Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tragedy in southern Oregon

Last night, I opened the door and stepped out onto the deck. I wore a fleece, but no coat. I had socks on, but no shoes.

It was cold. The air was stiff, and a bit moist. And the cold was unmistakable. It enveloped me immediately, snaking up my fleece and stinging the bare skin on my back, biting the tips of my ears. It instantly soaked into my wool socks, stripping the warmth from my feet. I stayed only a few seconds before returning to the warmth of my bedroom.

But before I did, I breathed deeply and thought about James Kim, who didn’t have the option of returning to a warm space. Motivated to save his family, he pushed into the Siskiyou National Forest after nine days in his snowbound station wagon. I can readily understand why he did it. I think almost anything would be easier than watching your family die, even plunging into the frigid Oregon wilderness in shirtsleeves to seek help.

I can only wonder what Kati Kim was feeling. There could have been no question which one of them would go. She was the source of the nutrients keeping their girls alive. She was left with a task that was, in its own way, as monumental as the one her husband faced: to wait, caring for two children, and reassuring the one who was old enough to know something was very wrong. She had to grapple with what must have been monstrous fears, without the comfort of a sense of acting concretely to alleviate them.

In the end, James Kim made eight miles in the freezing air on nearly impossible terrain, having had little to eat for nine days. I’ve hiked – mostly on trails – in Southern Oregon. Well-fed, with the proper gear, and walking on a clear footpath, traversing this terrain under your own power is a strenuous task. Under the conditions James Kim faced, it’s an epic.

Sometimes the world is too hard.

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