BY HARRY ANDERSON
July 29, 2015
Are you spending sleepless nights fretting about the Really Big One? Not me. I prefer to enjoy this beautiful, sunny summer in blissful and purposeful denial.
By now, I expect that you—as just about every other human being west of the Cascades—are aware of Kathryn Schulz’s terrifying piece in the July 20 issue of The New Yorker magazine about the catastrophic earthquake that will hit the Pacific Northwest any day now. The best of our world’s geologic minds have determined that our gorgeous corner of the earth lies on a gigantic tectonic fault line that has suffered an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 or greater, on average every 243 years. And we are currently 72 years overdue. Yikes! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
The last Really Big One—these brilliant minds have determined—occurred about 9 p.m. on Jan. 26, 1700. The tsunami that followed swamped everything from modern-day Forks to Mount Vernon with a 100-foot tidal wave. Oral traditions from about that time among some native peoples in Neah Bay and Vancouver Island recall the drowning of a whole village, with their canoes left hanging in trees. That Really Big One also left a souvenir still visible today: a “ghost forest” of red cedars killed by sea water several miles inland along the banks of the Copalis River.
With the insensitive bedside manner of a truly arrogant brain surgeon, our regional director of FEMA is quoted as making this statement, sure to fray everyone’s nerves: “Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” Yikes! Raptors and pterodactyls and tyrannosaurus rexes, oh my!
Think about what this means.
Buh-bye to Skagit Head and Useless Bay Colony and Keystone and Fort Casey and the Deception Pass Bridge. Not to mention Bayview Nursery, the Star Store, the Goose, Whidbey Pies and Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway, to name a few. No need to keep waiting impatiently for The Dog House to reopen in Langley; it won’t. And why bother preserving historic structures like Jacob Ebey’s House or the Greenbank Barn or the Seaplane Hangar in Oak Harbor? They’ll be driftwood soon.
It also means our farmers will quit worrying about drought and start learning about hydroponics. Or perhaps, if the tsunami subsides enough, their farms will become seaside resorts with scuba-diving adventures thrown in. The controversy over Navy jet noise will be over; Outlying Field in Coupeville will be a brackish lake. Perhaps Oak Harbor’s Naval Air Station will become a submarine training center. Aquarium tours will replace farmers’ markets. Whidbey Grown labels will be wrapped around bunches of seaweed instead of radishes. Boat-to-table will replace farm-to-table.
It’s all just too much to think about. I choose not to let it trouble my pretty little head. When the Really Big One happens, we’ll make the best of it. We’ll clamor aboard our RV and head to the Okanogan country. Hopefully the RV will stay afloat long enough for us to row it to dry land somewhere near Sedro-Woolley.
Even though we’re 72 years overdue for The Really Big One, I will not let it spoil this moment. Until we become toast, I’ll simply enjoy some toast—preferably slathered with lots of jam made with the Bell’s Farm strawberries I picked last June.
Once upon a time, Harry Anderson made an honest living as a reporter, editor and columnist at the Los Angeles Times. He now lives in central Whidbey, where he spends his time gardening and ruminating on things that interest him.
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