We are on an island off Southern Mexico at the moment, preparing our wares for the annual permaculture design course in Belize, and putting in a little beach time. We have a friend who runs the local kitesurf school here and over a Christmas dinner he told us a rather harrowing tale of what had happened to him the night before, on Christmas Eve.
After closing up shop for the day he had grabbed his gear and gone to the Western tip of the island, rigged the kite and stood on the beach for a bit looking up at the sky. It was quite menacing, a strong North wind and dark clouds moving quickly. He had expected there would be other surfers about, and the part of his brain concerned with personal safety told him to not go out alone, but the waves were good and he liked strong winds, so he threw off caution and launched anyway.
He had a good half hour or more in the strong winds and had settled into an area nearly a mile offshore where there is a sandbar with a good surf break. He worked the board on and off the surf line, spinning, leaping, making sharp cuts while controlling his kite. And then it changed.
The wind suddenly shifted direction and the kite fell out of the sky. He sat on his board and tested the air but he could not relaunch because everything was still. There was no wind to carry the kite up. The currents were strong and with the kite extending away from him on the ocean’s surface, he was being swept out to the northwest, in the direction of Cuba, 105 miles away.
He looked around for sharks, whom he knew also favored that sandbar. He could, of course, abandon the expensive kite gear and paddle his surfboard back to shore. Even in the strong current he could make it to the Yucatan coast farther to the North. He was lucky he chose the surfboard that day over the kiteboard, because the surfboard would be much better for such a task.
The rain came, quite strong, and he sat there waiting and drifting, as minutes passed. He still had options. One thing he knew. He could trust nature. It might be unpredictable in its details — the whens and hows — but it was predictable in its patterns — and change was a constant. And he was right, after the rain came more wind, from a new direction. He was able to launch the kite. But he was only up a few seconds when his emergency harness release opened — sitting in the surf for that long must have loosened the clasp — and the kite blew away, dropping him into the water again. Fortunately, he had a thin safety line running from his belt to the kite and was able to recover it again, but now the lines were all snarled, and difficult to untangle in the open ocean and rough seas, and the rain was coming down harder.
The tale ended well or he would not be sitting at Christmas dinner telling us about it. He got the kite untangled, the harness re-attached, was able to relaunch and he surfed all the way home, straight up to the beach in front of his school.
What it left us thinking though, was how much, or how little, trust we can place in nature anymore. In his case, he trusted the familiar pattern of winds and rain. He knew the calm was temporary, despite how long it seemed to take.
In our case, as we leave the comfortable Holocene epoch in which two-leggeds stood upright, learned to speak and write, and sent our kind to the Moon and back, and we step into the unknown Anthropocene, the uncertainty is exponentially greater. Even our most familiar patterns will become unreliable. Changing climate and weather patterns will crash through food and energy systems, housing and commerce and social conventions like surf on a sandbar.
And thus we drift, as Einstein predicted, towards unparalleled catastrophes. Happy New Year!
One last note as 2013 draws to a close. We have launched an Indiegogo campaign to better serve the needs of people wanting to take our sustainability and activism training programs. Its called Youre Inn at The Farm. If you are looking for an excellent tax deductible charity at this time of year, it would really help if you would take this moment to assist ours. Please donate now. Thank you and have a wonderful holiday!