This Is The Way The World Ends

It’s funny that I started writing this post about how unrealistic most books are about widespread disaster and apocalyptic events before the fire started near us.  Of course, it’s now completely different, because I can start from my own situation.

First, for those from out East, Colorado Springs – and most Western cities – are very widespread.  They’re not all clumped together as in the North East.  We have friends within the city that are more than forty five minutes away – without traffic jams.

That said, the evacuation line – though not the fire line – is now about three miles from us as the crow flies and has overtaken the highschool my son just graduated from.  That’s a bit close for comfort, but it’s still on the other side of a six lane highway, which is twined at that place by a rocky, treeless creek bed.  It’s a very impressive fire break.  So far the fire hasn’t jumped i-25, which is a FOUR lane highway.

On the other hand, when the weather shifts in Col Springs (and it seems to be shifting) we tend to get hurricane-strength winds, which could jump that fire break in no time.  It’s still unlikely to blow in our direction, but of course, there are no certainties.

So, what to do?  Having heard stories of people who had too short a time to evacuate and had to leave pets behind, we are packing both suvs so that at the last minute we can grab the “small valuables, electronics and pets” and bug out in a few minutes.  (We have the drill of boxing cats down to ten minutes.  Vet trips.)

It honestly feels like we’re over dramatizing.  It really is UNLIKELY to get to us, certainly unlikely to get to us in the next few days.  On the other hand, this fire is now a firestorm and therefore not predictable.  It still feels like we’re overdoing it, and we go about sheepishly, with a suspicion we’re being dramatic.  On the other hand overplanning is survivable.  Under planning isn’t.

There are reminders of doom all around.  We have friends who’ve been burned out of their homes.  We have standing requests not to use the cell phones, to leave them clear for emergency work.  Planes flying overhead, to help fight the firs are a frequent reminder.  The air is filled with smoke (though not as badly as last night.)  The construction work across the street is stopped.  My doctor has postponed an appointment that’s already been postponed and which I’m anxiously waiting for because it might be at the back of the knocked out immune system.  It might be really bad.  OTOH it might be nothing.  I can’t know till I have that appointment, but the technician who operates the equipment is evacuated, out of town, and they don’t know when she’ll be back.  So, the appointment is now mid-July.  ALL hotels in Denver and Colorado Springs (Away from the evacuation zone) are booked solid.  Our planned weekend away in Denver might be dificult to book, if this gets any worse – and if we have to evacuate, we literally have nowhere to go, so in packing the cars, we’re planning to live out of them for a while, including large kennels to put the cats in.

This is not the first emergency I’ve lived through, though it’s never come closer than it is right now, except once.  When I was a kid in Portugal, a fire came to the other side of the train line, a block and a half from my parents’ house.  There was no evacuation, so I was on top of the garage, tracking the fire progress.  If it got to our side of the train line, we were going to run.  Fortunately the wind went the other way, so it cost us a night fully awake.

Before that, there were revolutions in Portugal.  After that, there was Hurricane Hugo in Portugal Charlotte (Apologizes to Geography) and there was of course, 9/11.

I’ll use 9/11 if I may, because most of us got that it was an event of terrific proportions.  I spent literally two days on line, tracking friends who were en-route through the country and stranded, seeing if we could offer help.  And since Dan was working in Virginia at the time, our friend Alan and I went out to meet him.  Our meeting place kept changing, depending on how far Dan had got, until finally we were in Hays Kansas, where Alan and I got out, at the airport, where Dan was going to hand in the rental car, prior to coming home with us.

And there we met a local.  “Do you know why they cancelled the air show?” he asked.  “Is it because of that problem in NYC?”

The way he talked about it, he made it sound like a minor incident that really only mattered to people from NYC.

