Here we are again in Alameda, California. Last night, just after 8 pm, we were lying in bed reading (me: Conrad's The Secret Agent; she, Roth's Exit, Ghost) and recuperating from the grandchildren's pre-Hallowe'en hysteria, when I said to A., "Would you please stop shaking the bed." She, of course, replied, "I'm not moving," and I joked, "Then it must be an earthquake." And, much to my surprise, so it was. Five point six on the Richter scale, just twenty miles south of here, five miles underground, along the Calaveras fault. There's the possibility of another one, but so far, nothing that we've been able to discern. Astonishing to say, but just a few hours ago, the sure and firm-set earth was feverous and did shake -- which put me in mind of the fragility of our earthly being and also made me recall some other natural phenomena that I've witnessed.
All that I can remember of the famous 1945 hurricane was watching at the window while my father, out in the storm, tried vainly to secure his precious peach tree, which was being shredded to oblivion by the fierce winds. I have a vivid recollection of the great blizzard of 1947, because after the storm subsided, snow was piled so high on both sides of the sidewalks that, for a small boy, it was like walking though a canyon -- and great fun to clamber up the mountainous heaps. I was a young witness to a sudden squall on Long Island Sound that sank, if I remember correctly, hundreds of pleasure boats. Even more serious was the Connecticut River flood of 1972, which washed out the culverts on our road, tumbled downstream some hefty boulders, and isolated us for a couple of days. Throughout the summer, there were memorable mud stains thirty feet in the air on the trees that grew in the river valley. Once in the 1980s, driving across the country just after the Mississippi had overflowed its banks, we observed standing water many miles from where water had any business to be. We were at Mt. St. Helen's a year after the mountain blew its top, but signs of the devastation -- bald patches, toppled trees -- were still writ large on the landscape. Same with the Black Tiger fire; we missed the fire but couldn't ignore the extensive blackening. In Hawaii once, we walked along hardened lava flows for a couple of miles to find a standpoint to observe magma, fresh from the earth's interior, fall steaming into the ocean to create new land. In Costa Rica, we visited a dormant volcano -- monumental even in its sleepiness.
Not many such events, but a sufficient number to produce respect for the natural processes. No tsunamis or crackings of the ice shelf. And nothing, thank goodness, comparable to the explosion of Tambura on the island of Sumbawa that caused the summer without sun and a crisis of subsistence in parts of Europe and North America. And certainly nothing whatsoever like the meteor that landed 70 million years ago in the Yucatan, after which the fossil record becomes a blank for a thousand years and every creature larger than a pussycat went extinct. Yesterday's trembling was a good reminder that our mother earth is a lot more fragile than she appears to be on your average warm, pleasant, quakeless evening.