The Thighs of the Apocalypse — Nicole Sallak Anderson
I stood at the bottom of the stairs, another load from the car ready to be carried up three flights. I’d stopped counting how many times I’d been up the stairs already — there were still several more loads in the car. It’s amazing how much I was able to fit in there. Calves on fire, I sucked in a deep breath, picked up another box of dishes, and began yet another ascent.
I’d continue this way for another few hours and then repeated the ordeal for the next two days as I brought home supplies, bedding, pots and pans, and other items needed for setting up a home. I got surprisingly good at balancing things on my head as I went up and down the stairs to my new home.
At the end of the third day, as I sat in the claw foot tub soaking after a hard day’s work, I realized how lucky it was that I’d begun working out more in January. For my 2022 resolution, I vowed to add yoga and strength every day to my fitness routine. Rubbing my sore calves, I knew that if I hadn’t done this extra preparation, I wouldn’t have been able to have moved into the condominium on my own. I’m not sure what I would have done if I hadn’t added strength training to my life.
The Body is Life, Especially During a Collapse
I recently picked up the book, Collapsing Consciously, by Carolyn Baker. There’s been a focus in the environmental movement lately toward managing burnout in activists. Collectively, we understand that we missed a key turning point in our society, we didn’t make the right decisions soon enough, and our economy and ecosystems are collapsing in real time. Rather than live in darkness and anger, Baker suggests we prepare for the fall and not just materially. Sure, we can bury bunkers in the earth and fill them with Spam, water, guns, and ammo, but if our bodies and minds aren’t fit, we will not know how to manage once the supplies run out. For run out they will, and then the real work begins.
I’m not one to focus on the pain that follows a true end of world scenario, but I do know that such a collapse has already started. The systems we rely on to support us in emergencies are underfunded. In America, our infrastructure is crumbling. Housing is too expensive for most people. Gas prohibits the working class, you know the laborers who DO, from getting to work. There are other signs of societal collapse as well — pasta was out at most Trader Joe’s stores in the West for three months, parents can’t buy formula for their babies, and people can’t get appliances or windows for their houses — to name just a few supply shortages.
We can blame it on the pandemic, but the pandemic itself was a collapse event as well as the wildfires that burned down my house in 2020. Both are a result of humans overstepping their boundaries and being out of balance with the ecosystems around them and both events showed how ill prepared our public health and safety sectors are when it comes to emergency events. We can’t handle too many patients in our understaffed ICUs. We can’t handle too many wildfires at once due to an understaffed fire department. In my case, CalFire was told to stand down and let it burn. That’s the only solution when you’re understaffed, and millions of acres are burning at the same moment.
Let it burn.
I don’t think the world will end all on one day; instead, ecological collapse has already begun in communities across the globe. Rather than all of us waking up on the same day to the four horsemen issuing the end of the world decree, individual communities are failing one by one, while other subcultures grow up to replace them. Will a day come when we can no longer driver our cars or turn on the lights? I don’t know but already in California, our electrical grid burns down towns and must be turned off on days that are too hot and windy. The entire state hasn’t gone dark at the same time, but electricity isn’t a guarantee anymore and on hot days, we can’t charge up our cars due to an overloaded grid.
I’ll never forget the day I returned to my land for the first time after the fires. It was a scene from an apocalyptic movie. Every home in my neighborhood was ash. The remains of my life flittered like snow in the breeze. The land was gray. In this space of loss and pain, we’re building a new life, but it hasn’t been easy. In many ways, those of us who have survived eco-disaster in the past decade are knee deep in the collapse so many have been warning us about. More and more of us will lose homes and communities to wildfire, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Rather than wait and see if it happens to you, I suggest you prepare your body and your mind for this eventuality, because it is physical work to clean up your land, sift through the rubble, and repair what is left behind.
There’s a widow down the street from me who’s been doing a lot of her own work, just like we are. Mostly it’s because we’re all underinsured, but even if we had all the money in the world, we still must wait months for the well, septic, electricians, plumbers, and builders to show up. Some have waited two years for their builds to begin. This will only become worse as more homes are destroyed and less men and women take to the trades. It’s a good thing my neighbor is so fit at her age, I don’t know what she would do if she couldn’t trench, dig, and lift the way she can.
It’s crazy how much I’ve needed my body to be strong and healthy since the fires. When the Covid event began, like much of the rest of the nation, I bought a Peloton bike to stay fit. It was both an attempt to manage my mood with the natural endorphins released by exercise, but also a way to navigate a global pandemic. Being healthy and fit are crucial during such adversities. When the house burned down, my fitness became a necessity. Both my husband and I have had to labor on the land, as well as move in and out from several rentals. Not simple labor either. It’s become clear that during times of emergency, there aren’t enough people to hire to help rebuild. If you want to recover, you’re gonna have be fit enough to do so on your own.
Guns and Ammo Ain’t Health
I’ve always been thick thighed, which came in handy when I was a gymnast as a kid. Tumbling is easier when you have some power in your ass. Yet this body design bothers me — I was called frog legs by some of the girls in junior high and that sting still clings to my psyche. It wouldn’t be until a few years ago, while working out in my regular CrossFit class, that I’d develop a bit of an affection for my peasant body. Often I’d joke with the instructor that my lower body strength would come in handy during the end times. I’m built to haul and walk long distances. We called them the “Thighs of the Apocalypse.”
America has long had a fascination with Preppers, with an extra emphasis on their guns and ammunition arsenals. Knowing how to operate firearms, as well as having access to them during a major collapse event is a good idea, especially for women. Self defense is also a plus — for me that’s been knowing how to get out of a hold and run like hell. I’m not young anymore, but I can still sprint. I haven’t needed a gun nor self-defense during my wildfire experience, but the fitness training has helped with carrying loads of wood chips and manure up and down the sloped land for hours at a time. It’s also helped with cutting down dead trees, removing brush, dragging trees into piles, clearing land, and of course, carrying load after load from my car into the condominium. A life with less infrastructure and laborers requires a lot more movement than you’d think. Knowledge workers who sit around all day might not be prepared for the increased labor involved for all of us in the future.
Some Preppers relish the idea of everything burning down so that only the righteous are left to create a just society in the aftermath. I’m not interested in these folks, if only because they’re hoarding and letting the rest of us suffer rather than rebuilding the structures needed for all of us to thrive. I’m more interested in the farmers — those who can grow food in the community. We also need the body workers — where are the herbalists, physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists in the community? Those who don’t need a fancy health facility to facilitate health. Who are the priests, shamans, spiritual directors, psychologists, meditation, and yoga teachers? This is the team of preppers I want to assemble, not so we can hoard together, but instead build community and health. This is one of the reasons why I always find the Waldorf school or permaculture community whenever I move. Teachers, artists, musicians, organic farmers, and spiritually minded people are drawn to such places.
In the past three years, I’ve broken my hip, endured a global pandemic, and lost my home to wildfire. I used to wonder when things would go back to normal, but now I realize normal isn’t the word I’m looking for. Life is work, it always has been, it’s just that as our economy and ecosystems collectively collapse, work takes on a different meaning. Life now is about having the physical and emotional strength to meet what is coming, to face the destruction and the rebirth without fear. My hearty Slavic genetics combined with physical fitness and in my case, a Rosary every morning, as well as friends and community are the recipe I’ve used to navigate these waters. So far, so good. There is beauty in these end times and I’m grateful to witness it in all its agony and pleasure.
Do not fear: Take it day by day, or one Peloton ride at a time, whatever keeps you fit and prepares you for the work ahead.