And that is ultimately how the world ends.  Catastrophic events happen, not all over at the same time with the same intensity, but in pockets.  A neighborhood will be in chaos and ruin, and next door life will go on as usual.  There’s construction going on up the street a bit.  The grocery store is operating as normal, and I feel guilty because I’m not out there, painting the porch.  (And how do you KNOW that the deck chairs on the titanic DIDN’T need dusting?)

For those of us raised in societies where a stiff upper lip was a virtue, too, there’s the feeling that we shouldn’t over dramatize.  Some of our friends and neighbors are in real distress.  We?  Oh, we’re fine.  Live is perfectly routine.  Except we’re packing the car to bug out, and that’s probably overreacting.

In the middle of apocalyptic events, people still cook, still gossip, still change babies and do litter boxes.

This is the way the world ends – sporadically.  Erratically.  With normalcy amid the emergency.  And we, mere humans, try to soldier on through it all.

Which is why the world doesn’t end totally but always partially.  And then a new world is born.

45 responses to “This Is The Way The World Ends

  1. I remember Hugo. Charlotte was dead for a few days. My own house was without power for nine days and we cooked on a propane stove. Cool for the first few days, but annoying afterwards.

    • we lost power for a total of eleven hours. Then we hosted dinner for two dozen people every night thereafter till everyone had electricity back. Fortunately the supermarket near us had no power, and was selling everything while on emergency generators — a 10c on the dollar. So our freezer was bursting with food. See, if you’d known us back then… ;)

      • I remember Hugo too. We were driving from Huntsville north along I-65 to Nashville and it was pouring, just GUSHING, rain, and the eye hadn’t even made landfall yet. That was one huge mutha.

        • A few years ago, Ivan hit the Mississippi valley just right and sent hurricane-force winds upriver, so that we had winds up to 100 mph in Cincy. One of my coworkers was without power for something like 5 days.

          Strangest thing, though – when storms are coming in, everyone hits the stores for perishables like bread and milk. How are they going to keep milk fresh if their electricity goes out?

          • Put it in a ice chest (or even the fridge, as long as you don’t leave the door open long will stay cold for a couple days).

          • The piedmont of NC is subject to ice storms, although five years of drought recently almost allowed us to forget this. (For a description of this ‘charming’ late autumn / winter weather read the opening of John Ringo’s A Hymn Before Battle.) We also will have an occasional wind storm in the spring. Then there are the, fortunately rare, edges of hurricanes in the summer. Any of these may take out power.

            Yankees who move here joke, at the sign of the first snowflake all the bread and milk disappear from the grocery stores. And yes, I used to wonder why buy perishables? A large ice chest in a garage (or other unheated secure from varmints place) will stay sufficiently cool for several days in the winter, a couple of days in the summer. In the winter the garage itself will sometimes get cooler than the inside of the chest. During one particularly prolonged outage an acquaintance used the storage bench on her back deck for a refrigerator (just keep it out of the sun).

  2. ppaulshoward

    Life doesn’t stop because the world ends. [Wink]

  3. You have voiced what I’ve been thinking for the past couple of days. Besides the fires threatening to encroach on family and friends in Colorado and New Mexico, there are the hurricanes wiping out areas of the Gulf Coast. And 1 mile from where we live, Exxon is packing up their corporate offices and moving to Texas, leaving 1500 direct employees jobless in their wake. A mile in the other direction, a man has been holed up in his million-dollar house in a standoff with the police. I can only imagine what must have happened in his upper-middle-class life to get to that point. And these are just a few of the very strange things happening this week. This is how the world ends. Death by a thousand cuts.

  4. You might want to re-edit that bit about

    Before that, there were revolutions in Portugal. After that, there was Hurricane Hugo in Portugal …

    You mean Charlotte, of course.

    The World ends daily for many a person. Usually with a whimper, occasionally with a bang. We have lived our lives with Hollywood and Television conditioning us to expect dramatic scores and moody lighting but banality is more common. Which is one reason so many people maintain an aura of unreality in the face of such crises.

