Possibilities

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Theryn “Beaver” Fleming

After every disaster or tragic event, news reports inevitably include a sound bite of someone saying something to the effect of: “I didn’t think it could happen here.”

Until recently, this cliché of a reaction would get me riled up and I’d start hurling insults in my TV’s direction (no, I do not throw things at it). Why not? Why couldn’t it happen in your town? Why couldn’t it happen to you? What makes you so bloody special?

Because I always think: it could happen here. It could happen to me.

This attitude isn’t because of personal experience. I haven’t had a particularly tragic life up to now. But see? I feel obliged to add “up to now”. Because things could change. One never knows.

I’m not a pessimist; I don’t go through life thinking that bad things are inevitably going to happen, just that the possibility exists. They could happen. Of course, something good could happen too. But one doesn’t have to prepare for the possiblity of something good happening. Insurance isn’t for the day you win the lottery, it’s for the day your house burns down.

You may have heard we’re having a bad fire season here in BC. We haven’t had appreciable rain in months. In early August, the Premier declared a state of emergency for the province. It’s still in effect.

My husband and I are currently living in two places because law school doesn’t pick up and move where you are, you have to go to it. And also, there’s this small matter of tuition. So he’s working in the interior, and I’m going to school in Vancouver.

On the first weekend in August, a long weekend here in BC, he’d come down to visit. Friday afternoon, as emergency program coordinator of Chase, the town he works for, he started getting calls about nearby forest fires. After watching the news, and considering the pros and cons, we ended up making a midnight run back to his place to sort through our possessions and pull out irreplaceable items. We spent the night, loaded up the truck, grabbed the cat, and drove back down to the coast and enjoyed the rest of the weekend.

I’m sure some would laugh at my over-cautiousness. After all, those fires were some distance away—they weren’t an immediate threat to us. But two weeks later, lightning started more fires and this time it wasn’t a case of “it could happen”—it was happening.

Saturday the 16th, we’d met up in Kelowna, where he was going in a triathlon the next morning. But it wasn’t very long before calls started coming in about a fire that had started Friday night near Chase. The situation was deteriorating so quickly that we decided I should drive up that night in case kitty needed to be evacuated. As I approached my destination, it was dark and there was way too much traffic going in the opposite direction. A vehicle with lights and sirens on raced past me. I drove around the bend on the highway that comes just before the turn off, and there it was, this enormous wall of red.

From his driveway, I could see the fire all along the top of the ridge, all the way to the horizon in both directions. His neighborhood was dead quiet, and I wondered if I was even supposed to be there. I turned on the scanner and listened as I started pulling out stuff we’d missed the first time. I didn’t sleep until 5 am when I heard the police say the wind had shifted and they were sending home some people who’d been up all night.

In the morning, the house and surrounding area were filled with smoke. The top of the ridge smoldered. As I waited for him to arrive, I kept looking around and thinking this could be it. Goodbye first Ikea couch! Goodbye old textbooks! Goodbye plants! Okay, so it’s not like we have many particularly amazing possessions. And we do have insurance (Of course we do, come on.) But still. It was surreal.

When he got back, he packed up some things to take with him to work, where he’d spend the next week. I packed up the car and the cat and drove back to the coast. Midway through the week, the fire blew up and his neighborhood faced an emergency evacuation. And then the wind turned, the fire started moving in the other direction, and eventually the evacuation order was lifted, although they remained on alert.

Other people were not so fortunate. Last weekend 258 houses in Kelowna were burned in a fire that started the night of the 16th, the same night I drove up the valley and spent the night deciding what we could leave behind.

Many of those people were evacuated without first being on alert when the winds kicked up and sent the fire racing toward suburbia. And yet, when that happened, the fire had been burning for six days. It was right there. Everyone could see it. They were watching it nightly like it was a fireworks show. They simply didn’t believe that this huge forest fire would move from the park into a populated area. Because that never happens!

Um, yeah, right.

But listening to these people interview, a funny thing happened. I started to believe them. It wasn’t just denial. And it wasn’t simply a sense of entitlement. They really didn’t think it was going to happen to them. If they had, they would have prepared before the fire department came racing into their neighborhood telling them to get out. now. They would have taken things with them that they didn’t.

I started wondering what it must be like to go through life like that. I suppose you don’t even think “it can’t happen to me”, you just don’t think about worst case scenarios at all. Would that be better or worse? I suppose it’s better most of the time, and worse when something bad actually happens. Imagine the shock.

I think that must be what the difference is. Imagination. Me, I always have “what if” scenarios playing in my head. Always seeing six ways a situation could go, and most of them not good—because what’s a story without conflict?

I guess it might be nice to go through life never expecting anything but a happy ending. But I don’t know. I think I rather prefer my life of angst to one that’s just plain “nice”. It’s so much more interesting. Even if it does mean more than my quota of sleepless nights.

pencil

Beaver starts her second year of law school tomorrow.

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