Friday, April 18, 2008

An Exercise Belt From The Gods

So this will only be the most tiresomely over-blogged-about topic in history.

But I've never been in an earthquake before.

Having lived my whole life in the Midwest, these are just not features of my environment. People in mountainous country or who live along a fault line (e.g. Californians) may accept this as a fact of life, but not someone from Wisconsin.

So it was kind of a profound experience to get jostled out of my half sleep in Louisville at 5:37 this morning. Right away, as I felt the house move and noticed myself clearly moving about on my mattress (nothing makes you feel fat like the earth itself jiggling you around), I thought--and immediately dismissed--earthquake. We don't HAVE earthquakes here, I reasoned. Then I thought it must be a huge piece of road construction equipment moving down the alley behind the apartment--except there was no noise. Maybe there had been a plane crash? But the airport is seven miles away (we do occasionally hear the roar of military airplanes taking off), and even if we felt it here it wouldn't make the ground itself shake continuously for 10 seconds. After a quick reality check to be sure I hadn't dreamed it up, I decided it HAD to be an earthquake.

In the end (after idle thoughts about how quickly I could get out of the 150-year-old brick building and what the likelihood of aftershocks was) I rolled over and slept for another hour before checking the internet for news. And there it was.

As I drove over to the airport it struck me: imagine the energy involved to move all that mass. My drive from apartment to airport covers--just along my driving route--maybe a billion aircraft carriers' mass of earth's crust (just a wild-ass guess; how could one figure?) just along that infinitesimal swath of territory. Just think of the numbers of buildings and cars and barns and houses and freeways--all the stuff on top of the crust over thousands of square miles being made to move about noticeably, and then think of the impossibly greater mass of the crust of the earth itself.

Like thinking about what is beyond the border of a finite universe, this is just something above our pay grade; it's of a scope that our senses are simply not equipped to process. But imagine that, at that instant, my wife and I are registering the same movement from 501 miles apart, like a cosmic message.

Maybe it's Ghod's message for the Poop who's touring our lands! "This is what you get for setting up housekeeping on a rock plate floating on magma!"


Flow Blue Bud's Blogspot said...

Looks like you're already a pro at magma surfing, rolling over and sleeping after a 5.2 quake in a brick building. A friend of mine moved to Texas after being in the Northridge earthquake--the building collapsed around her. She did research to find places that did not have earthquakes, and hence ended up here in central Texas. The novelty of living in a stone house and being able to place heavy objects on overhead shelves did not last as long as I though it would after years of living in earthquake country.

wunelle said...

That's right, you're a fault line pro! Do you have stories to tell?

The quake wasn't 5.2 where I was surely, but it was still very noticeable (some people I talked to who were in their cars didn't feel anything).

If it had been stronger I would have worried about my old building.

Flow Blue Bud's Blogspot said...

I was in grad school at Stanford during the Loma Prieta quake in 1989, and was responsible for monitoring this rain gauge at the top of this metal platform about 8 feet off the ground. It was the last day for me to monitor after of week of readings, and I remember thinking how odd it was that the ladder was squeaking as I climbed it that day. Hmm, must be gaining weight, I thought to myself. I got to the top, took my measurement, climbed down, took two steps, and the earthquake struck. The weirdest thing was seeing the asphalt roads undulating in perfect sine waves, and hearing the leaves on the immense oak trees shaking. Someone was riding a bike and he wobbled wildly about before being able to put his leg down. The only real scare that I had was when I saw footage of the collape of the SF Bay Bridge. Both my sister and parents commuted over that bridge daily, and I had several hours of worry before everyone checked in safely.