Thursday, January 13

REFLECTIONS ON MUDSLIDES IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

I lived in Southern California from age 10 to age 39, so I'm quite familiar with all of the natural catastrophes (as well as those man-made) that befall it each year from earthquakes to forest fires to mudslides and flooding, to those unforgettable, hot-dry Santa Ana winds that fan in furiously off the desert and blow enough dust to obscure the mountains, while pushing the mustard-yellow smog clear out to sea. Why, even tornadoes hit the Southland from time to time.

It's simply all too easy to be deceived by the endless expanse of homes, freeways (cars, cars and more cars), shopping malls and year-round, lush greenery to presume this is not an environment hostile to man, rather a sublime oasis. Well, it's not. There's more here than meets the eye and southern Californians are obliged to dodge more bullets than just those fired at them from passing road rage nut-cases on the Harbor Freeway!

Fact is, ol' Mother Nature hardly ever leaves these folks alone, preferring always to be testing their wits, resolve and fortitude. You pay a price to live in this land of sunshine and affluence, and that price isn't just the ungodly high mortgage payment for a 2,700 square foot house, which from the bathroom window you can reach out and easily touch the stucco siding of your next door neighbor's. And that price for some can be truly horrific.

So in watching the daily television accounts of this nasty winter storm system that has thoroughly drenched southern California and turned many of her hillsides into liquified flows of lava-like mud, I can relate ("been there; seen that"), I can empathize, I can truly understand. My parents (bless them, they're both alive and in their 80s) live in a beautiful hillside home in far eastern Los Angeles County and they've been fearful of the hillside above them coming down, as their community was hit by a hellish forest fire in October, 2003 -- one of a series of catastrophic fires that raced across a broad expanse of southern California -- and that hillside is still scarred from the fire. Indeed, a number of large trees and bushes were completely burned in that fire and their root systems have likely since rotted and may no longer be able to contain the rain-saturated soil they once snaked through.

So, it goes without saying (but I feel compelled to say it anyway, because I have parents, two sisters and a brother, who reside in homes in southern California) that my heart goes out to the families of the dead, injured, and homeless, who have taken the brunt of this brutal storm, as well as those still fearful of losing their life's possessions. For me, the unimaginable is all too imaginable. The news accounts resonate.

I don't suppose the U.S. Marines, now rendered weaponless by the Indonesian government's arrogance, despite their big-hearted humanitarian mission, might pull up stakes and help needy storm victims here at home? No, somehow I don't think that will happen and even with Camp Pendleton so close by. While I'm proud of our country's rapid mobilization and unrivaled generosity in responding to the tragedy that was the Asian tsunami, as it's without question the right thing to do, I'm nonetheless amazed, over and over again, at how we almost always go it alone here in America when the forces of nature brutalize us. Are ads for charitable contributions ever placed on the Blogs of foreigners, depicting mind-numbing scenes of crushing poverty (e.g., in Appalachia) or widescale disaster (e.g., in hurricane-ravaged Florida) here in the United States? I suspect not. After all, when all is said and done, we're the helpers of the world, and seldom ourselves helped, even when we're helpless, alone and in need of the world's kindly touch.