Thursday, October 29, 2015

sawing memories in half

Something in my morning walk transported me to the little mountain town in Oregon where I grew up.

When I was seven or eight, Mike Pinson, my best friend in Powers, and I would jump on our bicycles and pedal down the secondary road that led to the Rogue River.  We were not heading to Agnes.  Our sights were on the more sybaritic pleasure of the old swimming hole.  Affectionately, known as the apple orchard -- a name reflecting its former incarnation.

We regularly ran across reminders that we were in The Woods.  Spawned-out salmon.  Hawks on the hunt.  Snakes and frogs.  Bobcats -- usually nailed to fence posts for bounty.  Even the occasional black bear.

But one sound assured us civilization was at hand.  The whine of chain saws.

That, of course, was was the era when Powers made its living out of the woods.  Literally, out of the woods.  The giant fir that crowded our hillsides.  Before the environmentalist squad took on the job-providers.  (But we will not bother with that discussion.  It is not really pertinent to the theme of today's essay.)

My little morning reverie had its genesis in the same sound.  Chain saws.

Even though Patricia blew through town almost a week ago, the cleanup is running apace.  The army is picking up piles of debris and burning it in central locations.  It almost looks like the Romans burning their military dead in the opening sequence of Cleopatra.

Fortunately, the final stages of debris cleanup is primarily what we are doing in my part of the Mexican coast.  The people a few miles north of us took the full brunt of the storm.

My friend, Ben, who assists Samaritan's Purse, has made several trips to the hardest-hit area.  He says it has been blown flat. 

Entire villages have disappeared.  Some concrete buildings were toppled.  And, even though the death toll was mercifully small, people died.  Others are in desperate need.

That is not generally true in our town.  The computer models showed Patricia making landfall north and west of us.  Almost directly where Jova hit four years ago.

But we were certainly not untouched.  Like all of my neighbors, I had decided to ride out the storm in my house.  The young family, who I have been assisting, did not want to stay in their apartment -- just two blocks from the beach.  So, I invited them to stay with me. 

It was a wise decision.  Sharing experiences is far better than riding through life alone.  And, it turns out, my place is well-designed to withstand storms of the intensity we experienced.

I am glad Ozzie came along with me for my last outing before the storm hit.  The emergency system in Barra de Navidad had warned everyone to stay in their homes.  I could not resist the temptation.

With about an hour to go before zero hour, we drove down to the  beach to see the wave action.  Patricia knew how to stir the pool.  I had never seen our ocean that agitated.

That was the point I turned into a tourist from Saskatchewan visiting the beach for the first time.  I tried to get as close as I could to get a shot of the waves.  While I was shooting, Ozzie warned me I was about to be swept away by a wave.  I regret only that I did not get the shot.

By that point, the police had roped off the sand bar that gives Barra de Navidad its name.  The fear was that the waves would wash across the bar.  As it turned out, the fear was well-founded.  The waves went right through several restaurants.

And they went through the homes on the street in Villa Obregon where I first lived when I moved down in 2009.  Even though we were only touched by the edge of the storm, the damage was real.

Most of that damage came in board feet of trees.  When the winds first died down, Ozzie and I took a quick drive through Barra de Navidad, curious if we could get over to Villa Obregon.

As I predicted, we could not get out of Barra de Navidad.  During Jova, I was trapped on a new island formed by flooding from rain water.  This time, we were spared the deluge.

But we were trapped just as effectively by downed trees in Barra de Navidad.  All over town, huge trees fell.  Primavera.  Parota.  Flamboyan.  Palms.  And the most exotic of all, rows of concrete electrical poles.

The heroes of the storm are the workers of the government-owned electrical company, CFE.  The company stationed an army of trucks and workers here and in Puerto Vallarta.  They had restored power to most local areas by Sunday night.

When the lights came on, people south of Nueva España had telephone and internet.  Those north of the street in my immediate neighborhood were stuck in the 19th century -- as if Alexander Graham Bell and ARPANET had dropped out of history.

As of this afternoon, we are still without land lines and internet.  You all know my libertarian credentials.  I am hardly a class warrior.  But it is hard to escape the conclusion that Nueva
España divides the haves from the haves-less (I am one of the exceptions.)

That type of Marxist thinking also made me wonder why the government-owned electric company was so much more efficient than the private monopoly of Telmex.  Until I realized, there is a free market answer. 

When electrical power is interrupted, CFE's revenue stream is interrupted.  When Telmex's service is interrupted, it continues to get the same revenue.  The reason?  CFE charges for services used.  Telmex charges a flat fee -- whether or not service is provided.

At least, no one was injured at the house with no name.  At least, during the storm.  While cleaning up the courtyard, I forgot I had turned a metal-legged table on its side.  And I ran into it at a full walk.

The pain was familiar.  I had broken a rib in the same place about thirty years ago.  Fortunately, it appears there is no break.  I can raise my right arm without pain.  But I cannot sleep on my right side.  It must be something other than a break.

And, for me, that was the worst of it.  To look at Barra de Navidad and Melaque today, it is hard to believe that a hurricane came through here less than a week ago.

But that is one of the virtues of this country.  People are quick to clean up their property.  And the government (the army, CFE, paid "volunteers") take care of the rest.

Here is what I learned last week.  There are times to run from storms; there are times to stay in place.  This was one of the latter.  But due only to the predictive power of computer models.  Patricia came awfully close to overturning my apple cart.

I also learned I need to buy a generator.  Three days without power is a strain on my house.  Without electricity, I have no water.  And the pool water (for showering and washing up) was getting rather rancid by the third day.  As was the food in the refrigerators.

I would be less than honest if I did not tell you I experienced an adrenalin rush during the storm.  That does not take away from the damage the storm caused.  But I felt the same jolt I feel skydiving or ziplining.

And as for the chain saws, to me it will always be the sign of industriousness.  Even though I will hear them far more here than in Powers.  Some experience are relegated to memories.

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