Yesterday the pleasant, sun baked, sleepy town of Napa, California was struck by a massive 6.0 earthquake, at approximately 3:20 am, the second highest recorded earthquake in California since the deadly Loma Prieta quake in 1989, which registered at 6.9 on the Richter scale…Each .1 of a point on the Richer scale is a different order of magnitude, and a 10.0 on the Richter scale would be total destruction…Napa is best known as the center of the “wine country” in California, and millions of visitors and tourists from all over the world have been there to tour the many massive wineries and sample the fine wines, but even for non drinkers Napa has always been a slow, relaxed bucolic town….It is one of the most beautiful areas in the state of California, and now a state of emergency has been called by the governor and the damage could exceed $1 billion….Luckily the damage was mostly confined to the wineries themselves, with many mostly minor injuries but few fatalities recorded….
There are guided tours for every winery, whether you chose to taste the many varieties of wine or not….. Just driving to the town of Napa or anywhere in the wine country or passing through en-route to other destinations you can see the many acres of carefully tended green low hanging vineyards that produce the grapes the wine is processed into…It is a beautiful, peaceful town, but yesterday nature reared up it’s ugly side and hammered the sleeping town with a sneak punch, a body blow…. (One shot straight to the body, one shot straight to the heart-Rolling Stones) in a violent, earth wracking rending and tearing of the grinding, shifting, moving tectonic plates miles below the surface….They grinded against each other sharply for whatever unknown reasons and realigned themselves in some new and different configurations at some random geologic point in time…The shock waves from this deep geothermal event is what produced the earthquake effects on the surface…..
Luckily the epicenter of the quake was 6 miles deep, and at the time of the quake, almost everyone was asleep and not outside in the street…There were several “rolling” waves of tortured, fractured earth wrenching, street rending, building collapsing energy lasting approximately 20 seconds, and the shock waves reached south all the way towards San Francisco and north to at least Lake county, approximately 100 miles in either direction…It jolted many people awake from a sound sleep, especially those in Napa, of course….
This is the great contradiction of California, the state is riddled with earthquake faults with millions of people perched atop them blissfully unaware of the raging geothermal forces and molten magma deep under the surface….This is the “Soap Bubble,” the illusion of normality that we as Californians live in daily denial of, that all that we have, all that we own, all our self important jobs and flashy new high rise construction, the glitzy mansions and spectacular landscapes are all built on top of a 99% unknown and little understood system of fault lines and underground geothermal energy fault lines…. Even the scientists and geologists who study such phenomenons are baffled by the complexity and inter-connectivity of these deep underground fault lines….
In fact, about the only thing all these scientists can safely agree upon to predict is that California is due for “The Big One”, a major massive earthquake at some unknown point in the future, and they have a very hazy, imprecise inexact knowledge of such crucial components as when, where or even why most likely this inevitable killer quake will strike….The original infamous San Francisco quake of 1906 registered a magnitude of 7.8 and resulted in over 3,000 deaths and the near complete leveling of the then small town known as the Jewel of the West Coast….A similar quake today in San Francisco or even more densely populated areas like Los Angeles or San Diego could theoretically kill millions and wreak untold economic havoc on the state…..
Californians are constantly asked why do we live in such a disaster prone state? Why indeed? Well, first of all, nowhere is absolutely safe, the whole Eastern seaboard is subject to a “hurricane season” each and every year, where untold damage, deaths and havoc are wreaked every year, and these people are comfortable with living their lives under these horrendous seasonal conditions most Californians would never even consider…The great Plains States and the American Midwest are similarly plagued by tornadoes, killer winters and scorching summers, the America south has all these features as well…In short, there is nowhere in this country that is 100% safe from natural disasters…..
We are all living in a soap bubble, every single person living on this planet earth the fragile illusion that it can’t happen here, or that if it does at least my family will somehow survive, my house will remain standing etc…Or more likely, it will come up at some point in the far future, a likely supposition considering the glacial pace of natural events…The truth is, there is nothing that Californians can do about such natural disasters, just like the rest of the country…. Nature is a mighty force that unleashes it’s little understood and mostly non predictable energy bolts at random….It does so capriciously, unfairly and at totally unpredictable intervals throughout history, it always has, it always will….
Maybe the seasonal certainty of the natural disasters back east are comforting to some, implying there will be corresponding relatively secure and safe times as well, but in California there is no certainty, no season, no indications of when and where the “Big One”will be triggered, or even if it will be triggered at all…. Meantime we are, all of us, living in a soap bubble, East and West coasts, time cannot be predicted or regained when lost, and car accident, fires and natural disasters are endemic everywhere in the world….
The truth is, as Jim Morrison’s autobiography was so aptly titled: “Nobody Here Gets Out Alive”…Still in California we are especially blessed, I believe we enjoy more what we have each day while we still can, knowing intellectually that at any moment it can all be taken away just like the earthquake in Napa yesterday, without warning and totally at random…Still at times like yesterday we are brought face to face with the grim reality that we who live in California are subject to probability, not possibility…This reminds me of a poem i wrote right after the 1989 earthquake, the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake that killed at least 63 people and toppled part of the Bay Bridge…This poem reflects a totally personal reaction, nobody i knew personally was hurt or affected by that quake, but in a larger sense we all were…It goes like this:
11-3-1989 A Retrospective
“The earthquakes come all the time now…..
There used to be years, months, weeks in between, but now they’re always there….
I feel them when i am wide awake, which isn’t so bad…
But the worst times are when i am asleep, and they shake me out of bed, or
When my dreams turn into quivering nightmares,
Of solid ground turned into sickening, shuddering waves of terror and confusion
That go on and on and on and there’s nothing and nobody to hold onto….
And then i wake up….
And feel the ground shaking….”
So I guess the only real question is: When will the soap bubble pop again?
“Que sera, sera”…..Whatever will be, will be….