of hauling icebergs to hurricane-prone waters to cool things off did not fly. Research continues on trying to fool hurricanes into thinking they're over land.

One trick being tested: coating the ocean with a thin, biodegradable, oily film to deny a hurricane the evaporation that feeds its fury, in essence mimicking conditions after landfall.

One of the responses to Hurricane Katrina was decidedly lower tech: Civil engineers proposed putting up old-fashioned air raid sirens so people would know to get away.

The belief persists that humans will someday be able to dial up a thunderstorm at will, tweak the jet stream to avoid floods and starve a tornado of its energy once it starts spinning.

Such faith is reflected in a decade-old report done for the U.S. Air Force, on the possibilities of modifying the weather for military advantage.

The study suggested extreme examples of made-to-order weather, such as steering severe storms to particular areas or achieving large-scale climate change, were beyond reach over the next 30 years. But kicking up fog, rain and clouds was considered doable in that time.

The Air Force said later it did not plan to meddle with Mother Nature. The study, subtitled "Owning the Weather in 2025," came to little.

A decade later, the weather still owns us. (Emphasis added-end of "story)."

How about that last line? Listen chief, you can be cryogenically frozen for a billion years, come back and nature will still own your stupid ass!

Here on the coast, we don't have to be told of nature's pre-eminence. Not just hurricanes, but a common nor'easter will teach you that quick. Go to the beach, wade out waist deep and get caught in an undertow or a rip-tide and see how damn powerful you are. Better yet, body surf into the beach riding a four foot wave and let its mild power pile-drive your head into the sand. Get up with chest scrapes and a bloody nose and proclaim victory. Have a rogue wave come over the bow of the boat and buckle your knees. Take a dip in the ocean wearing some flashy toe rings or ankle bracelets and dare a 200 pound shark to rip off your leg. And guess what-the rip-tides, undertows, waves and sharks don't peruse your net worth before they do their thing. Nature will always own man-always has and always will. And it doesn't discriminate in its domination between wealth and poverty. If you don't think that a tornado could drive Paris Hilton's skinny ass through an oak tree, you're fooling yourself- (god, how much would I pay to see that on video).

Some personal lessons of nature's power:

I was camping and trout fishing a creek called Whitetop Laurel in the Grayson Highlands area of southwestern Virginia. It is a seemingly benign stream that runs the length of the long-lost Virginia Creeper railroad line. It has an average width of no more than thirty feet and and average depth of about a foot. The headwaters are on Whitetop Mountain and the water courses for 20 miles over and around thousands of bowling ball size rocks on its way through the town of Damascus. I set up camp in one of the nearby campgrounds and hiked down the cinder trail that follows the length of the creek. I was fishing alone and I waded into the stream and onto a small grassy island that caused the creek to fork. I figured it was a good spot because I could fish both sides of the stream while standing on dry land-thus less likely to spook the fish with my noisy and clumsy wading. The sun was shining brightly but I heard thunder in the distance. The canopy of trees kept me from seeing the black clouds of the approaching thunderstorm. I kept fishing. Unbeknownst to me, a rainstorm was pounding the top of Whitetop Mountain. I kept fishing. I was in the water about a yard from the grass island when the water began to rise and increase in flow. The water went from ankle deep to knee deep is about a minute and began crashing down the creek. The small creek turned into a raging whitewater river. I looked behind me toward the island but it wasn't there anymore-a small sapling was all that was exposed and the force of the water was bending it groundward. The roadside bank was only ten feet away but it might as well have been a mile. I did manage to take my fly rod and throw it like a spear onto the bank-it and the reel probably cost me $400.00, but at that moment, if it had fallen back into the creek, I wouldn't have given it a second thought. I went and hung onto the small tree on the island. The water finally stopped rising but wasn't subsiding either. I spent two hours holding onto that tree-it was getting near dark so I snapped off a limb to use as a wading staff. I made one or two futile attempts to cross the ten-foot expanse and almost paid dearly for the effort. Right before dark, I could hear the roar of the river decrease a few decibels and I gave it another shot. I took baby steps, steadied myself with the limb and after 30 minutes, I had made it about halfway across. I saw a stout tree hanging off the bank and figured that if I could grab that, I could pull myself up on the bank to safety. I took another step, slipped on a rock but my other foot held fast. I said 'the hell with it" and made a herculean leap, grabbing onto a thin, leafy but thankfully resilient branch and pulled myself up the muddy bank. I sat there out of breath and pondering what had happened. Five minutes later, the raging river had returned to its normal, benign state. I gathered up my stuff, left the small, gurgling brook, and walked back to the tent-both bloodied, bowed and humbled.

Another time I was fishing in the NC mountains in February-don't ask me why. I think it was because I had just started tying my own flies and couldn't wait to use them. The small stream I was fishing barely had a population of trout in the spring and fall-it was nearly dead in the winter. It was freezing cold. I had on thermal underwear and coats and hats to keep warm. I just had on thigh waders because I had no intent on actually getting in the water. The water had a thin layer of ice on its margins. I was miserably cold. I made a few casts to no avail. I had parked the car on the other side of the stream, hiked downstream on the dirt road, crossed at a place that barely had water and hiked up the opposite side of the stream till I was looking across at the car. The car looked mighty good-I could turn on the heater and wait for my buddy there-he had hiked farther on up and was way out of my sight. The water between me and the car appeared about a foot deep-it was still and the water was dark with leaves. I crunched throught the thin ice and halfway across I stepped into a hole that was just deep enough to allow the icy water to fill my waders. For a moment I thought nothing of it, but I was suddenly unable to feel my legs. I was overwhelmed by a sense of complete disbelief that quickly morphed into sheer panic. I knew what I wanted to do, my legs just wouldn't cooperate. They felt as if they weighed hundreds of pounds apiece and it was all I could do to move them. I had a keen felling that my friend would find me frozen stiff in that creek. Somehow, someway, I managed to drag my legs close enough to the bank that I could claw myself onto the slope. I shimmied up the bank to the road, pulled my body in the car and used my arms and hand to flip my "lifeless" legs onto the floorboard. With the heater full blast and shed of the set clothes, they finally tingled back to life. To this day, just thinking about that experience can cause me to break into a cold sweat.

We are not invincible or even powerful-life and nature will defeat us all in the end-both the poor, the rich and even royalty. We know it and we have always known it- we just don't like to think about it.


I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed,
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley


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