I remember distinctly the first time I saw volcanic ash falling.
I was 11, Mount St. Helens had erupted several days before. Until that day the prevailing winds had kept the ash moving east rather than south. I was outside on the upper deck of my home, the sky was partly cloudy, and fluffy gray snow was falling gently.
That fluffy gray snow caused havoc.
Ash isn’t snow. Ash isn’t fluffy. It is made up of hard, caustic materials and when wet can conduct electricity. We had to be careful washing our cars because the ash would scratch the surfaces. Most people didn’t drive unless they had to because of the damage that the ash caused the internal workings of cars and people for that matter.
I can only imagine what it would do to an airplane.
The ash cloud is so thick it looks like land from space (NASA photo). I’ve been tracking it – not even really thinking that this may cause friends of mine travel woes. One is in NYC with a bunch of 15 year olds that need to fly back to Europe. Another is in Italy and supposed to leave Rome for Amsterdam and then Portland on Wednesday. Although planes should be in the air – air traffic won’t be normal for some time.
Not sure I’d want to be in their shoes.
At the same time – I love this!
The thing is we so often think we are in control of our lives and disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes, storms et al are the best reminder that we live in an unpredictable world. The unexpected happens, and happens often, yet we seem to forget that. We think we know what will happen next and spend an awful amount of time, energy and money predicting the future only to discover that it is unpredictable.
We like the illusion of control it gives us.
But it is just that… illusion.
Late Friday morning I posted on Facebook that I was unplugging and heading out on a three day adventure into Walla Walla wine country. I left my laptop behind and just had my phone – voice and text – no internet.
I was going to keep things simple, not get all wrapped up in the trappings of technology, and just go. Granted I printed out maps from Google and information from other websites… but I was not connected. Right?
Oh… so wrong.
- Hopped into the car and there was the GPS system… so much for the maps.
- My companion hadn’t looked at an email from a friend about places to eat and wineries to visit… so checked that out on his iPhone.
- Needed to choose a place to dinner so read reviews on Yelp!
- I had left my PC but he had his Mac – so we had a night in and watched a movie courtesy of iTunes.
- Any time we wanted music we had the Mac or the iPhone…not to mention the satellite radio in the car.
I wasn’t really expecting us to give up technology. It bleeds into our life and infiltrates all parts of it without us noticing. What I wanted to feel was that we were getting away from the general obligations and patterns of our daily lives. We didn’t succeed 100% but we got really close.
As we went from winery to winery we always asked where we should go next – relying on actual word of mouth rather than the virtual kind. It was a delightful mode of decision making that took us from palatial tasting rooms to garages. Yes – some of the best wines we tasted were out of a garage.
But everywhere we went the signs were there – computers, cameras, phones, netbooks.
We are a connected world and I’m not sure that we will ever be able to unplug.
At the same time – we have to learn how to let things go. There were things to check on – business and family – but we didn’t obsess over it. Sometimes the phones went away and we didn’t even think about them – keeping the obsessive checking of email and text messages to a minimum.
The secret – that many of us are still learning – is that these are tools. We run them, they don’t run us.