The Suitcase Lady


March 19, 2013, 9:49 pm

“People like to live on the edge,” I told the fourth graders as a prelude to our study of Lake Michigan.

“Tell me some major American cities,” I suggested. For almost every city the students called out, I named the ocean, lake or river that was nearby. The kids quickly made the connection that most of us live near the water, that critical substance to our existence. Coasts and shores draw our species like magnets.

One cloudless night I was on a flight to New Mexico. As we flew south to Albuquerque, what appeared to be a long necklace of sparkling jewels pierced the vast desert darkness below: the lighted cities of the Rio Grande Valley spill down the riverbanks for hundreds of miles.

Most of us are attracted to water for its beauty as well. When we drive on an unfamiliar road, round a bend and catch a view of a sparkling ocean, lake or river, our spirits soar. Real estate prices also soar for waterfront property.

Our lovely blue planet has a fixed supply of water. But, unfortunately for us, the water can change locations and form. The glaciers can melt, lakes and rivers can evaporate or flood and the oceans can rise. The weather news these days is grim. Extremes grab the headlines. Mega storms, mega droughts and mega temperatures are the new norm.

I recently read a brilliant article about global climate change. John Hockenberry, an award winning journalist, wrote in a recent issue of Metropolis of the small scale houses of indigenous people all over the world. These structures can often withstand extreme weather and earthquakes far better than our modern marvels of engineering. Mr. Hockenberry sums up his observations with these thought provoking and hopeful lines:

We have serious challenges to our well-developed human resilience in a seven-billion-person world that finds itself concentrated in cities close to the water’s edge. It may require enormous energy and investment to retool our collective sense of resilience, to scale our expectations, and to be more ready than ever in human history to embrace sudden new realities and alternatives. But if we look carefully at the record of human success, it is our adaptations that distinguish us more than our loyalty to ancient traditions and values. The greatest monuments are the ones that vanished, succumbing to the narrative of erosion and change while humanity moved humbly forward. Despite the challenges of our era and the potentially grim mathematics of changes perhaps already in the cards, resilience, it can be said, is alive and well.

Since most of us are not ready to forsake our love affairs with water, we best be open to the possibility of putting our homes on stilts.

1 Comment for this entry

  • Karen Little on Facebook

    Nice quote about the value of change. Also, I really favor putting car parking on the first level. We’ve just come back from the low country (Savannah, Tybee Island, Hilton Head Island, and Gulf Shore locations in Florida and always note the people who’ve adopted well because their dwellings start on the second floor. Architecturally, this type of design looks as great as it is functional.