Hours later, things were normal again. All the dishes had been put away. It was just another evening at the Caven ranch. Forgotten was the terror of the morning that came before it. You see, out here in California, the earth's crust tends to shift and move, causing those of us who understood the firma part of terra firma from their youth in much more stable states to imagine what someone once called "The Big One."
Earthquakes aren't anything new to me. Not after twenty-three years of surfing the edge of the continent while we all consider things like faults and Richter scales. This particular morning, after a flurry of guesses from my wife and myself, we got the news: 4.0. Initially, the scientists wanted to pet it at a much more exotic 4.2, which would have made it feel, well, more scientific. I was standing in my kitchen, putting soap in the dishwasher, wearing my bathrobe. When the house began to shake like it had been hit by a truck, my first reaction was frustration: "Great. Now I'll have to fix whatever is broken because this act of nature," and that thought trailed off. It was replaced abruptly by fear: "Earthquake. That's right. Earthquake. Do something, you ninny!" That adrenaline rush was pushing me toward all those clever solutions to this dilemma. I was going to stand in a doorway. No. Wait. They don't want us to stand in a doorway anymore. Where do they want us to stand? Stupid them. Earthquake experts who can't tell us when the next one is going to occur, and can't agree on where we should stand to be safe when the earth does quake. Frustration was back.
I was about to get back on the fright train when the shaking stopped. As quickly as it had appeared, it was gone again. Then I called out to my wife and son, who had been resting peacefully in their beds when the planet proved to be less than stable. My wife returned my call with an all clear, but I needed to see if my son, who has slept through all manner of disruptive phenomenon, had stirred when the walls of his room began to sway left and right. He was awake, fumbling for his phone to dial up the United States Geological Service. These are the folks who are in charge of killing any buzz that we all might have had about living through "The Big One."
That wasn't it. Not even close. Sure, it made me frustrated and anxious and frustrated again, but it didn't get anywhere near that six or seven that would make us all get our pictures in the news. When asked if this was some sort of harbinger of what might be the Big One still to come, the USGS folks rolled their geological eyes at that notion and essentially reiterated that earthquakes come when they please and don't tend to let us all in on their whereabouts or points of origin until after the fact. When the dishes are back in the cupboard and everything seems so normal and firm beneath our feet again.