Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ninety-Seven Percent

No, that's not the latest George Bush unpopularity rating, it's the chance we have, here in Southern California, of a major 6.7 earthquake between this very moment and 2038., according to the U.S. Geological Survey, USC's Southern California Earthquake Center AND the State Geological Survey. Oh, and a 37 percent chance of a huge, 7.5 event. By 2038, of course, the chances of my still being around are a good deal slimmer. If that should happen, though, I hope it's without being totally gaga or physically debilitated.

Still, I don't relish the prospect of another massive shrug of Mother Earth's shoulders. The first big one I felt was back in 1971. Ellie and I were living on the same hill, around the corner from where we are now. The quake struck early morning, and we won't easily forget the big, cheesy moon dripping down over the Griffith Park Observatory, nor the eerie green flashes throughout Hollywood and beyond as the electrical transformers blew. We had an old friend staying with us at the time, a Korea vet, and he woke in a panic, thinking he was back in combat.

The second big one came in 1993, I think, in Northridge, to the northwest from where we live. For some reason, the shock waves traveled in our direction, and we found ourselves, downstairs, ankle deep in glass and pottery shards from our collection of purple glass and American art pottery. We had big cracks in the walls of our substantial old house, too, and one injury: our new puppy, who normally slept on the back porch, came dashing through the shards and rushing upstairs with bleeding feet.

I recall having pretty much enjoyed the first jolt. It was a novelty. I was young, European. It felt exotic, somehow, very Californian. And of course I was still invulnerable. The second time around, I was scared. Nowadays, I confess, I never go to sleep without thinking about earthquakes. Not once. I'm not sure why, but they're always on my mind. Perhaps I was a little traumatized by the Northridge quake. Those who follow these meanderings in The Buddha Diaries will know that the death I fear the most is being buried alive under tons of rubble. That might have something to do with it.

Still, better to be Buddhist about it, right? Practice a little equanimity. Breathe. Let go of the fear.


robin andrea said...

My first earthquake was the Sylmar quake of February 9, 1971. It was a 6.0 and shook for a full minute. We had just moved from New Jersey to California a few months earlier and had no idea what to do with all that shaking. Second quake was the Loma Prieta Quake of October 17, 1989. That was a 7.1 that shook for a fierce and gut-wrenching 15 seconds. The power of earthquakes is something unknowable until you feel the earth rip out from beneath your feet. I don't live in fear of them as much as in awe.

Mercurious said...

Perhaps this is why so many Buddhists I know live in California.

YOu really can't cling to permanence with this threat hanging over your head all the time.

It's not quite the same, I know, but here in the midwest the awe and dread of monstrous summer thunderstorms and tornadoes is the closest we can come to what you describe.

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

97%, huh? Would this be the one that will result in the west coast falling into the Pacific?

Years ago I remember a Laugh-In segment featuring “news from the future”:

“Fears that the U.S. West Coast is sliding into the Pacific are greatly exaggerated. So reports our West Coast Meteorological Station located in Denver.”