    When you get down to it, The World Ending is kinda meh: it ends, everybody dies, story finished. Civilizational collapse is a different story: all civilizations are in constant collapse and renewal and which way the balance is tipping is usually not clear except to the delusional. But if civilization collapses we remain with stories unfinished, dealing with the consequences and, in some cases, denying the collapse. Insert appropriate GWTW reference of your choice.

    • In charlotte. You can tell I’m sort of otherwhere…

      • I used to joke that one of the good things about living in the piedmont of NC was that you were far enough inland that hurricanes would not reach you, but the coast was still a reasonable drive. So what happens? Hugo was still a hurricane when it plowed through Charlotte. It passed between us and the next city over before crossing westward over the mountains near Doughton Park as a strong tropical storm.

  5. One thing that Harry Turtledove gets right in his “Yellowstone goes boom” book is the lack of reaction on the West Coast. Even though Yellowstone and a ring around it are gone, and Denver, western Kansas and Nebraska are pelted with ash, the Californians literally don’t see any problems, at least not at first. (IIRC they do hear a delayed and muted boom.) That certainly matches my limited experience with natural phenomena (range fires, ice storms, tornadoes, flash flood from overly-rapid reservoir let-down).

    • May I recommend Krakatoa The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 by Simon Winchester? The audio book, read by the author is a delight.

      • It is pretty good. I’m one of those really weird people who read USGS and Geological Society of America technical bulletins and conference papers for fun, and I really appreciate it when non-specialist authors get the science right. I like it even better if they can also make it enjoyable to read! :)

        • Years ago I came across a series of books: The Shaping of America A Geographical Perspective on 500 Years of History by D.W. Meinig. After reading a bit in the book store on several subsequent visits I decided that it was interesting enough to try. I have the first three volumes (three were planned, I gather four were done) but, as I never found the fourth volume it kept gravitating done my to be read pile until it was shelved. I cannot say whether I can really recommend them, but, TXRED, I thank you for reminding me to look at them again.

        • I love to read USGS and Geological Society papers, but don’t have access to many of them. I also love to read Geophysical Review papers and anything remotely relating to Paleontology and physical anthropology. I’ve got a hundred links, but there are sometimes weeks between finding something interesting enough to read that I can also understand.

          • Simon Winchester wiki:

            … in 1963 went up to St Catherine’s College, Oxford to study geology. He graduated in 1966 with a degree in geology and found work with Falconbridge of Africa, a Canadian mining company. His first assignment was to work as a field geologist searching for copper deposits in Uganda.

            So, he is actually quite good on geological info, even though he turned journalist ere long.

  6. Books _are_ unrealistic. They make it sound so logical, sensible.

    But under stress, people don’t react normally. Except when they refuse to anything except act normally. Panic, even the lowish grade type that lasts for days can cause people to do the most amazingly stupid things. And a book simply can’t cover the whole range of sensible to oh-my-gawd stupid that people _will_ do.

    And then there’s the cause of the emergency. A wildfire like this is chaotic. Partly following predictable weather conditions, which are just educated projections anyway, plus if you’ve reached firestorm condition it’ll start creating it’s own weather. And there goes a piece of flaming hot debris. If it lands in the duck pond the results will be a whole lot different than if it lands in the heat stressed bushes a few feet away.

    A problem we had prior to Hurricane Rita making landfall was too many people evacuating all at once. The highways slowed to a crawl. People spent ten and twelve hours stuck in traffic. _Fortunately_ with 48 hours before landfall, so the hurricane force winds didn’t catch them while they were essentially trapped. With this fire, I fear the same situation. Thousands of people trapped on roads with no way to get away from an approaching fire.

    Check traffic conditions before you go. Don’t get so focused on your planned evacuation route that you find yourself in increasing danger. Make sure you have good maps, and alternate routes.

