Who Could Share Your Doomsday Bunker?

1950s fallout shelter from http://www.archives...

After the last three years trying to survive in our ailing economy, I totally get people who build doomsday bunkers, which I understand are now big business. Not because I believe the end of the world looms, but because you never know when the unthinkable might happen: the Republicans and Democrats might work together, software developers might let a year go by without an upgrade or old rockers might retire instead of scaring people on reunion tours.

Two TV shows are devoted to the bunker builders: National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers” and the Discovery Channel’s “Doomsday Bunkers.” And several articles point to the new popularity of preparing for the apocalypse:



Books and magazines tell us how to survive. Even the Colbert Report has added its take on doomsday with a piece on bargain bunkers.

All this reminds me of an exercise we were forced to do in junior high (maybe all students end up with this ethics exercise at some point or another). We had to decide who we would allow into our bunkers during a nuclear war. Our choices included little kids, old people, teachers, artists and housewives among others. The supplies would cover only 10 individuals, who might then be called on to restart the human race.

So I have decided to update my choices for today’s world. I have upped the numbers, because today’s bunkers are not the same as the one-room concrete shelters of my youth.

  1. My family—Hey, it’s my bunker. What’s the point if you can’t save your husband and kids? Actually, I might have to think a minute about the teenager. Why didn’t someone ever warn me that parenting a teenage daughter could be so challenging? Sadly, I guess I’d have to leave the dog out, because it would be hard to play fetch in a bunker.
  2. Dr. Phil—I’ve never actually watched Dr. Phil, but how many of us start fantasizing about remote cabins after only a weekend of family togetherness? I imagine living in a few rooms underground for several months might generate some conflicts. Anyone remember Biosphere 2?
  3. The MythBusters—This is a no-brainer. Why would you not take two guys who can build an outrigger canoe out of duct tape?
  4. James Cameron—Not only could he document the whole bunker experience on film, but he had the toughness to get to the deepest place on earth and enough science to understand it.
  5. Stephen King—The man is our generation’s Charles Dickens. He understands human nature better than any other writer out there, can tell a terrific story, and he’d know what to do when the zombies arrive.
  6. My neighbor Bob from up the street—The guy is eighty, but tough as nails and an ex-mechanic who can fix anything. He can trap, shoot and grow good beans.
  7. Hillary Clinton—I didn’t vote for her, but I have a reluctant admiration for the woman. I figure she could do a kick-ass job negotiating with the other bunkers.
  8. Yo-Yo Ma and Florence of Florence + the Machine—What’s a bunker without entertainment? Yo-Yo Ma is one of the most diverse artists around. I include Florence because I love her music. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Machine will fit, but she’s an adaptable composer.
  9. Bill Gates—We’ll need to wire the bunker. Of course, we might want something more reliable than Windows, but the man has transformed the world.
  10. Tom and Julie Johns—They are the people behind my favorite vegetable seed company, Territorial Seed Company in Cottage Grove, Ore. Their seed catalogue is an entire course on vegetable gardening, and the company constantly experiments and improves its offerings. With their know-how, we’d never go hungry.
  11. My kids’ pediatrician—The woman has never been stumped by a disease or rash in 16 years, and she takes a laid-back approach to treatment and parenting. The fact that she’s beautiful, impeccably dressed, unfailingly nice and able to juggle a career and family without obvious stress is a little intimidating, but no one’s perfect.
  12. David Giuntoli—Don’t tell my husband about this one. Giuntoli is the star of the NBC TV show “Grimm.” What can I say? He’s easy on the eyes, and he might be able to spot any hidden monsters.

So we have a few spots left. Who would you nominate for the bunker?

4/1/12 update–I saw this ad in the Seattle Times on Saturday, March 31. You know a topic has gone mainstream when you see it in Walmart. Now you will never have to run out of butter powder:

Ice Worms, Snow Shoes and New Ground

We all dig ruts for ourselves, routines and activities that shape our days and give us a sense of control over chaos.

Some of us dig deeper grooves than others. We rise at the same time each day, eat the same food for breakfast, drink the same juice and coffee and read the paper in exactly the same way. We walk the dog at the precise time each morning and take the same route to work; and lunch and dinner follow like clock-work, punctuated by the arrival of the kids home from school after the clock hands have spun enough times.

I’m one of those people. Every morning at the bus stop, I throw the ball for the dog. She races after it and always returns on the same path. The grass under her feet is worn brown. I’m like her. Each morning the ball is thrown out, and I carry it back along the routes I know.

I’m at a time in my life where major changes face me. My parents are elderly, my children are teenagers on the brink of finding their own lives. My former career is gone, my new one uncertain. The economy and old political orders and even the weather seem to be shifting to new patterns. So I cling to my routines, clutching the ground with my fingers and toes and hoping for one more day before I’m flung from my rut.

