Come Mayhem, How Will We Fare?

Photo by Beau Gaughran

I’m a reasonable person. Like a lot of people, I’m politically centric and middle class. I have no outstanding warrants and next to no savings. I roll through stop signs and I volunteer. I’m imperfect and reasonably happy.

Like lots of folks, too, I get to pondering on today’s social (dis)order and unease.

Specifically, as a journalist, I get angst-y about my vocation. Aside from ongoing cutbacks and layoffs by our employers, we journalists have taken physical and metaphorical beatings of late. It’s troubling.

When people degrade or dismiss the watchdogs and chroniclers, when they become less aware of their community functions and machinations, more unease and disorder will follow. Sometimes, when I’ve had too much coffee or get to talking with my friend, Paul, I imagine what it’d be like if our current society got much, much more uneasy and disorderly.

Mayhem in the streets! Bank closures! Food shortages!

As well as Mini-Mayhems:

Will my cell phone work? How will I contact friends? Will I have access to the gym and still be able to maintain a vegan diet? Who will make my deliveries and will Uber still work?

Then I remember who I am and where I live. Overall, I’m calm, even a little pleased with my pandemonial prospects. Let’s talk about simple survival:

  • I’ve put up enough wood to heat my house through winter and beyond.
  • When the cistern (a water storage tank and common feature of many rural properties) runs dry, I can boil snow or travel a few miles to a spring to get water.
  • If food gets short, I can hunt and fish (I’m an opportunist, not a vegan. I own firearms and, I suppose if things got really ugly, The Road ugly, or The Dog Stars ugly, I could use them to defend myself.)
  • I can drive a truck and haul a trailer.
  • If gas runs out, I can ride my horses.
  • If hay runs out, I can turn them loose.
  • I can sew, knit, camp, use a chain saw, change a tire, change the oil, swing a hammer, fix things, and build fence.

That isn’t boasting. Many friends have better skills, strength, and savvy. In my tiny town of 1,400, I’m familiar and friendly with a few hundred. Given my network, I could barter services with scores of talented acquaintances.

When considering mayhem and mini-mayhem, though, one must think beyond survival. Let’s talk about state of mind:

Will we freak out at the loss of technology and Internet?

Will we struggle when there’s no point in looking at our phones?

Last week, after the sun was up, I got horseback and rode south. I took the dogs and traveled down the snowy canyon until it opened up. Up on a bench (a topographical feature, not a piece of furniture. This is a snippy parenthetical remark, perhaps, but nature-related words are increasingly omitted from new dictionaries and I rue the day when ‘weed’ no longer refers, even secondarily, to thistle and mullein.), we paused to catch our breaths. It was intensely quiet. I could see a radio tower some six miles away and a plane overhead. The closest human was not close.

You know that feeling you get when your extremities are really, really cold and then they start to warm up? For a moment, it feels painful and kind of nauseating, but then fingers and toes become campfire warm. Ow! Then Ohh! Then Ahhhh!

In that moment on the bench, that’s what I felt. Big country can be overwhelming like that. It can be scary, even sickening, to consider one’s vulnerability and insignificance. Once acclimated through practice, though, it’s invigorating to move in the wilderness. The quietness – of place and of state of mind – is lovely and warm. Ow! Then Ohh! Then Ahhhh!

I’m reasonably comfortable in the backcountry and wish more people could unleash themselves to get energized and inspired by:

  • Being alone and offline
  • Using skills, strength, and McGyverism to get through jams
  • Spending time in an animate, non-human world

When I started writing this piece, I found myself swerving into today’s usual divisive potholes:

  • Rural living is the best
  • City slickers are clueless
  • Smart phones are destroying society
  • Everyone is looking in when they should be looking up and out
  • Etc., etc.

My son, Aidan, reminded me that today’s world is more nuanced. People are complicated and their challenges are multi-fold.

And yet, imagine the next time we get inconvenienced by disconnect or find ourselves outside and phone-less. What a gift. Ow! Then Ohh! Then Ahhhh!

Come what may, we might all be reasonably fine.

Maddy Butcher. Photo by Zach Rhoades


Posted in Essay, Exploring Colorado.

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