I don't think I'm afraid of very many things, but I do fear earthquakes.
It's funny that I grew up in California, but I don't have any memory of being in earthquakes as a child.
My dad has a great story about the big earthquake (7.3) in Tehachapi in 1952. It was right after he and Mom were married. He was working on a ranch that summer, so they lived in a little tiny travel trailer in one of the fields. One night they felt the trailer rocking and Dad went out to chase the cow away that (they assumed) was bumping up against the little trailer. As he put his foot down to the ground, the ground came up and patted his foot. He suddenly realized that the "cow" was actually a big earthquake. According to Mom, he promptly dived back into bed.
I remember two tsunami evacuations. The first one was in 1960, after the 9.5 earthquake in Chile. We were down at the harbor having lunch in the cockpit of our family's sailboat. I had just turned 6 the week before, and my brother was not quite 5. As the water began to get sucked out of the bay, the sailboat suddenly lurched to one side, tipping all of the condiments into our laps. My dad shouted for my mom to get us kids to safety in a hilly area of town, and he took the sailboat out to a deep hole in the bay. He anchored there and stayed overnight on the boat, as it swung back and forth on its anchor with the water rushing in and out of the harbor with the tsunami surges.
The second tsunami evacuation came in 1964, when I was ten, after the 9.2 earthquake in Alaska. This time we were at home in bed (Mom, my brother, me). Dad was already down at the harbor, where he worked as the harbor engineer. Mom got us kids us and wrapped us in blankets because she had to drive the jeep - Dad already had the car down at the harbor. Once again she drove us to a hilly area where we stayed for the night. I had tsunami nightmares off and on for several years after that.
We used to joke about The Big One when I was a teenager in California. There were cartoons about the western half of California falling off into the ocean. It was all just a joke. Earthquakes happened somewhere else, to other people.
A few years after I moved to the Pacific Northwest in the late 70s, geologists figured out that the Cascadia Subduction Zone was ripe for a major subduction earthquake. A few years after that, they figured out that the Portland area is likely to sustain major damage in an earthquake because the fertile Willamette Valley soil is sediment from 15,000-year-old floods. Even really old sediment tends to settle in big earthquakes, shaking buildings and making a mess.
We've had a couple of small earthquakes in the region since I moved here. One was the Spring Break Quake in 1993. We were camped out at the coast, but I happened to be awake at 5:34 and I distinctly heard a distant boom. Something changed. Polly's friend, Patti, was camped with us, and she also heard or felt something.
About 10 years ago there was a small quake during the school day. I was teaching in a ground-floor classroom. I was standing up, teaching, and I didn't feel anything, but my students felt it. Their chairs moved under their bottoms. A few years later there was another small quake, but we were out of town.
This region is ripe for a magnitude-9 earthquake. I live in a stick-frame house that is 103 years old. I sleep in an upstairs bedroom. If a quake hits at night, will I make it out of the house alive? And if we survive, what will our lives be like?
I look at news and photos from Japan, superstorm Sandy, hurricane Katrina, Indonesia...it makes you stop and think. No matter how prepared you try to be, how prepared are you really?
A few years ago I took a short overnight backpacking hike with my grandson, Josh, when he was 8 years old. We camped just beyond High Bridge on the Eagle Creek trail in the Columbia River Gorge. During the night I woke up and had a hard time getting back to sleep. I lay there in our little tent listening to my sweet grandson breathe, and wishing I could get a little more comfortable on my Thermarest pad. Then, for some reason, I started thinking about earthquakes. What if The Big One hit that night?
You know how it is in the middle of the night when you can't sleep. My imagination just took off. There were downed trees all around us from the earthquake. Hmmm...would we be crushed? Dead - end of story. Not dead - now what? We'd have to hike out by climbing out over all those huge trees that would be lying in our way. No doubt the trail would be a mess. I mentally hiked along the trail until I got to...oh, no! High Bridge had collapsed in the earthquake! We were trapped. My cell phone wouldn't work in the narrow gorge. Maybe I could climb to the top of the mountain above us (not likely, by the way). Even if I could somehow get cell reception, what good would that do? Most of the cell towers would be down. No one would be able to come rescue us. How long would our food last? Could we hike out to Wahtum Lake? There was still snow at that elevation...
...and on and on.
It seems silly now. Except this evening I was in the shower, when I had a sudden thought. What if The Big One hit right now? Ack, I'd be naked. I'd have to grab my clothes (which were next to the shower) on my way as I ran down the stairs to escape the collapsing house. But it's November and cold outside! I'd have bare feet? Could I grab my slippers (back in the bedroom), too?
Stop. Breathe. I know that the likelihood of The Big One coming at any particular moment, just because I'm thinking about it, is almost mathematically nil. But still.
I have to admit it. I'm afraid of earthquakes.