By chance, I flew out just hours ahead of the predicted snow, hoping to meet better weather in Ohio where I was visiting my folks for a week. I live in a rural, wilderness-like setting on a hill abutting state trust land below, and love it there. Just yesterday morning a bobcat sat on my deck giving herself a bath then wandered on her way. Such things are a blessing to me. Nature—miles of it—is right outside my door. The fact that I must drive unmaintained dirt roads to my place, and absence of services like mail delivery and trash pick-up, have been of little consequence to me. I figure these factors will keep most people from inhabiting this area, and I can maintain my solitude. My neighbor Barry, who lives about a mile away, would stop in to feed my cat while I was gone. He was dependable and I wasn’t worried. That was Monday.
By Wednesday, there were news updates that a colossal snowstorm was imminent back in northern Arizona. I texted Barry and asked him to leave a full bowl of dry food that day for my cat in case he couldn’t make it over the next day. Over the ensuing days, he sent texts with updates as to the situation at home. We had a few feet of snow with drifts up to a foot higher and periodic white-outs. He couldn’t locate my driveway due to the depth of snow and was trekking in from the old ranch road that ran through the state trust land. I later learned that for a day or two the road from his place was also unpassable and—bless his heart—he slogged through snow up to his knees to feed my ungrateful cat who never shows her face to him.
Now, if you live in places like Wisconsin, New York or Canada, this is probably nothing. But we don’t get this kind of weather here and aren’t prepared for it. I didn’t even own a snow shovel. Normally, if there is snowfall at my home, it melts in a couple of hours and the sun is out again. Not so this time. Then came the text from Barry that I had no water. Now I was worried.
Nothing changed over the days until I headed home except Barry said he’d made a trail from his repeated footsteps up the hill so I’d be able to walk in more easily, about a quarter mile. Again, that doesn’t sound like much, and minus the snow wouldn’t have exhausted me ferrying necessities up the slippery slope from where I’d had to leave my vehicle.
The storm was moving eastward across the US. Again luckily, I got out of Ohio early morning before high winds hit but was rerouted because of the storm elsewhere. Before I ventured homeward in the car the next morning, I remembered to buy gallons of drinking water. Over the next several days, I learned just how much snow it took to make a minimal amount of melted water for domestic use and how much of my time had to be devoted to basic living needs. At least I still had heat. I still could not drive my 4WD vehicle up my driveway.
In the midst of scooping snow into containers, I began to think of my Q’ero friends living in their high-altitude villages in the Peruvian Andes in stone huts with dirt floors. No electricity or running water and minimal heat. What was a temporary, minor inconvenience for me is a way of life for them, a hard one.
Just a few days prior to my trip to Ohio, I received a message from Santos Machacca, my Q’ero friend and liaison for the work I do there. He was up in the village of Ccochamocco and told me of the cold torrential rains they were having. At 14,500’ altitude the nights get quite cold even in their springtime. Santos said a lot of baby alpaca were dying. This news reinforced to me the importance of our project providing shelters for alpaca and sheep, not something the norm for them. The Q’ero people are subsistence farmers living on inhospitable land and climate. Loss of any livestock threatens their wellbeing and traditions.
Just as my snow days were starting to draw to an end, I heard from Gi Thomas, one of the board members for Kenosis Spirit Keepers. They were being hit with the monster snowstorm moving across the country. Gi and her partner Katrina Marshall live on a farm in Oregon and had newborn lambs. She wrote, “I’m working hard at just keeping the sheep warm, fed, snow shoveled, water tubs full, etc. All this snow reminds me of what Q’eros must be like during those big snow storms of late. Helps me keep things in perspective.”
But lack of snow can bring about hardship, too. I’ve just returned from my program on Hopi. This year they’ve had the same plentiful moisture we have so far. It wasn’t so last winter. We’d received almost no snowfall and very light monsoon in 2017. I saw the effect because the free-range cattle that sometimes come around my place had eaten a four-foot spread of prickly pear cactus down to nothing. They must have insides of iron. Prickly pear have long, menacing thorns.
During the several days we were on Hopi, comments came from different directions lamenting the drought conditions of the previous year. Traditional Hopis use dry farming, depending on moisture from the sky—not irrigation—to grow their corn, beans, melon and squash. Last year they were not able to produce the needed corn for their ceremonies, or food from their fields.
These days they have access to grocery stores, so are not solely dependent on what they can grow. But it caused me to ask the question, “What did your ancestors do?” The answer came, “They stored food from year to year.” But what if there are years of drought?
The snow finally cleared to the point a plumber could make it up my driveway a week after I returned home. He checked the usual (scary, expensive) suspects causing lack of water, and they didn’t apply. Thankfully. He finally tracked down the issue, an outside electrical outlet that needed to be reset—strangely connected to my well. A push of the button and water began to flow again. He was there about fifteen minutes minus the friendly conversation. I was glad to pay the rather large bill for my needs to be taken care of so easily.
I’m a privileged Westerner living in the area I do by choice, in a home built to my specifications with modern conveniences. Any inconveniences are ones I choose or merely temporary. Most of us—those likely reading this article—are given to taking precious things for granted. Running water, electricity, access to food, readily available transportation, wellbeing. Freedom to live where we choose. These are some of the insidious underpinnings of privilege. There are plenty more. We expect to have them even as others do not. By an accident of birth, we are not where they are.
I cannot brush that recognition away. I cannot turn a blind eye. I cannot do nothing. I bless that storm for reminding me.