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Friday, August 20, 2010

A real emergency

Two friends of ours own, or own shares in, family getaways that they rent out to help with upkeep and land taxes. One of these is on the coast and the other in the mountains. When Beloved gets to go on a (rare) vacation, we often choose to go to one or the other of these for a three-day.

The mountain cabin is a large (to us) one-room A-frame with a loft, set among lodgepole pines in the middle of nowhere. We find the site fascinating, as it rests on about a twenty-feet-deep layer of yellowish-white pumice. A frothy lava honeycombed with trapped air bubbles, pumice is an excellent insulator and so the "soil" stays very cold much of the year, while at the height of summer, the sun's heat is reflected from the surface, creating hot dry conditions for the plant life. Most species aren't up to it; lodgepole and rabbit brush are among the few plants that can establish themselves here, though there is lots of willow along the streams. Indian paintbrush is also fairly common.

The altitude is over four thousand feet, and most of the local people own snowmobiles.

What they don't own is farms and gardens. The cold-hot-cold regime is too rigorous, and the soil fertility is almost nil.

Occasionally one reads about survivalists who buy a place in the area, build a fortified house, and stock it with Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) or bags of oats and the like. Fine; but come TEOTWAWKI, what will these people do when the goodies run out? Go and rob their neighbors, who would be in like desperate case? There are some deer, which they would run out of in a hurry, and then it's gnaw on the nearest pine tree, I suppose ...

The cabin is a nice place to unwind, but Risa would not try to live there. She imagines there are a great many places like this, in which "second homes" have sprung up all over along with small roadside towns with fast-food places and gas pumps, but which would depopulate in a hurry, should there come a real emergency.

A real emergency did, in fact, occur in the area once, about 6800 years ago. The twenty-foot-deep pumice was laid down all at once; perhaps in a single day. Risa mentioned to Beloved the possibility that beneath the cabin and for thousands of square miles, there might be the bones of trapped animals, people, whole villages -- men, women, children and dogs all together.

"That's a cheery thought."

"What? Life is always uncertain. And then, after it happened, other plants, animals and people returned, but with all this pumice it went very slowly, and so things were never the same again."

"Are we headed for another one of your 'peak oil' things?"

"No lecture; just a broad analogy. What would you like for dinner?"

Like the survivalists, we'd packed in our supplies -- in a Saturn sedan.

The next day, we went to see the place all the pumice had come from, a little over fifty miles away.


Everyone should go there at least once. It's pretty amazing.

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