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Mom Nature Wins Again

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Summers in my little bit of the world tend to be hot; lots of 90- and 100F days. But it's high desert, so the nights are cool, down in the 50s and even 40s. I live in a nice green river valley, not the desert part, and the transition from valley to desert-y hills is abrupt. You can literally move from one to the other in a single step. I lived in big cities most of my life, a country girl trapped in the city because that's where the jobs were. But now, thanks to high tech and the Internet I can work anywhere.

As powerful as all this cool technology is, it's also fragile, as I learned yet again today. A storm blew in and it was a doozy- high winds, machine-gun rain, lightning, and thunder that felt like it was RIGHT HERE. What can the mighty Linux and FOSS machine do in the face of Mother Nature pitching a little fit? Not a darned thing. They're not even relevant.

I think about things like this a lot, because even though our modern world is technologically advanced and digitized and microchipped and pushbuttoned and networked until we're just one big ghastly family, I'm not that far removed from the horse-and-buggy days.

My mother's great-uncle was the first of the family to immigrate from Italy. He homesteaded a farm, then sent for other family members as he could afford it. When he decided it was time to marry, he mail-ordered a bride, who was delivered by wagon. My grandmother did not meet her father until she was five years old. One of my great-great aunts was famous for her ability to break an apple with her bare hands. One twist, and she had two even halves all ready to eat. It was a great way to psyche out misbehaving children- "When you can do this, then you can talk to me that way."

You can't beat farm life for developing a wide range of skills- the work has to be done, and there's no one else to do it. There are tales of driving teams to work in logging camps, and during wet weather rowing the last mile or two. There are stories of hand-milking and hand-butchering, and working acres with horses and oxen. When they could afford machinery they had to be their own mechanics. My mom's cousin worked on his parent's dairy farm for decades, and his favorite job was turning the separator. This meant turning a crank, by hand, for 3-4 hours every day. Supposedly he enjoyed it; maybe it was a meditative sort of experience.

The greatest coding or sysadminning skills in the world don't do much good for those kinds of jobs. When a piece of farm machinery breaks, you can weld or bolt or hammer it back together. When the roof blows off you can put it back together. When an electronic component fails, usually your only option is to replace it- you can't stick it together with wire and finish what you were doing.

Fast-forward to today's storm. It lasted maybe ten minutes, but it was a furious ten minutes. I lost some tiles off the roof, and two of my big trees got creamed- branches everywhere except on the trees. I had a pickup canopy sitting on a stand, and it got blown several feet away and turned upside-down. The power went bye. What's a self-respecting geek to do? Exactly what her grandmother would have done- light the oil lamps and stoke the wood stove. Put a pot of soup on the stove, read a good book by lamplight, and relax. This weekend I'll round up neighbors with chainsaws and take care of the trees. While I'm stacking the wood I'll be thinking about the amazing changes that have happened in the short interval between my mother's great-uncle's time and now, and how some things don't need to change.

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