Lesson learned

By Andy Balaskovitz

Confronting our society’s lack of self-sufficiency

It hit me late Thursday night as I was lying on my friend’s couch, about to fall asleep in his Foster Avenue home. I was reading Steven R. Reed’s report in the State Journal about frustrated residents without power.

Lansing Township resident Dave Behnke told Reed that his street felt like a “forgotten zone.”

I was planning to stay in a hotel before my friend graciously offered up his living room. The three nights before, I slept in my parents’ living room in Whitehall. The Saturday and Sunday before that, on another friends’ couch. All of whom had power. Mine came back Sunday night. It was the first time I slept there in over a week.

But I write this with a strong sense of guilt, perhaps even shame. I’m an able-bodied, literate male in my mid-20s, yet I’ve lacked the self-sufficiency (mostly due to laziness) to withstand a week on my own without power, which, in the grand scheme of things, is quite luxurious. I’m not alone.

“Yes, our culture has drifted away from that kind of self-sufficiency,” said Peter Carrington, assistant curator of the W.J. Beal Botanical Garden at Michigan State University. He has taught a wilderness survival course at Lansing Community College since 1977.

If there’s been a lasting memory of the great ice storm of 2013 (or whatever you want to call it), for me, it’s the reflection on how far we’ve drifted as a society away from self-sufficiency.

There are many who are not as fortunate as I, who do not have the means to get around. They deserve all the help they can get in times like this.

While many are criticizing the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s response to the episode, I wonder how much of that frustration is simply borne out of the fact that they don’t have power. In a way, most of us were just as unprepared as BWL is accused of being.

“Once the power’s back on, we commiserate, ‘Wasn’t that terrible?’ We tend to forget that we’re lacking in a certain survival mode there,” Carrington said.

The ability to start a fire in the wintertime, with our bodies susceptible to hypothermia, is “clearly essential,” he said. Modern amenities, like a lighter, can make all the difference.

“It isn’t whether you can devise a way to make a spark, but making that into a fire with a proper tinder bundle. Starting a fire, even though it’s essential, is not something many practice,” he said.

There have been at least four reported carbon monoxide poisonings since Sunday, including the death of a 58-year-old Clinton County man. Another issue, Carrington says, that is often overlooked.

He figures many others will be looking inward after the events of the past week.

“Anybody who was without heat for the last week is definitely looking at some solutions that are a little more local for them,” he said. “Certainly a little bit of hardship inspires people to think about that stuff.”

That includes me.

Quick survival tips for the cold

Being able to start a fire in the cold is “clearly essential,” says wilderness survival expert Peter Carrington. Something as simple as keeping a lighter handy works, but it takes knowledge beyond knowing how to light a spark.

Draw a bathtub of clean water for drinking.

Stockpile candles or invest in interior lighting or flashlights powered by induction coils.

Stockpile foods that provide protein and carbohydrates that don’t need to be heated or cooked