Duck and Cover! It’s an pyroclastic flow!

This evening I was browsing the various RSS feeds to which I subscribe, and came upon this opinion piece expressed by Rosemary McLeod in the Dominion Post a couple of weeks back. I’m not exactly sure what she’s trying to say. (To put it in perspective, this is just an opinion piece in a newspaper and it’s about as irrelevant to anything as the blog post you’re reading right now.)

I’m a great respecter of nature and its many dirty tricks, which is why you won’t find me out in it whistling.

The complete tone of her opinion seems to be that we should be paranoid about what’s about to strike, and never take a step outside. Somewhere in there, she also expresses despair about not having flush toilets in the great outdoors, and the dangers of falling off cliffs into oblivion when following signs for easy graded tourist walks, or something like that. The intended message seems to be that we should all “respect nature” as she does.

We are surrounded by so few people, and so much bush, river, mountain and beach, that it escapes our notice that all of these are potentially lethal. Every summer there’s a catalogue of deaths as a result, since we expect to casually stroll about in it as if it’s our own living room.

I mean, Wow!

This is one of the most down-in-the-doldrums ultimately pessimistic doomsday no-hope-for-the-future we’re-all-gonna-die opinions about the outdoors and nature that I’ve seen expressed in a long time. From the tone of it, we may as well all hide inside 1950s fall-out shelters for the rest of our lives, just in case there’s another large earthquake like the 1855 one that re-defined the Wellington region, or Taupo erupts as it did around 180AD, or a giant tsunami like those which strike the country every few hundred years, albeit not seriously in clearly recorded recent history.

It was much less than this kind of negatively-biased media exposure, combined with a shortage of friends well acquainted with the outdoors, that kept me from really getting outside to explore the back-country for the first 20 years of my life, because apparently it was dangerous according to most of what I saw filtered through the media. (It’s rarely reported in the same channels when people get outdoors and have a great time.) She comments on a recent episode in the Wairarapa where a family woke to find themselves being swept away overnight after camping next to a river that just happened to flood, suggesting they must have had a warped view of the world from the country’s Lord of the Rings publicity. She later seems to express an opinion that “camping” anywhere at any time should be a last resort for the desperate.

Surely this isn’t dealing with nature or respecting nature, as the title of her writing implies. It’s hiding from it.

If the possibility of falling off a cliff is the only thing that prevents someone from getting out to see something amazing, then perhaps that person would benefit from becoming more experienced with walking in such conditions, learning how to better understand cliffs and the surrounding elements so they can be treated with appropriate safety. But this all goes back to the Mountains Without Handrails philosophy (based on ideas argued in a book by Joseph L Sax), largely applicable all over New Zealand, which suggests that people should be made safe for the mountains rather than mountains being made safe for the people.

On the large scale disaster front, preparation and understanding is a key thing, as is having good recovery plans in place both individually and as a society, but there’s only so much one can prepare for. Sooner or later something really seriously major will happen in New Zealand. All that can really be done besides constant preparation and readiness is to accept that some people — hopefully as few as possible — will come out of it worse than when they started, and then deal with it all at the time.

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