James Kim was found dead yesterday.
His life, and his untimely death, were generally overshadowed by the harrowing Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq that, while intriguing, will go nowhere fast because the president and his policy henchmen refuse to confess a mistake or do the right thing.
James Kim was found alone and frozen in the backwoods of Southern Oregon by a search and rescue effort that had previously found his wife and two young children alive in their car.
James Kim set out on his own — like a lion in the snow, uncertain and unaware, but brave in an element that was not his own and strong in the face of nature as he sank into the teeth of the unknown — to seek help for his family.
The Kim family had all been stranded together in their car without much food since Thanksgiving. His wife breastfed the children.
They burned tires for warmth when they ran out of gasoline to heat the car.
There is a fine line between disparaging the dead and educating others in order to prevent another untimely decision that leads to the depths of the same end; so forgive me now if the rest of this article feels insensitive or unfortunate as we try together to stop something like the death of James Kim from ever happening again.
Sometimes the best ideas are the most deadly to the unwitting and the inexperienced and the result is a tragedy from which no one can ever recover.
If you are ever stranded in the snow and you have shelter — a cave, a cove of fallen trees, a car — stay with the shelter you have. Do not give up protection from the elements unless you are wholly certain something better is within half a day’s walk. If there is doubt, sit down.
If you die in the shelter you have, you all die together in the warmth of each other’s arms. There is no nobility in tempting death and finding it conveniently waiting for you circling an 8-mile crevasse. I realize what I’m suggesting — stay together at all costs — goes against the notion of reaching out to be heard, to make a final mark, to die trying instead of dying sitting down, but cold weather has an insidious way of draining your energy and playing tricks with your mind as you wander aimlessly without a predetermined way out.
Make your future decision right now from the warmth and cogent reasoning of your own mind: Stay together! Perhaps I know these things in the core of my DNA because I was born into the harsh weather of the Nebraska plains where you don’t need a weatherman to predict what’s coming because you feel the land and sky tethered in your bones. You learn to read the sky.
You learn to fear the land.
You learn to respect the stormy relationship between the heavens and the earth. You quickly understand swirling grey with golden streaks in the Western sky means rain; you tremble with you see olive green patches in the same sky because that’s a brewing tornado. You give a grave respect to the elements because they cannot be pinned down or settled on more than a prediction.
There are some, harsher than me, who will claim James Kim earned his untimely death by foolishly challenging the unknown by wagering claimed safety against unreasonable hope. I take a kinder view that James Kim did the best he could with the information he had. He likely fought his instincts for wandering into the wilderness, but decided he had to try to bravely defend his family like a lion in the snow. In the end, James Kim never knew what killed him.