Landscapes of Fear

Several weeks ago I sat getting my hair cut and overheard a conversation between several New England locals.  News reports and photos of the devastation of a tornado that had gone through Washington, Illinois, near my hometown, had been prominent the previous few days.  The conversations went something like this:

“Wasn’t that terrible?”

“Yes!  I was in the Midwest once and it was scary.  I could never live there!

What?  Scary?  Everyone knows how to deal with tornadoes—Listen for the sirens and the weather reports, go into the basement, or if no basement, go into a bathroom with only inside walls.  Wait for the “all clear”—usually 30 minutes at most.  The path is quite narrow.

Everyone has their landscapes of fear.  I had a Hong Kong friend tell me about the frightening experience of driving on an open road in New Mexico at night.  I was feeling the calm of the image as she described it…to me there was nothing better than an open road all to yourself. 

 Right now there are bitterly cold temperatures in Michigan where I am visiting.  I had a conversation with a friend’s who was home from college.  He was heading off to drive to see a friend who lived 40 minutes away.  I asked—do you have a coffee can and candle?  Do you have a sleeping bag in the car?  Anyone who has lived in Minnesota knows that these are essential items in case your car breaks down or you end up in the ditch in the winter.  They keep you warm while you wait for help.  In fact, when I lived in Minnesota, I was amazed at how everyone took going into the ditch so lightly!  Cold temperatures were taken seriously but everyone knew what to do and the cold temperatures came with bright, clear days of beautiful snow-sculpted landscapes that sparkled.

Probably most Midwesterners would identify a city with masses of people as their landscape of fear, but in middle school I discovered my greatest landscape of fear—a coastal area prone to tidal waves— in other words, the deep ocean.   In 8th grade science class I wrote a paper on tidal waves and ever since that time the thought of a wall of water, or even being on the surface of the ocean with a mile of water underneath me, makes me shiver.   I have no desire to sail across the ocean.  I have no desire to swim off-shore.  Horror shows that both mesmerize me at the same time they fill me with fear are the Nova science shows on the Asian Tsunami or the Japanese Tsunami.  I once interviewed for a job in California and asked about fault lines and tsunami warnings.  I was assured that off-shore islands blocked the waves.