  7. Stay safe, and when they tell you to bug-out, do so. My parents were burned out in one of the big California fires in 2003, and I was constantly refreshing the news feeds, from where I was working in an office building in Texas. My mother had gone out in one of the vehicles with the pets, and the valuables and my dad stayed behind with neighbors to help them secure their houses; Dad was essentially missing for most of a day – he didn’t have a cellphone on him, of course. He and some of the firemen were pulling things from their house until the fire began exploding the windows inwards.
    My daughter and I kept trying to call their home phone number, and all day we got a busy signal.

    You know, the thing about disaster movies – especially earthquake disaster movies – that really doesn’t ring true for me? They have people running around and screaming their heads off. I’ve been through a good few earthquakes, starting with the Sylmar shake in 1971, and a number in Japan in the late 70s … and no one really does much screaming. They call directions to other people in the building, or to children and loved ones, maybe – but mostly people get quiet and make themselves very small, and if they run, it’s to a place of safety. In a crisis, I think most people tend to get quiet and very focused – although there is the hysterically screaming element. But it’s a pretty small element of the whole. Doesn’t make for much of a Hollywood spectacle, I guess. YMMV, though.

    • Yea – the breakdown comes from the outside (family trying to find family) or afterwards.

    • Yes, the hysterical screaming is much less common than shown in movies. But the one thing movies do get right, when you have a rare hysterical screamer, many times the most effective way to shut them up, and get them to focus, is to slap them. I’m not advocating going around slapping people, but the couple times I have seen it done to hysterical screamers, it has worked perfectly, causing them to shut up and focus on the slapper, who then should give them simple basic instructions.

      • I’m not advocating going around slapping people,

        I dunno, there are so many people who merit slapping … just not hysterical people. Oh well – that’s a good way to break your wrist.

    • I’ve been through several hurricanes, a couple of floods, at least three tornadoes, two earthquakes, and now two nearby but not threatening fires. I also went through the Chernobyl and mad cow threats in England, been shot at in Vietnam and Panama, and survived the Baader/Meinhoff attacks in Germany. Maybe it’s because I did all these things while a part of the military, but I don’t remember “panic”. I do remember caution, a mild fear that things could get REALLY bad, but never panic. I think panic is over-hyped, used to work on people’s subconscious for other than protection. The scam phone call I got this morning for donations was a case in point. We’ve also seen panic used to try to force people to do things they otherwise wouldn’t do — “stampeding the herd over the horizon”. It may sell movies, but it doesn’t depict reality for most people.

      • I felt panic in Panama but I learned that deep breathing really helps when your world is falling apart. ;-)

        • Panic in Panama is a great title for a short story.

          • So is “Past Time in Portugal” for a time-traveling yarn (a play on your “Time” post today). Feel free to steal it – I’ve got enough on my plate at the moment.

            • I don’t write stuff set in Portugal. At first I couldn’t do it because I wasn’t good enough to convey what I knew really well to people who had their own idea what Portugal was. NOW I don’t know Portugal. Twenty eight years made more difference there than here, and it’s harder to study because there’s no great media recording. They import most of their entertainment: from us, from Brazil, from everywhere. So there is no great record of quotidian life. Now I’m even more of a stranger there; I have no entry. The Portugal I remember is an ever-more-softened and muddled memory of childhood and youth — and the level at which I remember it, could be anyone’s. For me to write about Portugal would be to trespass in things I not only don’t know, but out of which I’m held because I ALMOST know it.

        • Cyn, I was there during the 1968 “revolution” that put Omar Torrejos in power. Not a really GREAT threat, but enough of a nuisance that we stayed out of town for a couple of months. Also required I spend quite a bit of my “free time” pulling security guard.

          • I got there right after Just Cause and we had a curfew. We were shot at a few times. I wasn’t personally but only because my hubby who was the boyfriend at the time, carried a .45.

      • Sadly, for all too many people these days, reality is phantasm and movies are reality.

