I have experienced four natural disasters (two floods, a mini-tornado/microburst and wildfires) in less than three years. All four were dangerous and required quickly moving horses out of harm’s way. Three happened in the middle of the night. Each was a freak event that “never should have happened,” according to local experts.
As I sat at my computer today, I planned to write a thoughtful post on how to deal with horse evacuations from sudden crisis situations. As I dutifully typed up the disaster “dos” and “don’ts” that I had personally learned, something nagged at me. Wasn’t the post getting too long? And didn’t I have something more original to say than “be sure to have extra flashlights in your barn at all times?”
After all, it is an impressive roster of melodrama that I have encountered. I’ve led frightened horses away from rising floodwaters, raging wildfires and shrieking winds. Often in the pitch dark and once through a boggy pasture full of cows and a large (but thankfully benign) bull. The aftermath of extreme property damage, temporary displacement (ranging from a few hours to several months), and ongoing logistical chaos was also challenging to deal with (though not nearly as dangerous).
But the most important things I learned have nothing to do with batteries, weather apps or evacuation strategies. Instead what stays with me are more essential lessons on principles rather than on tactical techniques.
- Natural disasters are impersonal. They aren’t omens or special missives from the sky gods sent just to you. There is no deep spiritual meaning or mystic symbolism for you to decipher. It’s just bad luck (unless you insist on living in a mobile home in the middle of tornado alley — in which case it’s bad judgment). Don’t drive yourself crazy trying to see any other portent in storms, tornados, earthquakes or the like.
- Adversity doesn’t build character. Instead, it reveals character. Sometimes it is your character that is thrown up to the mirror. Often it is the character of other people that is revealed by their reaction to your situation. Pay attention to what you see in yourself and others during/after a natural disaster experience. You might see some examples of where changes are needed.
- If you, your family and animals survived a natural disaster without physical injury — you are incredibly lucky. That is the only outcome worth counting — so don’t get overly fixated on relatively minor consequences like property damage, random PTSD during thunder or temporary loss of living quarters. Nothing else truly matters other than that everyone (creatures included) is safe and sound. It is simple to rebuild things — but impossible to replace loved ones.
- People come before animals in a safety situation. Everyone who knows me understands how much I love my animals and the LOPE horses. But when I led scared horses out of danger, I accepted the fact that I might have to let go of that lead rope if my own life was threatened by a sudden change in the situation (surge of flood waters, a falling tree limb). That’s hard knowledge to face — but without it, I couldn’t have had the emotional detachment necessary to effectively help the horses.
- There is always something you can do (ok, I kind of stole that from the movie Gravity — but it is still true). In the middle of violent weather chaos, keep your mind focused on the next action or choice you can take. The actual thing you do is less important than the process of keeping your mental state rational and constructive by steadily making decisions.
- Afterward, don’t spend lots of time bewailing your fate via social media or talking incessantly about the experience. Resist the temptation to dwell too long on the negative — it won’t help and keeps you mentally stuck reliving the worst aspects of the event. Your life is much larger and more important than just a natural disaster (or four in my case). Don’t let it define you or take any more of your focus than necessary. The melodrama of such an intense experience can seem so tantalizingly worthy of discussion — but really all extended drama is a waste of time and energy. Let the drama go — and move on with your goals and life.
- And yeah, keeping extra flashlights and fresh batteries in the barn is a good idea.