Category Archives: Earthquake

All the Warning We’ll Get

The Saddle Mountain Fault scenario envisions an 87-mile long failure of the fault.

The Saddle Mountain Fault scenario envisions an 87-mile long failure of the fault.

There was a small earthquake centered on Frenchman Hill one day around 1972. When an earthquake scientist from the University of Washington called Othello High School to look for a reliable  student to tend to a helicorder they were setting up at the epicenter, they ended up talking to my mother, the counselor. I was 16, and I had just gotten my driver’s license. She told them she had a perfect match for them.

So my second job off the home place (the first one was changing sprinklers for my neighbor) was visiting a tiny trailer parked next to a plowed field overlooking the Lower Crab Creek valley and the ancient massive slide on the north face of Saddle Mountain. Six seismographs fed streams of data to a series of heated needles that recorded every tremble of the earth around the trailer. I had to changed the waxed paper they burned their message onto once a day and then put in a phone call to Colorado to calibrate the clock with the National Bureau of Standards.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, this must have been a heady period for earthquake scientists in the Northwest. Endorsement of the theory of plate tectonics was in its infancy. Continue reading

Landslide

Sandhill cranes frolic in the fields of the Danielson farm, with the Saddle Mountain cliffs looming over it. Photograph by Phyllis Danielson.

Sandhill cranes frolic in the fields of the Danielson farm, with the Saddle Mountain cliffs looming over it. Photograph by Phyllis Danielson.

The communities of Oso and Darrington were devastated by the recent landslide, in which around fifty houses and more than thirty people were annihilated in the space of a couple of minutes. It will be a long time before life can return to anything like it used to be, with Darrington’s main artery to the rest of the world cut off. Now commuters from Darrington have to head north, past our Sauk River cabin, to get to their jobs, shops and supplies. It takes a lot of time and gas. My son’s scout troop raised cash and supplies that we took to Darrington last weekend, and I’ve been watching the news about the landslide daily.

Pictures of the Oso landslide reminded me very much of the landslide my family and I used to climb around on when I was a kid. One of our favorite hikes was to the cliffs at the top of Saddle Mountain, where you can climb down to a ledge where sandstone exposures have been carved by the winds and graffito-ed by generations of local visitors. Continue reading

Gloom and Doom Report

When I considered doing this article I had a flashback to doing book reports in what we called Junior High, when I was a teenager. I remember in particular the seventh-grade English teacher with a mangled middle finger who started off the year telling each class his chilling tale. It seems that Mr. B had a terrible problem with anger. He carried sixteen penny nails with him to chew on when he got really upset, which was his anger management technique…it kept him from physically destroying the human object of his anger. Evidently, a student made him angry one day when he had run out of nails. To avoid bloody homicide, Mr. B claims, he shoved his own finger into his teeth. It left him with this mangled finger that he used every year to convince his students to treat him nicely.

So, on with the book report. Mr. B would want me to compare and contrast these books on a similar theme. The books I recently finished reading are two that deal with ways in which humankind deals with natural disasters and the natural rhythms of our world. In the order in which I read them, the first is Cascadia’s Fault, by Canadian journalist Jerry Thompson, and the second, Brian Fagan’s The Long Summer. What links the two books in my mind must be their common theme of the role that forces of nature play in determining human history. Continue reading