The Certainty of Uncertainty

At the moment it’s very quiet here. The trees are not swaying, thrashing, bending. Not a leaf moves, even flutters. The ticking of one of my clocks I can hear. Coco’s sleepy breathing I can hear.


That’s soon to change. If you couldn’t smell it in the air, you’d hear it on the news. We are in the danger zone of Hurricane Florence, though not as dangerous a zone as some are in. Will the pelting rain and fierce wind come? Yes. This much is certain. What’s uncertain is the storm’s exact path and intensity.

Will we flood out? Probably not, as my property sits up on a hill.

Will we lose electricity? Most likely.

Will one of my giant trees fall? Let’s hope not.

“The most precious thing about life is its uncertainty.”

Thanks to Paul Sunstone, I have been introduced to Kenko, a 14th century Japanese writer who produced, in his retirement, 243 essays collected into the classic “Leisure Hour Notes,” including the line above. Paul added, “I think that was what kept him from boredom.” He’s right. Uncertainty is as certain as death and taxes! And it does keep you on your toes!

Last night a young woman who lives along the Virginia coastline booked my cottage because she has to evacuate her area. She was not planning to come here this week, but wants to keep herself and her two dogs safe. The coast will get lots of rain and wind, so will we. Will she be safe here? One thing is certain: I will do everything I can to make sure she is. Starting tomorrow and until Saturday, Miranda will be next door. She – who was unknown to me 12 hours ago – will be my neighbor.

I love thinking of my neighbor as der Nächste, German for “the one next to me.” This doesn’t have to mean a literal “next to” – you can think of co-workers as neighbors, or friends you have contact with through email or texting or blogging, or the people you rub shoulders with in your community. But in the case of Miranda it’s literal, and neighbors look out for each other. Forgive my tangent, but if all of us would truly abide the “love your neighbor as yourself” command, imagine what the world would be like.

So while the storm looms and Miranda is here, much will be – hour to hour – uncertain. Knowing that you don’t know everything is the beginning of wisdom. True, true. But…if you know that you don’t know everything, but you also know that you know some things, you stand a better chance of getting through with less trouble. While storms do sometimes change course and turn out to sea, they sometimes don’t. We will do what we can to prepare. Then ride it out.

My little house in the big woods is as solid as a house on a wooden foundation can be, the wooden part being questionable, but we are getting to that.

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The storm is still out to sea, but supposed to hit us at the end of the week. Ironically, this coming weekend had been set aside to begin “the big dig” at my house – a long-awaited project to investigate why my foundation seems to be bowing inward in one area (not a good sign) and then to do necessary repairs. I ordered the materials last week, a lot of materials because after the big dig we will replace the very old front porch. (I’m glad I ordered last week — what do you think will happen to the price of lumber after the storm?)

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The uncertainty of the storm puts us in a kind of holding pattern. Hold off on big dig projects and hold onto your hat! At the very least, cover your lumber.

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Will the bricks hold the plastic down in a strong wind? I hope so! How strong will the wind be? I am uncertain! With no wind blowing right now, that many bricks seems reasonable. Possibly I will find myself incredulous that I didn’t double this number or use cinder blocks as Sandy suggested. Maybe cinder blocks are a good idea after all….

Today, in the calm, various interpretations of battening down the hatches seem important, including making sure we have enough batteries for the flashlights and enough jugs of water in the event that my electricity goes out (in which case my water also goes out because electricity runs the pump). I have a gas cookstove in both the house and the cottage, so we will eat. And it’s a nice temperature outside so not having AC or heat will not be an issue. What am I forgetting?!

Uncertainty is part of the unboring path we walk. We can watch the news all day (you can, I won’t), we can change out the bricks for cinder blocks or go all out and just add them, we can stockpile supplies, we can put some milk in the freezer now so it’s maybe cold later if we lose power, but we can’t be certain what this coming weekend will bring.

We’re pretty smart though. We can have an idea. And we do. According to our best projections, we can fairly well know what won’t happen, what might happen and what will happen:

In my case the weekend will not include a large and loud excavating machine. Canceled that. Sadly, it will not include Joe, who will operate said machine (unless he comes around anyway, which is fine by me). We will not be

  • digging large quantities of dirt from along the front of the house
  • discovering just exactly what is the problem with the foundation and how extensive the fix needs to be
  • relocating liriope and azalea
  • mixing cement
  • setting footings
  • bracing posts.

We might be (this is the uncertain part)

  • hunkering down
  • watching the trees dance wildly (hoping that if they fall, they do so far from any structure or power line)
  • putting less-than-sensible chickens in their coop (because they are too dumb to go in by themselves!)
  • using matches to light the stove because the electric ignitor is nonfunctional
  • playing board games by lamplight as we wait out the storm. I have a couple of wonderful oil lamps that come out at times like this. Their glow, the swirly patterned shadow they make on the ceiling, their faint scent of burning lamp oil – all combine to create a scene that makes you appreciate what it was like for pioneers. We should do this on purpose now and then just to induce an extra prayer for those in the bucket trucks who keep our lights on, and this weekend in particular for those who will be out in this nasty storm getting fallen limbs off high wires as we sit inside checking our phones for notification that the power is back on.

We will be

  • taking care of one another
  • comforting the dogs who get unsettled in howling wind and torrential rain
  • keeping a close eye on trees, chickens and other outdoor things for signs of trouble
  • praying for safety for all those affected by the storm
  • staying in touch with other neighbors in case we can help in any way
  • enjoying good eggs! More on lobster yolks tomorrow! Oh, how tempted I am to give you a sneak preview, but: YOU are uncertain about lobster yolks (MY lobster yolks, at any rate) and if, to paraphrase Paul, uncertainty keeps us from boredom, I had best wait. Come what may, I aim to keep things unboring!

4 thoughts on “The Certainty of Uncertainty

  1. I truly love wondering along this unboring path you so beautifully sew with your words! try using a couple pcs of the lumber itself as its treated and should be fine in the rain (I think, looks treated in the photo) and its long too so it won’t take as many to cover the large tarp..


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