Illusions of Safety

I remember a windstorm a few years ago. In the mountains you can hear the wind coming from far away, roaring up the canyons. You feel the tension, the stillness of waiting, knowing you can’t stop it. You watch the huge evergreens around you and how the tops start to sway. The wind is up high still, but that roar. It’s coming. The trees start to bend and then to whip.

I remember sending thoughts out to fir and cedar and hemlock. Hang on. Dig your roots in and hang on. Most did.

Have you ever taken a stick and bent it over your knee, snapping it in two? Remember that sound, that dry crack? Now imagine that sound magnified, deepened into something you feel through your feet touching the earth. Give that sound the background of the wind screaming past you. Follow that bone-deep snap with something like thunder right over your head.

That was a cedar tree coming down, unable to hang on. Taking its sister tree with it. Pulling a couple younger hemlock trees down, too.

No matter what nature sends us, our homes give us the illusion of safety. If you live where we do, you can close your door, maybe lock it, and all that could be dangerous is out in the wild. Bears. Cougars. Snow. Wind. Even the deep dark of a forest night. We feel secure hearing the rain pound down on the roof, as we sit next to the wood stove and hot fire. Maybe the tea kettle simmering gently over the flames. We tuck down under the thick pile of blankets, as ice forms on the river and water thickens until it no longer moves. We feel safe.

But really, in the mountains, there is always the chance of earthquakes. Whitewater rivers that sweep homes away. Landslides. Boulders bigger than your house catapulting down. Trees that can’t hang on.

Morning Star climbing route

Morning Star climbing route

In northeastern Montana, the illusion of safety comes from the high mesas. The openness. No trees to hit the house. No mountains to crumble down on top of you. But there, winters can hit minus sixty. Cold so deep you can’t breathe or even open your eyes. There, on those broad fields of wheat, tornadoes touch down and lift away all they touch. And yet we climb down into the cellars, close the door, and feel safe.

Montana storm

Montana storm

No matter where you live there is the illusion of safety. Either in your home, or in your car, or in your cardboard box under the highway overpass. We pull our jacket collars up, we tuck our hands under armpits, and we lock those doors against burglars. We roll up car windows. We clutch cell phones with a finger on speed dial.

But all those things that make us feel safe and in control are transitory. We go through our lives busy with daily routines, never paying attention to just how not safe we are until the news tells us to board up windows or move to high ground. And even then most people think, ‘I can drive that road without four wheel drive’ or ‘I can pass that idiot driver before that car gets too close’. It boils down to the ego of ‘it won’t happen to me’.

Driving home

Driving home

We never live our lives as if we’re not safe. As if, in a moment, we could be gone. We take things for granted. We tell ourselves to remember to call that friend. Say, ‘we really need to get together one of these days’. Hang up the phone before we remember to tell our son we love him, or to tell someone far away they are missed.

In our safety we are full of good intentions. Until it’s too late and then we are full of regret.

It’s in our nature to feel safe. To procrastinate doing those things or simply forget in the daily bustle. Don’t prepare or stock up because the store will be open tomorrow. Don’t learn how to grow or can or hunt or fish because the freezer will always run. Just huddle close to the fire that keeps shadows behind us.

Those good intentions are so strong.


I’ll do it tomorrow.

What makes you feel safe? And, are you, really?

What things are you putting off? Why? And which is more important – what you put off, or the reason why?

Get out there and live with no regrets.

Young climbers headed for Morning Star

Young climbers headed for Morning Star

7 thoughts on “Illusions of Safety

  1. and yet again I am in sheer amazement by your words… creating the image so vividly in my mind that I can hear the sounds and smell the scents, feeling you standing right next to me. I know I will be safe with you because you know more than I do 😉


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