I am awed and sometimes frightened by the power of nature

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 16, 2015 7:56 PM

I’m not sure my mother has ever really understood why I choose to live in the west. Our family never strayed from the east coast until I decided that I was born to live here. I don’t know if, even now, I can articulate what drew me here but I always wanted to live in the Southwest. It had somehow always been in my soul; perhaps I was a Native American in a former life.

I’ve lived in the west since 1984, first in San Diego, then in Scottsdale, then in LA for 27 years, now Tucson, for nearly 2. One of the things I heard a lot was “aren’t you afraid of earthquakes?” I suppose I never really thought about it. I try to live in the moment and not think too much about what ifs. Like every other human being, sometimes I succumb regardless to worry and wonder, but I also actively practice the “everything happens for a reason and when it’s supposed to” mantra. Granted it can often be hard to see what the reason can possibly be. Disaster and death can be so seemingly random. Think about the person who kisses his or her loved ones goodbye in the morning with a “see you tonight” and then is killed in a car crash.

So I never worried too much about earthquakes, even after I experienced the Northridge quake in 1994. 6.8 on the Richter scale. It was terrifying but not enough to make me pack up and move. After all, every part of the country, indeed every part of the world, has their own version of disaster and most people don’t move from where they’ve made their homes. They simply clean up the mess and continue living.

I remember my dad calling me days after the quake – it took a while for phone service to resume and cell phones were not common – and saying “honey, don’t  you think it’s about time you started thinking about moving back here?” I didn’t think so and I didn’t leave, not for another 19 years and when I did it had absolutely nothing to do with earthquakes.

The awesome power of Mother Nature is always something that astounds me, something I try to respect. As human beings, we believe, foolishly, that we can somehow control our fates. That we can build towering skyscrapers near fault lines and that as long as we include the latest sway technology, those buildings will withstand a quake. Yes it will shake, sure it will sway enough to make you feel seasick, but it won’t fall.

Bullshit. We cannot build anything that truly withstands the power of nature and I am forever humbled and awed by such a fact. There is no force greater than the earth itself. We build bridges and we retro fit our homes and we believe that we are fine. And then Mother Nature clears her throat and a city is leveled in 20 seconds. Look at the poor people in Nepal, or Fukishima, or any other city that has experienced an earthquake. Look at the Midwestern towns that have been laid flat by tornados. Look at the gulf coast that has been flooded and destroyed by hurricanes. Look at avalanches and fire.

We are small and insignificant, and I embrace my miniature status.

Remnants of the storm above and beyond the hill

Last night, sometime around 2, the wind began to howl, that bracing, low roar that alternately whistles through open windows and cactus needles. Soon, rain began to fall. Actually, fall is too soft a word. It began to pound. The skylight in the bathroom sounded like it would fracture. I got up to close the windows as the rain turned to hail and hammered the deck. The winds, I found out today, were nearly 50 miles per hour. The house stood firm but the air vents screamed in agony, the deck furniture scraped and whined. I was sure the pillows from the couches would end up down in the desert, blown over the rails. The cactus bent nearly over in two before snapping up. This went on for two hours, maybe more, and I laid awake the entire time, listening, wondering and marveling. I wasn’t worried; I was awed.

Today, the sky was still overcast. The ground was still wet, the air cool. I watched as heavy clouds oozed over the hillside above and behind us. And as I watched, blue sky opened, just enough to allow the sunshine to squeeze through and bath the hill in warmth. Mother Nature had made her point and now she was feeling better. I smiled and nodded in agreement, forever humbled by this part of the world that I choose to call my home. And as I watched, I realized why I love it so much here. It’s the mystery, and the glory, of it all.

Arrogance as virtue

by Lorin Michel Monday, August 12, 2013 10:51 PM

I’m always in awe of the things we can accomplish as human beings. Technical marvels, revolutionary changes in the way we travel, communicate, listen to music, watch movies and television, drive, eat; live. We build skyscrapers, we construct dams to hold back rivers, we create ships that sail around the world and airplanes that travel at 38,000 feet. We send rockets into space, and we have a space station where people can live for a year in weightless suspension. We use our arrogance to defy gravity and fault lines and Mother Nature. I think that’s awesome. If we didn’t have that arrogance as a species, we wouldn’t accomplish anything of greatness.

Arrogance has a way to looking at something and seeing how it can be better. Never mind that it hasn’t been done before, forget that no one has ever tried it. It matters not that everyone says you can’t because arrogance says you can.

Don’t get me wrong, arrogance can also be arrogant, which is a quality that isn’t very attractive. I think having arrogance means you are fearless and completely non-self-aware. I think being arrogant is that you have no respect for others. There’s a difference.

Arrogance leads to tall buildings and space flight. Arrogant leads to believing nothing can send those building crumbling in seconds during an earthquake, or to a ship disintegrating upon re-entry into the atmosphere. Arrogance allows for us to rebuild and re-fly; arrogant is over-bearing about it, self-important.

I like to say that no one is irreplaceable. Of course, that’s not completely true. When we lose people close to us, they remain irreplaceable though it doesn’t mean there won’t be another in our future lives. But when it comes to people who build things, who make things happen, who change the world as a whole – as opposed to those who just rock our individual worlds – they are all replaceable. Therein lies the difference between arrogance and arrogant.

Arrogance does something. Arrogant thinks no one else is capable. To which I respond that we replace the President of the United States, who many would argue remains the most powerful, influential human being in the world, every four years. It’s arrogant to think otherwise.

In 1928, Henry Ford was troubled by what he perceived to be the high cost of rubber for tires for his cars and so he decided he make rubber cheaper. He bought 6 million acres of land in the Brazilian rainforest, planted rubber saplings, and shipped dozens of employees from Michigan to manage the small town he dubbed Fordlandia. He built houses and a plant to make the rubber. He insisted that all personnel, both American and native Brazilians, abstain from smoking and drinking, and that they attend poetry readings and sing-a-longs. Eventually, everyone rebelled. The Americans who hated living in the jungle and the Brazilians who weren’t big on wearing nametags and learning to square dance. The rubber plants were overcome with insects and leaf rot. Fordlandia was abandoned in 1930, just two years later, when the Americans were chased away with machetes. It was arrogance that had the idea.

As humans we are constantly trying to change the world, to better ourselves. For those who have outlandish ideas, there must be arrogance. It makes people do outrageous things that sometimes are audacious enough to work. It’s how the world was built; it’s how we evolve and challenge the status quo.

Arrogance then is a virtue, as long as we maintain the humility to see that we’re not invincible. For a minute or two, there is a power that rages through us and we can do anything. It’s a good feeling.

Are Kevin and I being arrogant thinking we can change our lives? Is it arrogance that is driving us forward? We have looked at our world as it is and said it can be different, it can be better. It hasn’t been done before but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done now.

Maybe that’s the ultimate virtue of arrogance. Charging ahead, consequences be damned, because we can.

I don’t know. Is that arrogant?

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