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GOOD OLD TERRA FIRMA

Oceans are bulging and swamping coastlines. Floods fill cities. Winds are whipping landscapes into flatness. Man is frail, and so are his works. Earthquakes crush what the winds don’t reach. Mankind struggles to help itself, wailing over its terrible losses, reaching out helping hands however it can.

When I was a child in far off Luzon, I noticed a decorative doo-dad of little glass pieces hanging down from the living room ceiling. The hand-painted glass clinked sweetly when I jiggled it. “What’s this, mommy? Is it a wind chime? Shouldn’t it be outside?”

“No Spookie (my nickname from Halloween) – that’s an earthquake detector. If the earth deep beneath us begins to tremble, long before an earthquake gathers force, it tinkles a warning – it senses vibration – transmits it through the silk threads holding those glass bits, making them move and touch each other, tinkling. Those little gadgets are all over this area, all over Japan and the Far East.”

I thought about that, and looked at it from time to time, in my childlike way almost willing it to clink. Kids can be moronic like that. What did I know of earthquakes? Just sounded exciting.

But then came the typhoon, sweeping through the nighttime, ripping half the roof off our house. Mama and I hunkered in cots in our dry closet, a central walled location. No room for Daddy… he put his cot in the living room. He’d been through worse during the recent conflict. Luckily the flooding only rose halfway up its legs. Mattress spared. During the calm, along with neighbors, we poked outside for a moment to peer at the impressive wall of its passing eye. Next day, we were astonished to find our first survivors – wet chickens, bedraggled but unbroken, clucking in sunlight. Besides removing our roof, 120mph winds had shredded banana tree leaves to feathery fringes – how had the chickens come through alive?

Time catapulted us to Los Angeles – I was now fourteen. At five twenty-in the morning an odd cacophony of clattering awakened me. A massive wave of rattling, like thousands of venetian window blinds. The ever-increasing noise swept towards our home, wave-like across the city. It hit my window. My bed began to pitch. I scrambled up and streaked in a wobble down a rocking corridor to hop in bed with my parents. Like the Fun House on the Pier, it rocked and rolled, then quit. I knew exactly what it was as soon as I heard it. Funny how there’s no question. You just know. The noise, the clatter – emphatically broadcast it. It was an earthquake, pitching the city into dismay.

Now decades later, I watch the media-reported horrors of nature from a temporarily safe place. Nice day. Clouds forming up over the mountains though. I remember our own 2008 Alamos calamity, when Hurricane Norbert stopped to squat on those scenic mountains, dumping over twenty inches of rain and sending avalanches of historic proportions down on this little town. Boulders were loosened and sent tumbling like marbles down the mountainsides, creating tell-tale scars on forested slopes and forming debris dams, killing the unlucky in its unstoppable tide of mud. Bridges were swept away, stores and homes filled with watery muck.

The first we knew was when a huge vibration shook and rumbled up through our pillows to our heads. Not wind, but what? All I knew was I surely toast. Fatalistically I sent prayers and love to dear ones, and then grabbed my husband saying: “Wait! What was that? Someone is calling to us!”

Our neighbors were at our window hollering “Michelee, Hal, wake up, see what’s happening to your property!”

A flashlight beam revealed a dramatic surging waterway…. arroyo floodwaters had burst and leveled our property walls, bucking and plunging just beyond the house – we were on higher ground. Upshot: We were marooned for 3 days, the whole town for a month. Via our little airstrip, supplies and help arrived and bailed out the town. Today there are no signs or traces.

It will be that way someday, for Mexico. But we must help.

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