David J. Phillip, Associated Press

Wallace Stegner called them "stickers" — people who move into an area, put down roots and make a stand. It's an admirable trait, to a point. But people aren't trees. They can put down roots yet still pick up quickly to get out of harm's way.

It's a lesson that was apparently lost on many of the residents of Galveston, Texas, and other Gulf Coast communities hit by Hurricane Ike. And the results, in some cases, have been tragic.

Still, rather than dwell on the misfortune of others, looking at errors in order to better prepare ourselves for the future is always more productive.

The news stories laid out the facts. Of the 60,000 residents of Galveston, Texas, 20,000 remained in their homes during the hurricane despite public announcements that such a move was courting death. In the early going, thousands had to be saved from dilapidated buildings. One body was found in an automobile submerged near the airport. In all, Texas authorities had to send in 50 helicopters and 1,500 searches to look for survivors who probably should have been long gone.

In hindsight, "hanging in there" to weather a devastating blow like the one delivered by Ike seems foolhardy. And those who remained behind have caused much more commotion — and heartache — than necessary.

Yet one suspects they were simply embracing a cardinal American virtue: "toughness in the face adversity."

We cheer such an attitude daily — in the athlete who refuses to give up, in the miners who refuse to feel all is lost. We prize it in our soldiers, our leaders and our workers.

But just as the person who is very ill but refuses to see a doctor is not tough or gutsy but clueless, there comes a time when, as the old saying goes, "retreat is the better part of valor."

It's not easy to know when "fight" should be exchanged for "flight." No one wants to feel like a coward and nobody wants to abandon something that they've filled with their dreams and hard work. But perhaps a major lesson in the aftermath of Ike should be there's a moment when it's important to defer to the counsel of wiser heads and people in a better position to know.

In the world of illness and medicine, that would be a physician.

In the world of natural disasters, that would be the people who have made a career out of recognizing the implications of "waiting out a storm" when so much more is on the line than personal will and toughness.

Maybe, given the double tragedy of Ike — the tragedy of those who left and those who stayed behind — teaching the American public that sometimes "guts" must bow to "good sense" would be a valuable insight for those who, undoubtedly, will be caught in the cross hairs of Mother Nature on a rampage in the future.