Tuesday, August 23, 2011

DC's Shakes, Rattles, and Rolls

Mother Nature and I are not on speaking terms.

I was born and for the most part raised in Southern California.  With the exception of a brief sojourn for three years to northwest Indiana, I lived in suburban Los Angeles, the high desert, and San Diego prior to moving to the DC area twenty years ago.  Throughout my youth, earthquakes were a part of life.  Shortly after my first birthday, we experienced a 6.6 quake.  The epicenter was the community where my mom's parents lived - their home and neighborhood sustained heavy damage.  Olive View Medical Center, only open for a month, largely collapsed.  My other grandmother worked there.   The VA Hospital also sustained serious damaged and loss of life.  Several freeway overpasses collapsed.  My mother told me that she had a hard time staying on her feet getting to my crib as I napped as the world shook around me.  I never woke, but I felt the effects for years.

I remember the smaller quakes, the way the earth shook.  I remember the drop drills, they way we practice tornado or fire drills, we would practice dodging debris under our desks.  Occasionally, the room would shake a little and you went under.  Nothing serious in my childhood, but you were always prepared.  You arranged your rooms so nothing could fall on you as you slept.  Every time you went to Grandma Mayes house and you wanted a glass out of the cupboard, you had to undo a latch on the front of the cupboard and a hook on the inside of it.  We laughed at her - it was a great deal of effort for a drink of water.  She never wanted to sweep her entire kitchen out of her floor again.  After losing so much and spending such time and care in rebuilding her home and belongs, she wanted to minimize any future damage.  

I grew up afraid.  Even the three years we lived in Indiana and experience tornadoes for the first time, I always appreciated the fact that at least you had a few minutes warning to scurry to the basement.  Wildfires, as long as you aren't stubborn and you leave the first you are told, you might lose your property, but you won't lose your life.  Same generally goes for hurricanes.  But there is an unpredictability to earthquakes.  The weatherman can't tell you when the fault lines that run under our planet will come alive and what the end result will be.

It is certainly more expected in California.  It's part of the culture.  The south looks to the north, north to south, each waiting for the other to have "The Big One."  My sister Tracy lives in Washington State.  From her backyard, you see Mt. Rainier, one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.  You expect tremors like we had today... there.  Out West.  Not here.  It's part of the reason I choose not to live there.  I despise the uncertainty of it all.  Some people who live in parts of the world where earthquakes are common find themselves able to coexist with them.  I never was.

They scare the part of me that remembers hiding under desks, the part that was waiting for "The Big One."  Remembers what the destruction of a 6.6 looks like and how long it takes to rebuild.  I am really gratefully that the damage was so minimal for the area today.  I hope whatever fault line woke up this afternoon to rumbles gently goes back to sleep for another thousand years.  And I am thrilled that my own children are marvelling at today with more wonder and curiosity than fear.

As for my Grandma Mayes... 23 years later there was another quake.  Northridge, a community I had called home for several years, was the epicenter for a strong 6.7.  Northridge and Sylmar are only a couple of miles apart and Grandma Mayes suffered some damage again.  Lost her dishes with nowhere near the mess.  She put the trash can up to the cupboard and swept everything out.  She was a clever lady.

Unlikely that Mother Nature.  Nope, I am still mad at her.