Independent, and self-reliant are not the same thing

Side street in downtown Carson City during the 1997 flood.
Side street in downtown Carson City during the 1997 flood.

Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) are relatively narrow regions in the atmosphere that are responsible for most of the horizontal transport of water vapor outside of the tropics. While ARs come in many shapes and sizes, those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor, the strongest winds, and stall over watersheds vulnerable to flooding, can create extreme rainfall and floods.

Well, 2017 sure is off to a great start (she says in a sarcastic tone). Northern Nevada is bracing for flood levels not seen since 1997. This was the year Carson City made national news because of the downtown flooding, and the year the previous owner of my house installed a sump-pump because the backyard and garage flooded. And no, I was unaware of this fact when purchased my house; I found out when the sump-pump kicked on during the 2005 flood.The coming storm is worrisome due to the heavy snowfall we saw a few days ago, and before that, three days of rain that has already filled our lakes and rivers. The atmospheric river headed our way is expected to last two days and cause the Truckee River to crest 11 feet above capacity. That’s a hell of a lot of water!

Thursday afternoon the Nevada Office of Emergency Management put out a statement warning residents to be flood ready by the weekend. They suggested everyone take the Friday break in weather to get prepared for power outages and flooded streets. The list of ways residents should prep included, removing snow from roofs and areas near houses, making sure debris was cleared from foundation vents (better to have water under the house rather than in the house) and having enough supplies to last at least 3 days in case the power outage lasts that long.

Having experienced a flood, and living through another atmospheric river storm that caused a week long power outage, I took it upon myself to get as ready I could. Given enough warning you would think more people would, but you’d be wrong. In fact the more I talked to people and watched them, the more apparent something became; far too many Americans confuse the idea of independence and self-reliance skills.

The archetype for an independent American is that rugged or tough individual whose personal survival skills allow him or her to face any situation head on, who values self –reliance over social interaction. We’ve all seen the Hollywood movies that depict the “cowboy” mentality that goes hand in hand with the notion of independent as a personality trait, so no need for me to explain this further, other than to point out, that while this is model we know, most independent people do not fit the mold. In fact I’d argue that today’s independent minded person would last a mere two days in the wild west.

The modern independent personality prides him or herself on the ability to do what he or she please, whenever or however they see fit. No one tells them what to do! Often this personality seeks out jobs that allow them to work on their own schedule, and one their own term Most of these personalities have few close friends and usually have less successful long-term relationships. They pride themselves on the ability to be alone if only because they tend to distance themselves on any kind of personal accountability. And while there is nothing wrong with this personality, it doesn’t always serve those with these traits well. In fact, from my experience, it makes for a rather ironic worldview, especially when it comes to natural disasters. How many times have we witnessed some independent dumb-ass being recused from their home because they decided to “ride it out”?

When it comes to the dichotomy between being independent and being self-reliant, the gulf can be wide and have dire consequences.

I decided to take the officials’ advice and spend Friday preparing for the storm. I made sure I cleared up the areas around my house after returning from the local public works yard that had invited citizens to come down and prepare sandbags for personal use. Surprisingly there were only a handful of people, mostly men, at the yard.

I then went to a few stores to get needed supplies. Again, I was surprised at the low turnout and by what people were shopping for. Normally before a storm you’d see people stocking up on water and food supplies. Most seemed to be ignorant of the oncoming storm, as evident by overheard conversations. The majority shrugged their shoulders at the idea of a flood and took the attitude that that weathermen were wrong most of the time. I saw a man purchase a big blowtorch in order to de-ice his sidewalk, another laughed about the storm as he stocked up on booze. This type of mindset is not unusual which is why so many people are caught “unaware” when a natural disaster hits. I wasn’t in the least surprised by what I heard as I made my way around town.

But what did surprise me, was just how clueless many of the so-called independence were that I talked to. These people were dead sure that the city would never let a flood happen (as if by city decree the water would magically disappear) or that the county would never allow a power outages to last longer than a few hours. When I pointed that no utility company in their right mind would allow workers to fix electric lines while standing in water, they looked dumbstruck, as if electricity was a god given right and how dare I suggest otherwise.

One of the most flagrant ideas that modern independent personalities hold is the idea that they can pay someone to do what is needed to be done. This is in sharp contrast to the self-reliant personality that knows what needs to be done, and does it themselves. This former idea hit home yesterday as I talked to my “strong independent” roommate who wears her independence like a cloak, about how we should be preparing. As I pointed out everything that needed to be done I received the following replies:

Can’t you just pay someone to shovel the snow?

Can’t we talk some man into making the sandbags for us? To be fair, she did help with the sandbags.

What do you mean we can’t use a generator in a flood? We can’t go without heat!

And while I was busy getting ready for the storm, she and her small group of independent friends went to the local cinema and then out for drinks. Because of course if something dreadful did occur they all assumed they could get someone to help them out. I am quite certain that had my roommate still been living alone when the flood hit, she’d be one of those individuals on the phone trying to get the city to solve her problems. I can even hear it now, “But you have to come, I’m a woman living alone and can’t possibly deal with this by myself!”, proving that independence and self-reliance are not the same thing.

Here’s a list of survival items I’ve got in case I am stuck home for a couple of days. If I’ve missed anything, please let me know.

