“Tell me,/which stars were my ancestors looking at?/…Am I navigating correctly?” from “Identity Politics” by Taya Tibble

On an Oregon trail… (photo by Eric Levine)

Upon reading these words in this morning’s Knopf poetry email, I flash to that moment hiking in the woods yesterday when I wondered how I could possibly find my way using the way moss grows on trees for my compass. I recall that I’ve read this is many books—north faces invite moss, but here moss blankets tree trunks entirely. Because, on this gold and green afternoon in the woods, trees towering overhead allowing only peeks of sky, I am thinking of survival.

Early this morning my book club members and I met on a patio facing the Pacific to discuss Bonnie Henderson’s The Next Tsunami Living on a Restless Coast. Among the selections we chose for this year, I knew that this one would be difficult, as the fact that I delayed picking it up until a week before our scheduled meeting attests.

I recall reading Kathryn Schultz’s devastating article in the New Yorker, “The Really Big One: An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when,” during a trip to the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2015. While it didn’t keep me from moving here after I retired as I’d dreamed, it did haunt my dreams after I’d read it.

Yet we were here, discussing the reality, our tenuous one, on the Oregon Coast, the Pacific watching us implacably, sparkling and secretive. The woman who had proposed this book is a scientist, a geologist, engaged and riveting as she gives us her take. Her stance provides distance and invites awe at all that we don’t yet know about our oceans. “We know more about outer space,” she marvels, “but it’s all so exciting, what’s being done—and ignored, if I’m honest—being learned.”

After we disperse, heading back to our lives enriched by food for thought, I lag behind to chat with a friend from my childhood. She, too, is a scientist at heart, enthralled by the stories our Pacific Northwest holds, but works as an artist. Right now she walks widely, collecting natural pigments to create paints, making her mark with the tools time has deposited, what ancestors have left behind.

It is she who has led me to this trail, I who wanted to know what she would do, where she would go in the wake of the “Big One.” Both of us solemnly concede our unlikely survival. I would head inland to Corvallis where my son and his wife live. This trail would be a start, but it stops, leads to dense forest. Then what?

I will buy good boots, have water purification straws and tablets, packable food, layers for the weather, but… I return to the moss, and the uncertainty of it all: life.

9 thoughts on “Survival”

  1. Many of us have read books and articles about pending catastrophes. We have seen doomsday movies. Yet, we still choose to live our lives in theses potentially risky areas. Why? I think the answer is simple. We love it there. The beauty. The sense of peace. The calmness that washes over us. People are resilient and can usually bounce back from whatever is thrown our way. Why not live where we enjoy and deal with whatever comes our way.

    1. Yes, and I do feel home here. Still… (When our leader-reader laughed at the go-bag idea, something many of us cling to, it was a bit disconcerting, I admit.)

  2. With our attention focused on the chaos we humans create for ourselves, the chaos of nature is often forgotten by the general public–until it sends us a reminder. Solemn ponderings in your post today…thanks for letting us think alongside you.

    1. Yes, because the uncertain—so many variables—is truly what we all navigate in our own ways all the time. Thanks for reading.

  3. Your writing winds its way through so many ideas and thoughts to ponder. I love how you take us on your journey of reflection even as you take your own literal walk through the woods. Beautifully crafted and haunting at the same time!

  4. Trish, you bring to mind all that I love about nature and reading and trailblazing new paths! I read Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods and it remains a favorite. It led me to Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, where I understood fully her taking up life on the trail. I read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Tom Ryan’s Following Atticus and Will’s Red Coat. All of these are nonfiction books – – my heart is in the science and nature section (and travel/adventure along the way) of the bookstores. It sounds like we are kindred spirits with our love of the outdoors. I’m going to have to read the New Yorker article you linked for us. Thank you!

  5. A few years ago at an HOA meeting we discussed some building upgrades before “the big one ” happens. One owner commented that, even if we made improvements, the infrastructure of water, sewage and electricity would be so damaged we still couldn’t live in our homes. I have an emergency kit packed, but hope I never have ti use it.

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