At 5:30 this morning, I snuggled in my warm, comforter-piled bed waiting for the power to come back on. When I got up, thanks to my trusty thermos, filled last night, I had the luxury of a (fairly) hot cup of tea. Thanks to my handy-dandy floating inflatable solar powered lanterns, I was able to look through nursery catalogs while I sipped, cruising for plants I’d love to get to know better. In my modest garden, the only plant I’m concerned about is the (possibly/probably) hardy Frost Proof gardenia. It wasn’t planted until my new bed was built in late July so I’ve been covering it whenever night temperatures dip. Released from its snowy burden and cover cloth, the bouncy little shrub looks fresh and comfortable today despite the below-freezing night. It went into winter covered in buds and I’ve been worried that seasonal confusion could lead it to an early death but so far, those creamy buds are still tightly furled and the foliage looks just lovely. Whew, so far, anyway.
Later, I walked around the neighborhood, shaking snow off bushes and small trees before that dreaded ice layer could glom on too tightly to remove easily. My neighbor’s rhododendron was covered with a giant patchwork of quilts and blankets, now sagging under the snow. We hauled it off and shook it out but left the plant uncovered, since the rather wet snow might turn to drizzle as the temperature hovers around freezing. Wet jackets don’t protect plants well, especially if they freeze. They don’t protect people either, even this well-to-do bubble includes people who have no dry, warm safe place to go. Our Senior Center stayed open as a warming shelter last night, but nobody came. I personally know half a dozen people who are sleeping in their vehicles, and have met more who don’t even have that much of a home base. Where were they sleeping last night?
For a while, I was wondering if my daughter and I might be joining the warming center throng-that-wasn’t. This is our first winter in our renovated vintage mobile home and I’ve been very aware that, despite lots of fresh insulation under our new roof and underneath the house, the walls are basically plywood and aluminum cladding. As local weather reports veered and swooped, it was pretty clear that no matter which storm front hit first, it was going to be cold. With high winds predicted, power could go out at any time and stay out for quite a while. Power outages are far less frequent now, but when we first got to the island, power could and would go out randomly all through the year. Back then, everyone had a wood stove and kept a supply of water and canned goods on hand and we soon saw the practical wisdom of that.
Generally speaking, I tend to be over-prepared when possible, but I’m realizing that living in tight quarters makes that harder. There’s no room for a wood stove in our house, and precious little space to store food and other supplies. I’ve got big tubs of emergency stuff on our covered porch, but realistically, they only hold enough for two people for a few weeks at most. On the first Saturday in January, water started gushing out of the private road in the middle of our community. Not surprisingly, getting a plumber isn’t easy on weekends so we had to scramble to get the water turned off for a couple of days. As it turned out, almost nobody had stockpiled water. I used up my stash carrying gallons to each affected household, and you can bet I restocked right quick. But I’ve been thinking about that ever since; what happens if something bigger than a road leak happens? (Take your pick; tsunami, flood, earthquake, bomb dropped on the naval sub base…)
What Happens Happens
When I was a kid, I remember a schoolmate saying on the playground that his dad had a gun and if any of us tried to get into their bomb shelter, his dad would shoot us. I remember huddling under our little desks or being sent to walk home when we had a bomb drill and feeling utterly exposed. I know that our local Prepared team has taken human behavior into account and that our local stockpiles of food, water and supplies will be guarded in the event of an emergency. However, that water incident made me think: Am I truly the only householder out of fifty who has made some provision for disaster? I can’t imaging guarding my own rather random stockpiles, telling needy neighbors that they can’t share our food or water. I also can’t imagine affording or finding space for enough supplies for everyone; a single meal for 75 people could wipe out my entire stash. The hypothetical just got a little more real.
In this community, a handful of us grow some of our own food, and if everyone who could, did, that could make at least a little difference. I’ve been concerned about food security for decades and even in this tiny garden space, we’ve still got some potatoes, garlic, and lots of kale to harvest. An amazing number of local weeds and native plants are edible to some degree. Though some, like elderberries, need cooking and others taste better for it, many wild greens are packed with Vitamin C and other phytonutrients… When I returned to those nursery catalogs over a bowl of bean soup just now, I noticed that between breakfast and lunch, my choices had shifted from pretties to practical. Beans and potatoes are both good bets in terms of nutritional density, and both can be productive in small spaces. Raspberries and blueberries of course, along with my espaliered apple tree. More kale, always. And that gardenia? It stays, for gorgeous flowers that smell like joy. Because we also need beauty, whatever happens.