Camping stove with two fresh propane bottles

Pour over coffee maker

Extra candles and batteries

8 jugs of bottled water

2 buckets of water

Fully stocked up first aid kit-(bonus points for having an ace-bandage)

Fully charged cell phone and laptop

A big freshly made pot of potato and lentil soup and a goodly amount of canned goods, just in case

Fresh oranges- and yes, I am aware I am not going on a sea voyage in which scurvy is a problem, but still, I’d rather eat fresh than canned.

Gas for the generator, in case the power goes out and the water doesn’t come into the garage.

I’ve got flashlights in every other room so that I am not fumbling in the dark. I’d hate to have an emergency situation on my hand simple because I fell as I stumbled over a piece of furniture. I’ve got a bucket of water in each bathroom because there is no reason to live in third world conditions. The toilets will remain flushable! I’ve got enough food (more than enough) to last a few days and enough books to last at least two years. I’ve pulled out extra blankets, and made sure my laundry is caught up. I filled my prescriptions and made sure I have enough coffee, because who the hell would want to go thru all of this without coffee?

Now you may be asking, why don’t you just leave, rather than end up being saved on the evening news? I have a plan for that too. If we only have minor flooding I rather stay home and protect my home from the water. But if the power goes out before major flooding hits, my cousin will come get me in his big American made truck and take me to his house which is out of town and away from the flood plain. I am self-reliant to a point, and not at all stupid.

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

8 thoughts on “Independent, and self-reliant are not the same thing”

  1. You may be entertained by what WordPress’s algorithms decided were similar posts of yours to this one: “Are you ready for post-apocalyptic fiction?” and “Metamorphoses: Intro & the Flood.”

    Stay safe. Stay dry. And, although thanks to your preparations, you will not need as much good luck as some people, here’s wishing you have it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How funny! I get the Metamorphoses one, but not the other. I purposefully avoided the use of apocalyptic in this post. And thanks to Martin, I won’t poison myself or gas my self silly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A couple tips from a long-time prepper in the Great White North.

    1. Do not use a propane (or other liquid fuel) camping stove indoors. The fumes are toxic, no matter what you may have read on some doomsday blog. Use alcohol based fuel, such as those made specifically for indoor emergency stoves or those canisters used for heating food service trays. They burn completely clean, and are also a good source of emergency heat.

    2. Unless your home uses a mainline pump for water from the city, your water will still flow fine. Municipal water delivery depends on system pressure and gravity. Toilets will flush without interruption. However, with flooding, drinking water may become contaminated as reservoirs are overcome. So, don’t drink tap water during such an emergency, until given the all clear by officials. If you have electricity, boiling tap water works. As does dosing containers of water with a few drops of bleach. But one should always have water purification tablets and filters (such as Brita, or Lifestraw, or homemade.

    2. One person should have 3 litres of potable drinking water per day. You may not drink that much, but it should be available.

    I hope you stay dry, but more than that, I hope you enjoy the temporary peace and quiet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey TB, thanks for the tips! I tried to find something here that was safe to use indoors, and you are right, the prepping blogs all say propane is fine, but still..I planned on cooking in my garage, which is well ventilated, but I promise not to spend too much time cooking. I find with cold food. As far as toilets go, if memory serves we did lose our flushing ability last time the grid went down. I have plenty of bottled water, enough for a week. I can always melt the snow right? No, just kidding, I don’t drink snow, especially that pretty yellow kind. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hope it is going well for you! We’re on the other side, in east Sacramento. In a location favorably placed in terms of water, ’97 included. With gas range and firewood. I truly enjoyed your reflections on our fantasies of “independence.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Morgan, thanks for stopping by! How are things your way? It looks like the other side of the mountain is now getting hit.
      Ahh, I really miss my gas stove. If I had known we would lose power as much as we do, I would have pulled out this electric horse and replaced with a gas stove. Enjoy your warm winter nights. Sounds like you are doing things right.


  4. Fingers crossed for you, Sari — it’s the most I can do from thousands of miles away! But sounds as if you have prepared as much as you can.

    The attitudes you’ve highlighted are laughable but not unexpected, especially these days, and not confined to the US either. There’s the irrational belief that the “authorities won’t allow it to happen” but if the worse happens then someone in authority will have to pay. Then there’s the Canute mentality, the “ride it out” approach: if I place my throne at the edge of the waves and order the tide to go back, it will. (To be fair, Canute knew perfectly well this was not the case.) Then there’s the anti-intellectualism (“the weathermen are wrong most of the time”) which we saw during the Brexit so-called debates over here (“People in this country have had enough of experts,” said a leading Brexiteer, the one-time Education Secretary Michael Gove).

    If many Americans have a cowboy/frontiersman mindset, then too many Brits have a Little Englander approach, the us-against-the-world vision that they think got them through the Blitz. Both philosophies have their limitations.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, England does seem to be full of independents, until the pullout is final and the consequences begin.
      This all now reminds me of the Montana summer people. When I lived in Montana I dated a log home contractor. I cannot count how many times he warned couple who had just bought property in Montana that though it was beautiful in the summer, the winters were brutal. But they would not listen, so he built a log home up on a hill and told the couple to be prepared to be stuck in the house during harsh winters. That or invest in a snow plow. Sure enough, winter would hit, the couple would be stuck in 6 to 8 feet of snow, sometimes for weeks at a time. And then, come spring, after complaining that the government didn’t help them plow their long driveways, they would put the house up for sale. So much for the cowboy way of life!

      Liked by 1 person

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