Post-Apocalyptic Lifestyles of the Timid and Bookish

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Columbia River

Columbia River

There’s been a heat wave burning through the Pacific Northwest, so naturally my pale Irish American thoughts have turned to the dystopian future that is probably awaiting all of us. I’ve barely left the house for five days—let’s be honest: I’ve barely had clothes on for five days—I’ve been reading the world-is-mostly-over-because-of-flu novel Station Eleven, Z and I finished binge watching The Walking Dead, and we went with Hudge to see Mad Max, a movie so aesthetically assaulting that I kept my eyes closed for the bulk of it. So it’s hard to see the weeks’ long streak of 90 degree heat as anything other than a harbinger of bad things to come.

In other words, this is my annual post about how much I hate summer.

Robert Frost may enjoy debating whether the world will end with fire or ice in his famous poem, but I have no doubt that ice will not be the method. It’s going to be one really big, hot sun and not enough fossil fuels to run the last remaining air conditioner on the planet. This might explain why I buy three bags of ice every three days from the drugstore on the corner and then crunch it obsessively all day long, much to Z’s chagrin.

Aside from the heat, one of my fears for my future post-apocalyptic lifestyle is that I was always one of the first people knocked out in elementary school when we played Dodge Ball. I wasn’t particularly quick or athletic, which was a contributing factor, but often I’d stand there making myself an easy target in order to get it over with. I hated waiting for the worst. In high school when my friends and I would play Ditch ‘em in one of the farmyards, I was always perfectly happy to get caught early and spend the rest of the game sitting on a hay bale at home base waiting for everyone else to get corralled. It was preferable to the heart-pounding rush of hiding under a pine tree and hoping no one could hear my anxiety driven loud breathing. Despite having a competitive spirit in the board game arena, I have very little in the physical world. In terms of fight or flight, I’m almost 100% flight unless someone mistreats or underappreciates Z, and then I want to cut them.

So when I watch something like The Walking Dead, I want to be Michonne, the sword-wielding badass who doesn’t need a gun to take out a herd of zombies. You never see anything akin to terror or dread on her face. She’s fueled by rage and some innate desire to survive, and she is always calm and rarely breaks a sweat. However, I know should I find myself jettisoned into a zombie-apocalypse situation– even with years of training–I almost certainly would not be Michonne or her male counterpart, Daryl the bow-hunting-survivalist-tracker of few words. Instead, I would be the sniveling character who a) must be protected b) inevitably ends up a zombie feast when the source of my protection has “gone out for supplies.”

Last week Z and I drove down to our favorite beach hideaway on the Oregon Coast. It’s a little cottage that hangs on a hill overlooking an outcropping of rocks and endless surf. We always pack our swimsuits and then discover that only small children, people in wet suits, and the mildly insane can brave the temperatures. This year the Pacific was particularly cold and I couldn’t even stand to wade for very long. While folks back in Seattle were trying to find the one restaurant in town that has air conditioning, Z and I were huddled under our beach towels trying to stay warm. We were committed to the beach experience, even if it meant sweatshirts with hoods up. I was particularly pleased with my heartiness the day I did brave the water for a quick “paddle” as Z calls it, and then he looked down and noted that my fingernails had turned blue. (I’ve never been so cold I had blue fingernails before—what an accomplishment.) We didn’t really care though. The colder it is there, the more the beach belongs to us and it’s just the escape from the city that I wanted and Z earned after his long hard slog towards his much deserved tenure.

When we first discovered this outpost back when we were dating and I was living in a cornfield, I longed for civilization and every night we’d drive into the nearest town for dinner or a trip to a big box store to buy unnecessary plastic objects so I’d feel connected to humanity. On this trip, however, I had no desire to leave our little cottage and drive somewhere with traffic lights—a sure sign I’ve been too long living in our part of downtown-adjacent and way-too-populous Seattle.

On the trip to our beach haven, we stopped in Astoria, Oregon, the place where Lewis & Clark spent the winter when they were busy “discovering” this part of the world. Now, it’s a town of almost 10,000 residents where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Then, it was, well, nothing but a vision for westward expansion and commerce. Their trip fascinates me for many reasons. I’m in awe that anyone would look at a wall of wilderness, harsh weather conditions and potentially dangerous situations, and think, hey, let’s see what’s out there. Lewis and Clark probably never had a Dodge Ball strategy that involved letting themselves get thwacked with a ball in the first 30 seconds so the horror would be over more quickly.

I am not a camper or an adventurer. I enjoy the trappings of civilization, even as I am critical of it and all the ways it has really messed up the world. As much as I would love not living in an urban apartment building outside of which a fellow tenant sometimes shouts about the pyramids and unfair rent increases at 2 a.m., I also can’t get excited about a back-to-nature lifestyle that doesn’t involve stacks of books and time to read them and electronic devices and places in which to plug them. I’ve heard when you are conquering new frontiers, there aren’t libraries or a lot of down time, and so other than a little travel, I should be content where I am, five blocks from one of the country’s best independent bookstores, two blocks from a modern marvel of a public library, and surrounded by Starbucks full of people reading real and virtual books. Not to mention the heavy duty extension cord that I cleverly put under our sofa so Z and I have easy access to free plus to charge our devices.

This is a war that constantly wages inside of me: this desire for tranquility, space and a view of the gorgeous sunsets like those outside my parents’ country home versus my love of culture and convenience.

Ultimately, these are my fears about a post-apocalyptic life: I don’t want to have to spend time figuring out how to stay fed and sheltered and cool when I could have my nose buried in a book or a screen showing some excellent television programming. I don’t want to have to work out “reading shifts” wherein someone keeps me safe from zombies or marauders while I read the latest Marian Keyes novel or daydream in front of a vista. It sounds like no kind of life.

Fortunately, I’m well-practiced in how to get out of a game of Dodge Ball.

Oregon Coast

Oregon Coast

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