Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Magnitude 8.8

I have many nerdy passions. Among them is a fascination with tectonic plates. 

Are you still reading?  

It's really not as dorky as it sounds; these are what separate us from the molten inner core of our planet.  As they move around, up and down over each other, slipping and pressing and creasing and faulting, earthquakes and tsunamis wreak havoc on the humans above the crust.

I fell in love with the idea of the movable basement upon which we rest through a class I took one summer in Ithaca.  Among the readings for Paleobotany (the only class on the schedule which involved being outside and hence the only class in which I was interested) was John McPhee's Basin and Range. It was a long drive from Chicago, and with TBG behind the wheel and the Cuters in the back seat bored to tears, I began to read aloud. 

Questions from my children have always helped me to clarify things.  Suddenly, having to read McPhee's words like the story they really are, I felt the earth move. 

Thus begins a passion.  

Today I heard NBC describe Chile's earthquake as having moved so much mass on the planet that the Earth shifted 3" off its axis. The insides shifted and the whole thing tilted. 

That gave me cause for pause.  When the report explained that this change had shortened the length of the day by several millionths of a second I realized that I'd just been alive when the cosmos shifted.

I sauteed vegetables and thought about the notion of big.  I can't imagine a definition which wouldn't include a shift in the rotation of the earth. 

Scientists can only forecast, not predict --  I'm sure there's a distinction but NBC, like Olympic announcers, doesn't bother to explain very much.  And those forecasts are in decades, not months.  The reporter tried to be aggravated that no one would/could tell him why, in the 21st century, science was unable to do better but I really didn't care.  This is going to happen again, there is no doubt about it.  No one can tell me when or where - the coast of Oregon, the East Bay (wasn't the Oakland Hills Fire enough???) , somewhere along The Ring of Fire.... the only thing to do is Be Prepared. 

Do you have your earthquake kit?  Can you feed yourself for a week?  Do you know how to turn off the water to your house?  Do you have flashlights and batteries?  A can opener? 

Because big things don't ask permission before they let themselves into your life.

1 comment:

  1. Of all the natural events I've been exposed to, earthquakes are second only to tornadoes for terrifying by my criteria. When we lived in Alaska, temblors and quakes were strong and frequent, especially in winter. I spent some very long moments on many very cold nights, standing just inside the front door in the as the earth moved...with two kids, one small dog, and all the blankets I could grab. And nary a clue whether to go out or stay in as we waited to see if this would be The Big One. Those moments are probably the reason we don't live in AK anymore, beautiful though it was. You did such a good job with the Olympics; keep an eye on those plates for me.


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