Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Years from now, when I recount the adventures of the past several weeks to my son, grandchildren and anyone else who will listen,  about how I became caught up in one of the biggest natural disasters in Canadian history, I know I will look back and see how I was prepared.  I will also see the way in which I was successfully prepared and,  since I see myself as a pretty honest guy, see a few things I wish I had done differently in order to prepare.

Shortly after the evacuation, someone asked me on social media if I thought that my northern experience had prepared me for events.  I answered an unreserved "yes".  Living in isolated communities, self-sufficency is definitely an asset.  Not that I'm any great survivalist of anything.  I wouldn't go that far but it really is true that necessity is the mother of all invention.  It's something I've subscribed to for some time.  While I grew up in a small town, I went to university in a major city and so I admit I became a little "citified".  I made money with my brain and essentially say my body as the vessel that carried my brain around.  Hands-on skills were not my forte....but that did change to an extent.  Some things that I take for granted now were things I learned that I honestly had no clue how to do before moving up there.....how to unthaw a frozen sewage pipe (that was fun), how to change a spark plug on a skidoo (honestly I didn't have a clue that these needed to be changed), how to change a drive-belt on a skidoo, how to eat a few foods I might not normally have given a choice simply because I had a choice between eating and not eating, how to dress for cold-weather conditions...in a nutshell, how to be prepared.   So yes, the mindset of being able to step outside of your comfort zone definitely helped.

When I was a teenager, I was involved in both army and sea cadets.  The motto on my cap badge was "paratus", Latin for "prepared", which has since become somewhat of a personal motto for me.  Cadet activities served me well.  During one summer camp when I was perhaps 13, I recall preparing for an overnight trip and being given a small pack to put your gear in for 3 nights outside.....a VERY small pack.  That's all you had.  You had to ensure you had enough clothing for three nights AND make sure it all fit.  I found that by rolling my t-shirts and underwear I was able to make it work.  Since then I've always been able to pack light and find that I just prefer it that way.  

When I was 15 I slept in a lot like most teenagers I suspect.  At cadet camp, THAT little luxury disappeared with 6am wake ups.  I hate being tired in the morning but I grew to dislike a staff cadet banging on my metal bunk with metal spoon even worse and so I forced myself to be the first one up and the first one formed up outside on the parade square for breakfast.  Over time, I challenged myself to be the first one out the door and was disappointed when I wasn't.   Before you think I'm some sort of sadist I can say that by challenging myself in this way I did keep staff cadets and officers off my case which suited me just fine at the time.  Inadvertently, I trained myself to be ready to head out on short notice, which is essentially what I had to do during the evacuation.

When I was about 11 or 12 the house next door to the house I grew up in, an old wooden structure, burned to the ground.  Awakened at god knows what hour, I have recollections of sitting at the kitchen table with my sisters, prepared to leave at any moment should our house catch fire.  While we had a solid century-old brick home, I knew that while the brick exterior would survive, it wouldn't take much for the insulation and old wood in the attic to ignite.  Three things happened that night.....I can't remember being so scared in my young life and I thought very hard about what was important to me, that stuff was just stuff.  I ALSO have though this many MANY times during that night....if I had to leave my home right now, what escape route would I take and what would I take with me?  

These were pretty much the same questions I grappled with on the afternoon of May 3.  I already knew I would go out the front door since the fire was nowhere near my house (or even my neighbourhood).  The only question I had to answer was what to take.  Fortunately I had some time.  I didn't need to leave in a blind hurry, though at the time I didn't know exactly how much time I had.  All I had to fit my clothes in was a small travel bag and the backpack I take to work.   I already had my wallet and house keys on me as I had just returned from work earlier in the afternoon.  I grabbed my passport out of my dresser and enough clothing to last me about a week if I stretched it.  I then grabbed Drifter and her kennel along with a partial bag of food and a small plastic sealable container. Before leaving I made sure all the windows and doors were closed and left some water behind in a sealed container.  I also filled the bathroom sink with some water as well.  

I count myself very fortunate that I got back to my home in time so that I was able to do these things.  Oddly enough, I had debated whether or not to even go in to work that morning.  Not because I had any insider knowledge on the imminent immolation of my community but because it was the last day of my shift and the warm weather we had had over the course of the weekend that had just passed had taken a lot of the proverbial wind out of my sails.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had jumped out of the cab home a few blocks away from my street and cut through a short trail and a few parking lots to get home in case a mandatory evacuation notice was issued for my area of town (which of course eventually happened).  At the time, I was functioning very much on the fly, making decisions and processing information very quickly.  I know I was prepared to hop backyard fences and cut through yards in order to make it home.

About a dozen years ago, I was working in a small community in northern Saskatchewan when the school I was in caught fire due to a faulty boiler.  Getting myself out along with my young charges was stressful to say the least, particularly when I realized that one of them was unaccounted for.  Re-entering a burning building was always something I was taught was strictly forbidden but under the circumstances I did what I felt I had to do.  In any event, the entire school population emerged unscathed.

A few things I did forget to do, namely I completely forgot to grab my home insurance and mortgage papers off the shelf in my closet.  In my defence I at least know where they are but at the time I didn't realize I would be gone for more than a few days at the most as the fire spiralled completely out of control.  I also really REALLY wish I had gotten rid of the meat and potatoes on the kitchen stove.  I'm sure I will be reminded of THAT little oversight the moment I walk through my front door.

In the end though, I'm safe and have a door to return to and open. I am grateful for the experiences I have had that have helped me be as prepared as one could expect to be.

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