Duck and Cover

Plan for the Worst, Hope for the Best

As a Utah resident, I have come to cherish my desert time. I love the Glen Canyon and using Lake Powell to share the desert grandeur with my children, who are not of the age to go hardcore canyoneering. A handful of years ago, I led my family on a 4th of July adventure to the up-lake region of Powell. Given my predispositions to adventure, nature, and exploration — I charted a course to an area that the National Park Service issued warnings about due to low water. There is no cell reception in this part of the Lake. The week prior, several ski boats had hulled themselves on rock spires that, without sonar, nautical charts, or local knowledge were invisible to an unsuspecting boater. It may sound odd to some — but this was a very well-conceived plan in my mind.

I saw fit to equip myself with Utah’s finest mortars and aerials, given the holiday. I ran all necessary mechanical and safety checks on the boat, trailer, and truck as preparation for departure. I loaded a week’s gear, tackle, fuel, and provisions. Hanksville received the honorary ‘tip-of-the-hat’ while passing by, and we made an early morning launch at Bullfrog.

We secured a camping outpost in one of the most idyllic scenarios at Powell. It was a short canyon just slightly off the main channel, the curvature of which deadened boat wakes like a harbor and provided privacy. It was large enough that having camp destroyed by flash flooding was not a concern but too narrow to hold more than one campsite. The walls were approaching 200 feet tall and offered relief from the sun and wind. There was a sandy beach and a flat plateau suitable for multiple tents. There were dense shad populations, and the stripers would push in and nearly beach themselves in boils every morning and evening.

I was particularly excited about the fireworks display in this canyon. I could see the reverberating colors, shadows, reflections, and sounds that an aerial presentation would provide within my mind’s eye. While it is effortless to lose time in an environment such as this — we counted the days to the Independence Day observance.

We came back to camp early, grilled hot dogs and burgers, gorged ourselves on Green River watermelon, and staged the fireworks show. Mom and the girls positioned themselves on the boat’s deck for this exclusive and private fireworks presentation. My son (six years old) accompanied me as an apprentice to the production. I created a zone to deploy the mortars, safe from the vessel, the tents, or flammable debris. The time had arrived.

The evening started with absolute perfection. This set-up had proved to be everything I had planned for and imagined. My son was beside himself with excitement. He brought me an aerial assortment called “Red, White, and Boom” and insisted this was the next up on the program. The particular build was a 20-shot assortment with the mortar tubes secured together in a tower and weighted by a square pedestal.

I set it up, added some rock to secure the pedestal, and lit the fuse. All planning aside, on the 4th report of 20, the situation evolved into something unforeseen. Someone in engineering had added a disproportionate amount of powder to the pedestal’s support capacity. The result, stemming from that ill-fated 4th report, was that the recoil tipped the tower over. That moment provided a new schedule of 16 large-scale explosions of fire, color, sound, and light deployed horizontally, ricocheting, in an inescapable canyon where my posterity and all of our survival equipment were in the line of fire.

The scene reminded me of the sequence from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 masterwork, Apocalypse Now, where Captain Benjamin L. Willard, portrayed by Martin Sheen, is looking for the Commanding Officer to refit their boat from the outpost at the Do Lung Bridge. With Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of ‘The Star Spangled Banner’ as a background soundtrack to the melee — I grabbed my son’s arm and screamed “duck and cover” as we fled for safety behind a nearby boulder. As we ran through the sand, I could see the darkness cut by multi-colored light and shadow, mingled with thunderous noise. Every ignition spun the mortar tower like a psychedelic wheel of adverse destiny and consequence. I watched as gigantic flaming flowers repeatedly passed through our nylon tents and bedding.

Our guardian angels were on point that evening. The boat was undamaged. My wife, the girls, the provisions, the dogs, and our only chance to make the 30+ mile trek back to the truck, or cell reception to summon help, were all intact and undamaged. My son had to work through the experience psychologically, which mainly manifested as several days of jumbled speech with the occasional “duck and cover” expression inserted into his train of thought. I look back on this event and cannot express my gratitude for our fortunate outcome.

I share this experience because I believe there is a timely message. The best-laid plans are subject to chaotic change at any moment. Sometimes the chaos is invited by an individual’s poor decisions. Sometimes the disruptions to our ‘perfect situation’ are unprovoked – but unavoidable nonetheless. When these events happen, there are several variables to an equation that I have found meaningful when mitigating life’s chaos.

We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are

Anais Nin


The first principle to navigating chaos is planning for the worst and hoping for the best. Planning includes both material and mental preparations. Preparing for a disaster does not automatically make you a paranoid or conspiracy theorist. If you have thought through potential situations, they are less likely to catch you by surprise. A simple glance at history will suggest many precedents for catastrophe striking innocent people. Preparation will often separate the victims from the survivors. Be moderate, wise, and maintain situational awareness of your surrounding circumstances. Plan accordingly.

Be Calm

The following principle is to stay calm and disciplined in the eye of the storm. Planning will help you keep your cool in the heat of the moment. Your decision-making skills will directly affect the outcome of a chaotic event. If you lose control of your emotions, you will not be fit to lead. Correspondingly, you may become a liability to your team or an unnecessary casualty of circumstances.

Stay Optimistic

Last but not least, stay optimistic in the aftermath. Positivity in the face of disaster will become a light and a beacon to those suffering around you. There is always a silver lining and a lesson that an individual can glean by overcoming obstacles. Buddha taught, “Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.” Find gratitude, especially when the world around you is at its worst, and share your love. To quote 20th Century diarist Anais Nin, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Be the lighthouse that guides others out of the stormy waters and you will find joy in serving your fellow citizens.

I love the Heber Valley and the dynamic of our evolving population. We live in a modern-day Shangri-La that is isolated from particular storms. Other storms will likely make landfall with the HV at ground zero. Have a plan in place to lean on. Please be safe this summer and make decisions that will help you to mitigate unforeseen chaos. Nurturing our humanity will define who we are in the wake of the flood (or an unpropitious firework display).