But once in a while, someone or something forces us from our path. Sometimes it’s something big—the loss of a job or income, a health crisis, the death of a loved one. And sometimes it’s something small, like snowshoeing in the woods on a winter day.

My husband signed us up for a ranger-led hike at Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascade mountains last weekend. Secretly, I fretted about going. I’d have to get up early. I’d need to find snow gear. I don’t know how to snowshoe anymore. Even though I grew up in the snow on the Canadian border, I haven’t donned skis or snowshoes in decades. Snowshoeing isn’t routine.

But we went. The rangers handed out snowshoes and led us onto the snow field where the hike would start. I stared around amazed. The snow, where it was cut back along the road, rose higher than my head. Once on top, people occasionally broke through the surface and plunged up to their hips.

We stood on a parking lot, said our guide, and we’d start our hike along a forest road. No trace of it existed. Now only a tamped down, two-foot wide track led through a white meadow. A bathroom sat buried at the end of the lot with only the tip of its roof showing. Snow fell gently. Once we got our snowshoes on our feet, our guide lined us up along the field and told us we were going to race to the outhouse.

He blew a whistle and I lurched forward with everyone else, moving like a giant Arctic waterbug. The lady next to me fell onto her face and floundered helplessly until a ranger plucked her from the snow. I kept going. Another person fell. I strode forward, following a guy with six-foot legs, and exhilaration began to grow. I didn’t beat spider-man, but I kept the feeling and stayed on my feet.

I learned new facts: Pileated woodpeckers cushion their brains from pounding with extra-long muscles and bones that wrap around their skulls and connect to their tongues. And the snow holds micro-organisms that feed a host of tiny life such as springtails and ice-worms. (That information stopped a lot of snow tasting.)

I saw new perspectives: A tiny bush poking from the snow in reality was the top of a 15-foot tree reaching for the sky. Land that would be impassible in summer because of thorny devil’s club and brushy swamp was easily negotiable on a bridge of snow. The world was white instead of green.

I was forced to move in a different way, bringing my feet level along the snow, and digging in my toes on the inclines to keep from slaloming down. I forgot to care if I fell down or looked odd.

And I was reminded of all the world that waits to be explored and the interesting people still unmet. The hike wasn’t long, only ninety minutes through the snow. But it led to new possibilities I never would have considered on my usual path.

So maybe we should all force ourselves to do something new each day or week. Eat a new food or read a romance or a book on pi, take our dogs on a new trail or say hello to someone we don’t know. Read a new blog or try a different video game or listen to country western. Try karate or dodgeball or tennis (I draw the line at Zumba). Learn how to program a computer or play the banjo. Plan a trip out of the country or explore a nearby town.

Sure, we might fall on our faces and flounder until someone helps us up. But we might see something beautiful.

Change comes whether we hide or not. Our ruts may be comfortable.  They may give us a sense of security and a clear path of where to go.  But if they get deep enough they become blinders, obscuring our vision and keeping us from seeing all the possibilities in life.

Let’s see if we can break free.

Failure to Communicate

My mother-in-law just finished an extended visit. This led to some strange discussions.

Her: “We need to cut off all the lazy spongers who don’t want to work.”

Me: “I think a lot of the spongers are working hard and still need help.”

Her: “This woman in my church had her son move back, and he sits home all day and collects food stamps and does nothing.”

Me: “A lot of unemployed people are looking for work and can’t find jobs.”

Her: “If we keep handing them money, they don’t have any incentive to work.”

I kept trying to tell her we’re on food stamps, and I couldn’t do it. I love her, but she listens to Rush Limbaugh every day, reads the Weekly Standard, and would die before voting for a Democrat. I’m sure she’d be horrified to learn that the meals we served came from the taxpayers. So I sat and listened to her read snippets of news about welfare fraud and government debt and said nothing.

To be fair, I can’t tell my parents, either, and they voted for Obama. Part of me figures they should be able to work it out. After all, they know we haven’t had a profit in almost four years. They know we’ve been living off savings, but do they think they’re bottomless? Since they haven’t asked, I’m guessing they don’t want to know.

But it’s odd. Like hosting a barbecue for PETA and not mentioning that chicken is on the menu.

Children have been hiding hard truths from their parents since Eve enticed Adam. They don’t tell them about failing grades or lost jobs or lovers who don’t meet standard. I look at my kids now and wonder what they won’t tell me when they’re older. I hope I remember this time and keep my beliefs expansive enough to hear whatever they might say. I hope my kids will tell me when their marriage is on the rocks, or they discover a suspicious lump, or get fired from a job.

The privilege of worry belongs to parents. We give up peace of mind the moment we first feel our baby stir, and we don’t get it back no matter how old that child becomes. So call your kids and ask what’s on their minds, and talk to your parents and tell them what’s on yours. Listen for what isn’t said. The silence will come soon enough.