A Roman writer named Vegetius wrote a book called “The Epitome of Military Science” about 1,600 years ago. One line in the book became quoted widely, although it eventually shortened to “Si vis pacum, para bellum” (If you want peace, prepare for war). The Twin Cities metro area is preparing for spring (si vis ver), but is also preparing for winter (para hiems). January was delightfully warmer than normal with a few bitterly cold days, but February to date is chiller than average. Tanker trucks are slowly driving though the neighborhoods spraying a brine solution containing salt (sodium chloride) and calcium chloride on the mostly bare streets. Winter is half over according to the calendar, but the potential for freezing drizzle and 2″ – 4″ of snowfall has the various departments of transportation taking precautions. A sign that spring is getting closer is that baseball’s spring training season begins later this month. Pitchers and catchers report later this week. We hope for a quick end to winter. Another sign of impending spring is the over/under for vehicles falling though the ice on metro area lakes in a week is now three. Thankfully, there were no deaths or injuries reported from these incidents. Las Vegas betting establishments may have an updated betting book next week. I have a feeling the number will be at least one.
Perhaps a better adage is “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst”. Many rodents stash food just in case the winter is particularly harsh. Birds seek out high fat and oil content foods starting when the days shorten. Humans in Minnesota prepare by hauling the six different weight jackets and four different styles of boots out of storage thereby replacing the shorts, sunblock and sandals that got used on the four decent summer days we see in an average year. Jumper cables, a snow shovel and a snow scraper with brush took the place of beach towels and coolers in a vehicle trunk. Grocery stores heavily advertised ice cream treats at discounted prices while increasing prices for hot beverages and soups. Airline tickets to warmer destinations climbed higher.
Thus far, the seasonal snowfall is about 40% below the 30-year average to date. After an extremely wet June which quickly took the area from moderate drought to flooding, the lack of snowfall is prompting concerns of mild drought when spring finally arrives. At this point, it does not appears the area is stocking up on sand bags to stave off potential flooding. A potential salt shortage caused by last year’s crushing snowfalls has been a non-issue this year…so far. Constructions have benefited from the lack of snow and an average number of bitterly cold days, but have also endured occasional delays to unusually strong wind.
Uncertainty in weather forecasts causes preparedness problems. Road salt costs money, requires storage space, and is effective in a narrow band of temperatures. Calcium chloride is more expensive, requires storage space, but is more effective in a wider range of temperatures. Sand and gravel require storage space, work in most temperature ranges strictly for traction, but cause in increase of windshield damage claims. Given a limited budget and limited storage space, find the most optimal balance of removal methods based on information that is wrong seemingly 60% of the time. Or better yet, find a balance that can change according to conditions and get a properly working supply chain in place. Farmers plant crops, many of which are sensitive to drought, hail, too much rain or not enough sunlight. If a long-range forecast indicates a drier than average growing season for which the crops are planned and planted accordingly, but the year is wetter than expected, the farmer receives diminished yields or total crop failure impacting an entire year’s operating revenue.
Creatures face a similar dilemma, albeit without a well-coiffed highly paid talking head showing “wowie” eye candy computer graphics and pointing to a chroma key screen for about three minutes. Gathering food is energy intensive and increases the risk of ending up as a food source for another creature. Too much food can rot, draw scavengers and cause bacterial and mold infestations leading to disease. Too little food means the creature risks starving or freezing to death. They do not have the luxury of easily gathering more or less food, and they definitely do not have the advantage of cooperation and a supply chain.We try to prepare as best we can, hoping for warmth and sunshine while preparing for blizzards and deadly cold.
Once we lose hope, no amount of preparation will help. In addition to helping our loved ones out with provisions, we also help them with our love and support. There are always unexpected and traumatic events which arise which render plans useless: health issues, unexpected unemployment, relationship problems, loss of a loved one. It is then that one finds out how supportive family is and who are the true friends. Drawing on their love and encouragement rekindles hope, and hope creates the strength to keep moving forward.
If you are fortunate enough to have a special someone in your life, take the time to give that person an extra-long hug today. There is always room in the heart for one of those, they don’t expire or decay, and they provide immeasurable strength. For those of us who do not, please try to make someone’s day brighter. Your kindness may provide the hope the recipient thought was lost.