It's okay to be wild sometimes.
When it comes to preparing for uncertainty and our collective reactions to destructive natural events, sometimes we silly humans lose our humanity and allow ourselves to descend into chaos. You’ve seen it happen, probably this last year. We’re talking about all out frantically-searching-for-gas, toilet-paper-roll-fighting wild mayhem. Not a pretty sight.
The squirrels above us are probably just watching, slowly eating or storing their acorns, and laughing at how crazy we are sometimes. So let's take a look at them, and a few other friends in nature, to see what they can teach us about a better kind of wild. It’s the kind of wild that just means confidently preparing for all the big storms of life we know await us.
1. Go ahead, stuff your proverbial cheeks!
You’ve probably been on a hike and seen a ground squirrel or chipmunk stuff some food in its cheeks, a process that is so frickin’ cute it’s sometimes even hard to watch. According to National Geographic,
“Most animals use their cheek pouches like grocery bags: if a predator shows up, they can escape with both their life and their lunch.”
They’re usually found doing this at exactly the right time too, in the Fall when Mother Nature sends acorns to the ground.
Other rodents like tree squirrels prepare for what lies ahead as well. For instance, tree squirrels collect tree bark, acorns, nuts, and berries and store their gatherings in small holes near trees. Essentially, they make sure they’ve got a full pantry for emergencies.
What can we learn?
Well, we don’t want you to eat tree bark, but there’s something quite valuable in long term food and water storage and taking care of it well before you need it. You might not have to prepare for a whole winter, but sometimes natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes can cause the amenities, utilities, and resources we normally rely on to become scarce or suddenly cease for days or even weeks on end.
Make sure you have 1 gallon of water stored (per person in your family) per day, for at least two weeks, and enough food for your whole family for the same amount of time. Go nuts for foods that don’t expire quickly like, well, nuts, canned items, dry mixes, grains, and high-calorie food bars. Also, make sure you have ways to cook everything too because gas and electricity could both be out.
Camping stoves, anyone?
2. Bring your coconut home and your tools with you.
In 2009, researchers discovered that a certain kind of octopus in Indonesia has the same level of high intelligence as just a few species on the planet. Because it lives on sand flats, there’s pretty much nowhere to hide. So, it finds coconut halves, and carries them as both a shelter and a tool wherever it wishes to go so that it can stay safe, hunt for food, and prepare for whatever the future brings next.
Did you know that only 1% of animals use tools? We’re in good company. For instance, as Live Science tells us, sea otters use rocks to open abalone shells, orangutans use whistles for safety, and dolphins use marine sponges to toss up the ocean floor. And of course humans use Netflix to chill.
What can we learn?
The Go Bags we assemble for each family member should serve a very specific purpose. The contents should be curated and useful. It’s not about throwing things in a bag willy nilly; it’s about bringing your “coconut home” with you. Everything you absolutely need in your daily life should go into your Go Bag, just maybe the miniature version of it.
Also, don’t forget to include essential tools in your Go Bag too - things like emergency whistles, solar power banks and flashlights, and first aid kits. Because, just like the octopus, we use tools every single day to stay safe and be happy.
3. Water can rise rapidly, so you better plan like the ants!
Floods are terrifying. All of sudden that pretty river down the road is gushing over the edges causing water to rapidly rise on the streets. And if it's rising that quickly to humans, imagine how ants feel. It must happen in an instant. And yet, they've developed a readiness plan for these exact moments.
How? They use a family-friendly flotation device - a raft of sorts. As one scientific study confirms,
“ants can considerably enhance their water repellency by linking their bodies together, a process analogous to the weaving of a waterproof fabric.”
Now when we do that, weaving our bodies together, what that gets us is just a well-deserved hug. Great for happiness, not so great for an escape plan.
What can we learn?
Fire ants know exactly what to do in the event of a flood, and hey, we should too! While a raft made of hugs and innate nature-magic sounds great, you’ll definitely sink trying to do that. That’s why flotation devices like rapid rafts, life jackets, and throw cushions are the safest bet for your family.
Also, be sure to communicate with your family/friend unit what your plan is if you have to evacuate from a flash flood. It’s important to note that this plan really only works when your entire “colony” knows about it and is fully on board (pun intended) with how to stay safe together. Remember, you can store all of your safe locations in the harbor app and share them with your household.
4. Trust your senses, stay tuned to the weather, adjust accordingly.
Many kinds of animals use their senses to avoid natural hazards. When birds sense a fire approaching, they evacuate. As Audubon reminds us, “What do birds do when wildfires break out? No surprise here: They fly away.” Pretty birds get this, and we pretty humans need to be reminded of it often. This last year wildfires in the Western U.S. unfortunately claimed many lives, some of which could have possibly been avoided.
It’s not just birds, though; other animals use their senses too, noticing changes in barometric pressure - in the sky - and hydrostatic pressure - in the ocean. For instance, researchers observed that during Tropical Storm Gabrielle and Hurricane Charley, sharks essentially noticed ever-so-slight changes in barometric pressure, and then swam to deeper waters - where they could ride out the storm in safety.
What can we learn?
Stay tuned to emergency updates, weather forecasts, and evacuation orders. Know your evacuation routes now. Birds can flap their wings and sharks can swim to safety, but we’ve gotta move our feet, get in our car, make sure all the kids are buckled up, and then know exactly where we need to go so we don’t get stuck in the middle of a deadly firestorm or hurricane.
If you do have to evacuate, make sure you’ve got a Go Bag ready for every family member - including your pets - and don’t forget to include items to help you social distance and stay healthy, especially if you have to go to a shelter.