Growing up in California, I lived in the ever-present shadow of the “Big One”. We would have the Big One within 30 years. Since “they who know about such things” were measuring from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, it seemed to me that by the mid-20th century, we were actually overdue. By the time we moved here, I was well into my 3rd ‘within 30 years’ warning.
Earthquakes are a fact of life in California. The constant, background storm of little 2.0’s aren’t even noticeable. There is always a whole lot of shakin’ going on, even when we don’t feel it. Living on the edge of two tectonic plates and more than a few fault lines, well, that is just the way it rolls in California.
But, every once in a while the Golden State likes to make itself felt. The last time we got a good, sound shaking was in 1989 with the Loma Prieta Quake. That one was terrible. Freeway overpasses flattened the cars on the lower level. The San Francisco Embarcadero was no more. That one, all the way out in the Central Valley, I felt. Lines swayed. Plate glass windows rippled. The ground bobbed like a kiddie rollercoaster and for one who doesn’t like any kind of rollercoaster, I was terrified and didn’t think it would ever stop. The door on my wall clock broke free and opened. The clock door opening was actually pretty amusing. It was such a small thing but so telling.
There were some sobering and daunting “horrible beauty” photographs to come out of that event. And, like all photos that keep records of what happens in the aftermath, there were images that were quintessentially California. They practically scream CALIFORNIA at you. Kids skateboarding on makeshift ramps created from uplifted sidewalks might be one such image. So . . . you can imagine how unimpressed I was by the little 2 point somethings that rattle folks along the New Madrid Fault Line.
It wasn’t until I visited the New Madrid Museum (highly recommended, by the way) that I learned about the Earthquakes of 1811-1812. This quake was actually a series of quakes and aftershocks that ran from December 1811 through February 1812. The first was in Arkansas estimated to be 7.6. The second, in New Madrid, occurred in January 1812 estimated to be 7.5 and this one swallowed an entire town. The third, in February 1812, created Reelfoot Lake. Anyone who’s local knows about Reelfoot and it’s one of the first things that visitors or new residents learn about. My respect for the New Madrid Fault was increasing. I was also thinking, “I moved from earthquake central to another quake center? And there are tornados, too? Sheesh!”
But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I actually felt and HEARD one of these fabled quakes. We were hit with a 3.6’er and the lift, clap, and boom I felt and heard was nothing to sneeze at. I also screamed, as if lightning exploding on top of me and accidents with semis wasn’t enough. But hearing it was the really scary part for me. Living in the Central Valley of California, our quakes and rumbles were quiet. They roll and come at you in waves. This one felt like two immovable objects moving anyway and slamming together. I’m sure California quakes aren’t quiet for the folks in the thick of them, but for us, it was quiet. Actually hearing this one left me shaking for a while.
So, after seven months here, I’ve reconciled myself to the not so new normal of my life. I was born in quake country; I will no doubt die in another quake country. I’ve developed a new found respect for this little ol' fault line of yours. It may not be the San Andreas, but it sure packs a punch.
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