The Ring of Fire

Kage Baker, amid the several pre-writing rituals she espoused, included checking earthquakes every day. She used, which shows a nice swatch of California and Utah and all the tremors that have occurred recently. She took a look every day, just to see what was shaking along our little section of the Ring of Fire.

It’s on my mind lately, as it would have been on hers. While fairly calm about our local disasters – earthquakes in California are like tornadoes in Kansas, you know? – Kage did keep a weather eye on them. The Japanese quake of last week will be an ongoing emergency for months, and is nowhere near being resolved; and this morning a 6.8 hit Myanmar nee Burma. Myanmar’s reclusive military government is not releasing many details, but you can’t hide a Richter 6.8 from the neighbors: the whole Pacific rings like a bell when one hits.

So Kage studied the local patterns. So do I. And patterns do show up if you look at the map every single day: lots of little quakes all over the place that never make the news. Places like Hollister and Parkfield are well known for having a sort of constant background static of earthquakes going on; seismographers study them, mostly learning over and over that they don’t know how to predict earthquakes … But Californians are so blase about earthquakes that unless you do check a site like this, you never hear about the majority of them at all.

There is always a bunch of them down at the southern end of California, in those empty places where the San Andreas Fault surfaces like a military earthwork. There is always a cluster up in the Bay Area – not only does the San Andreas point like a spear right at San Francisco, the whole area is really nothing but faults held together with dirt … The far northern end of the state gets a lot of quakes, too; up near Petrolia, it’s apparently always rocking and rolling, though most of them seem to happen off the coast.

The map also shows where quakes don’t happen. One of those places is the Central California coast around Pismo Beach. Ta da! The out-thrust snail horns of Point Conception are usually unmarked by earthquake sign; in the many years we lived there, the only quakes we felt were ripples from big ones somewhere else. And really, we only felt two or three of those. Though the one in Paso Robles was enough to empty all our bookshelves, and send both Harry and a box full of a deceased friend’s ashes into the branches of our Christmas tree …

However, growing up in Los Angeles gave one lots of opportunities for earthquake participation. Grownups told stories about big ones before we were born – it seemed like everyone’s parents drove into cracks in the earth during the 1930 Long Beach quake. Los Angeles Harbor was damaged by a tsunami in 1960.There was a huge one the day Kage was born, but it happened way up in the Tehachapis, and only the cattle along the Grapevine must have noticed; though it cracked the Pismo Beach city hall in a way we could still see when we moved there 40 years later.

We were there for the big quakes in 1971, 1987, 1994 … in my personal experience, earthquakes usually happen in the early morning when I am wearing an ugly nightgown. Or, more likely, nothing at all. Might not be scientific, but it’s been a steady pattern through all the earthquakes in which I have participated.

I’m too old now to be caught out sleeping in the nudes when the hills begin to dance. I wear clothes to bed, and that really is one of the reasons why. For all I know, I am single-handedly holding off the Big One by wearing decent gowns to bed.

Parrots, by the way, are no use at predicting an earthquake. Geese, ducks, chickens and anonymous crowds of tropical birds leaping out of palm trees in the movies are all talented at this: not Amazon parrots. What Harry does feel, though, are the super- and sub-sonics of the quake, things humans cannot detect: and he screams like a little girl when he hears them. Since this is just about the time the quake can be felt, it’s not much use as a precursor – but the insane shrieking does lend a certain drama to the event.

The cats tend to vanish just before a quake. However, every one who lives with cats knows they’ll vanish anyway at any pretext; just because the moggies have all leaped out the window is not a dependable quake warning. They might have done it anyway. And the Corgi is such a cautious and paranoid little soul that he expects a major disaster is coming just about every night. So far it’s been raccoons and coyotes at 3 in the morning: I am sure he’ll be as surprised as we are when the next quake hits.

One just cannot worry about it, though. Not here in California, where the hills walk and the ground ripples like a carpet, and someone in the San Joaquin Valley built a shopping outlet named for St. Emedio, the patron of earthquakes. All one can do is watch the patterns and make sure the emergency kits in the garage are up to date: because some day it will happen.

As Kage used to point out practically, at least we don’t have an annual season for earthquakes.  Quakes aren’t really real until they happen. Tornadoes and hurricanes come every year. I don’t think I could take that.

About Kate

I am Kage Baker's sister. Kage was/is a well-known science fiction writer, who died on January 31, 2010. She told me to keep her work going - I'm doing that. This blog will document the process.
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4 Responses to The Ring of Fire

  1. Pamela Duncan says:

    I love reading your blog. Its an amazing talent you have there lady.

  2. widdershins says:

    Hm-mm … emergency kits in the garage eh? … and if the garage gets squished flat just when you need to get in there?

  3. Kate says:

    Well, on has to evaluate the chances wherever you put the emergency kits. The only thing to do is to examine the specific site and make your decision based on existing layouts. The house and garage both are stucco over wood and lathe – a very flexible construction, and one that does well in earthquakes. It sways well, and is easily cleared if it falls. The garage further has a wooden door that would be easily gotten through if jammed or blocked. There are no larger buildings to fall on the garage (whereas a two story building is next door to the house itself.) The house has a half cellar, but … underground is not the best idea in an earthquake. So earthquake kits in heavy-duty wheeled 30-gallon plastic bins, stored in the garage out of reach of raccoons, inclement weather and burglars, seemed the best bet. And I’ve had lessons!

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