  8. Better to be prepared than to tempt Murphy. *crosses fingers that you are over-prepared*

  9. I know exactly what you mean. We read about WW2 and we tend to think everyone must have been on edge since 1939 but I spoke to my mother last night who was 19 in 1941 and working that Sunday in Dec. She told me that no one was really all upset about what was going on in Europe until Pearl Harbor. Even my father who was working in the Brooklyn Navy yard was not overly alarmed until we were actually attacked and the realization that we were at war sunk in.
    The key thing I take from your post is something I tell my family all the time,

    “On the other hand overplanning is survivable. Under planning isn’t.”

    • One factor to keep in mind is the degree to which the modern world is over-newsed. Back in the day news was on Television at 6 and 11 (and the TV went black at 1 AM.) Newspapers came out, in most parts of the United States, in the morning and afternoon — special editions if there were something REALLY special to report. Only the largest cities had more than three television stations. Many had fewer.

      My in-laws visited us back in the 80s when cable television was new and Beloved Spouse & I noted how her step-mother was compelled by (then new) CNN. In her step-mother’s experience mid-day news meant JFK’s (or RFK’s or MLK’s) assassination, or Nixon’s resignation or similar MAJOR news, and while her brain knew she was watching routine news her psyche could not accept the coverage as mundane.

      Then we switched her to CSPAN …

  10. As a Floridian who is almost always on the alert this time of year (and having just dealt with anxiety over Tropical Storm Debby), I don’t think you are being over dramatic at all. I am sitting here watching the Weather Channel show me the fires in your backyard and I’m thinking about you. Take care.

  11. Four months pre-Hugo – we had a bad storm in the Piedmont of N.C. In our county, about 1 out of every 4 trees came down, the 200+ y.o. historic square lost 96% (yes, 48 out of 50) over-100-y.o. oaks, and a 2 sq mile neighborhood – bounded on each end by a hospital – had downed power, etc. lines on *every single block* (not exaggerating).

    My parents were flying in that night to see their first grandchild. Mom got there before the storm, Dad was delayed until after. I propped a camcorder on the dash of my SUV and drove into town, dodging downed trees, driving off-road to get around damage, and realized how lucky we were that the storm jumped over the slight depression where we lived.

    The world ended for many that night. The rest dug out chain saws and got back to work (and Hugo was a piker, and Charlotte never realized anything happened to us! ).

  12. Some say the world will end in fire,
    Some say in ice.
    From what I’ve tasted of desire
    I hold with those who favor fire.
    But if it had to perish twice,
    I think I know enough of hate
    To say that for destruction ice
    Is also great
    And would suffice.
    ~~Robert Frost

    • Laura Runkle

      Thank you, Stephanie Osborn. That was also running through my head. And also, oddly enough, from our local disaster in 2008, the songs we sang while sandbagging the town water supply and rescuing the stuff in our church’s lower level from the rapidly rising liquid from the sewers. “Wade in the Water,” and “Down by the Riverside.”
      Laura

  13. For anyone wanting to track the fires, here are a couple of resources I picked up in an article in Emergency Management Magazine Dynamic Maps Track Colorado Wildfires
    Google Crisis Response map.
    Esri map.

  14. Think of it as a drill. Drilling for disasters is a good thing: you learn details about how to prepare, details you won’t likely learn from anything but doing it. And you’ll be more mentally prepared for Bad Things if they ever do happen for having had this experience. Getting ready isn’t overdramatizing; it’s taking advantage of a golden opportunity for a live drill.

  15. This almost makes me rethink some of my snide and snarky observations about some roleplaying games (as in digital rpgs, not text or tabletop). “Don’t they realize that the world is ending? Why are they selling me these items that would make it easier for me to save them all? Why not sell them cheaper or even give them to me? :P”

    Oh lord, it just inspired a story and I’m still too muddleheaded to think. But I can at least scribble down the initial thoughts.

  16. I went through something similar during the Monument fire last year. I wish you well. I’ve traveld to CO frequently in the last year.