A forty-car pileup in the ice and snow of Island Park last week is the latest example of the downside to the fun and beauty of the weather we all enjoy here in the inter-mountain west. Of course, without the water the snow blesses us with, we could not exist as a thriving community. And where would all of our wonderful skiers and snowboarders be without snow? But when that snow hits the road, it makes travel more hazardous than many of us like to admit until a bad accident makes it obvious.
The weather here is what it is, for better or worse. It’s up to us to adapt to it; Mother Nature is too stubborn to change for us. When it comes to Teton Valley weather, one saying always comes to mind:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
This Serenity Prayer is attributed to Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote the original version in the 1930s. The idea he expressed certainly applies during a spell of extreme weather. We can get an all-wheel-drive vehicle, use anti-lock brakes, buy the best snow-tires in the world, plow and spread stuff on the road, clear every inch of glass on our car, and practice our winter weather driving skills every time we go out, but that isn’t going to change the weather or the other drivers around us, just the things we can.
Sometimes, changing the things we can is enough, and we get through the situation on the road well. But sometimes they aren’t enough, and if we get through without a crash, it was just dumb luck, not wisdom, that saved us. Know the difference.
Just because a road has not been officially closed doesn’t mean it isn’t hazardous beyond any changes we have made. In that case, you are trusting in luck to get through unscathed. The final thing you can change is your travel plan.
By the time the sheriff’s office or other authority issues a “no unnecessary travel” advisory, you can bet the hazard has gone way beyond our ability to change it. Have the wisdom to know the difference between a true life and death need to travel and unnecessary travel. You know the roads will eventually get better; do you REALLY have to take that trip right now?
The wisdom to know the difference between the risk you face and your actual ability to lower that risk is important any time you do anything, but especially when Mother Nature ups the ante. Knowing the difference between something you need to do right now and what can wait makes all the difference. Stay flexible. Doing something now because it’s vital to do it now is one thing. To do it now out of habit or convenience or simple desire rather than need is something to evaluate seriously and make your decision based on the current situation. Doing something now to save face, or because others are doing it, or because “the decision was made” before the situation arose, or to appear tough and brave, brings up another old saying; “There is a fine line between bravery and stupidity.” Adapt to Mother Nature; she will eventually “consequate” you if you defy her too often.