Rising, Falling. and Rising Again

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveler hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls…
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Children of the American midwest know little of tides. Theirs is a world of rolling hills and wind-tossed trees; great, dolloped clouds piled into the summer sky; tumbling, tassled corn stretching away toward an ever-receding horizon. Less impressive than mountains, less romantic than moonlit beaches, the very modesty of the land feels stable and dependable: a well-constructed backdrop for less than dramatic lives.

Like the hills surrounding them, midwestern rivers roll with equal modesty: sluggish and steady until snowmelt or rain transform them into T.S. Eliot’s strong, brown gods: sullen, untamed, and intractable. Lakes and ponds seem stationary as bathtubs: passive as the cattle ranged around their perimeters. Filled by rain, they empty with drought. Their rise unpredictable and their fall intermittent, they show no particular rhythm and little sense of liveliness. Taking on and releasing water in fits and starts, they sputter along like rusty but still serviceable pickups. Dependable, but not necessarily inspiring, they simply are.

On the day I first stood ankle-deep in unfettered ocean waves breaking and bubbling around me, I was astonished. Unlike the passive ponds of my childhood, these waters were active: teasing and unpredictable. Sluicing sand away from bare-toed feet, dissolving castles, reaching out to snatch away sandals or inundate books, they sparkled in their rise, and grew pensive as they fell. Moving silently, inexorably beneath the influence of sun and moon, their ability to compel fascinated attention seemed infinite.

Over time, the ocean itself taught me a new lesson: that atmosphere can overcome even the pull of gravity. Driven by wind, Gulf coast tides rise, then rise again. Messengers from the sea, their waters whisper rumors of newborn storms still hundreds of miles from shore.  

With increasing winds, waters creep higher, spread farther. Grasses disappear, and ditches fill to overflowing. Shrimp boats and tenders rise up, riding higher than their docks. As waves begin to lap around half-submerged mooring cleats, water birds grow restless, and pace the water’s edge.

And yet, if the wind blows strongly from the north or west behind a winter frontal passage, and gale warnings fly, the bays empty. Only the channels remain: thin, crinkled ribbons of water laced through muddy flats. Fish seek deeper waters, and sea birds disappear. Boats fall on their lines, sinking far below their docks. You can board them if you must, dropping down onto their decks,  but you might want to take a sandwich and a book. You’ll need a ladder to get off, or a plank. Absent all these, you’ll wait for a rising tide.

” Low Tide, Rock Harbor” ~ Heidi Gallo

When you’re new to the water, no one tells you these things. Perhaps they don’t think of it. Perhaps they think the facts are so obvious you know them already, and would be insulted should someone say, “Be careful.  Things happen. Your world can change in a minute.”

But change they can. One frigid January afternoon, only four months after I’d begun varnishing, I was determined to work despite the weather. Not yet accustomed to the rhythms of the coast, I’d ventured out on the back side of a cold front that had dropped the water level by feet. My intended project was barely floating, its aging spring lines pulled tight against the dock. 

Uncertain whether I could board, I cautiously picked my way down the finger pier, evaluating the situation. Perhaps I was too cautious. Intent on the boat, the narrowness of the pier, and my own balance, I didn’t see the taut spring line only a half-inch above the dock. When it caught my toe and destroyed my balance, I was airborne before I realized what had happened. 

When I opened my eyes, I was underwater, staring at a barnacle-covered piling. Instinctively looking up, I saw the light above me, and kicked my way to the suface.  The boat I meant to be working on was bobbing away in the next slip, its stern-mounted swim platform only feet away.

Only later did I consider that I could have died, or been badly injured. There could have been a boat in the slip I plunged into, and I could have hit my head. Weighed down as I was by layer upon layer of winter clothing, I might have been unable to pull myself from the water, or swim to shore. As it was, I managed to pull myself onto the swim platform, where I sat and pondered my options.

After only five or ten minutes, a young man carrying a bucket, a length of line, and a boat hook came strolling down the dock. Far below his line of sight, I called out to attract his attention.  Stopping to peer down at me, obviously confused by the sight of a sopping wet, middle-aged woman huddled on a swim platform in January, he asked, “What are you doing down there?”  With all the dignity I could muster, I looked him in the eye and said, “Waiting for you.”

After he’d adjusted the lines, pulled the boat closer to the barnacle covered pilings, and helped me drip my way to safety up an improvised ladder, he said, “What happened?” I pointed to the spring line, still taut across the pier. “Oh, yeah, ” he said. “Low water. Welcome to winter.”

In the aftermath of Ecuador’s earthquake, I remembered my unexpected tumble into those murky, frigid waters and considered this peculiar truth: Ecuador and I have something in common. Ecuador did nothing wrong to bring such sorrow and grief upon herself. Ecuador didn’t deserve what happened to her. She wasn’t being inattentive or careless. She simply was going about her business — buying and selling in the market, crooning babies into sleep, cooking meals, watching the last glow of sunlight dissolve into tropical dreams — when a fault line tightened and the coastline from Pedernales to Jama to Manta tripped, flying off into the chaos of history.

The horror of it all is magnified by our intuitive sense that the earth is not supposed to rise and fall like the tides, lifting and heaving all that covers its surface like so much flotsam, or pulling down into itself all that is warm and beautiful and familiar.  But like a great and rising shore-tide, the tide of geologic events swept through a nation, and then ebbed away: drawing reality taut as any unseen line across a low-tide pier.

In my imagination, I see Ecuador  tripping over that line, breathless in anxiety and fear as she flies through a disintegrating world.  Arms flung to the heavens, she tumbles, falls, and then –  forlorn, shaken and needy – raises up, clambers out of the rubble, and begins to ponder her options.

Today, facing the climb ahead, it is Ecuador who waits for a helping hand.

Portoviejo, Ecuador (AFP Photo/Juan Cevallos)
The earth rises, the earth falls,
the ceilings crumble, and then the walls;
through panic-stricken rage and grief
the broken-hearted seek relief,
and the earth rises, the earth falls.

Comments always are welcome.
For occasional updates from blogger Lisa Brunetti (ZeebraDesigns), who lives in the affected area of Ecuador, please click HERE.   Browsing her recent posts will provide links to other bloggers’ reports, and links to opportunities to contribute to relief efforts.

101 thoughts on “Rising, Falling. and Rising Again

  1. Excellent !!!! It was honest, clear, fresh, and contained a message that can’t be ignored. Why not send it to our legislators and South American embassies? Or even local papers? Bravo

    1. Thanks so much, db. As with every disaster, governmental and international agency help will be critical, but there’s a place for smaller scale assistance, too. I contributed to this GoFundMe campaign, which I found through Lisa’s blog.

      Just this morning, Cami’s uncle posted this short video from Jama, the town I’ve come to know through blogging.

      1. hi there.. it’s me, coming up for air, thankfully pure air from the cloud forest due east as the egrets fly from jama and el matal.

        when i saw the youtube link, i thought, ‘oh boy.. get ready to weep,’ but i handled it ok. carlos and his family own the shrimp farm where i live, and hearing the quiver in his voice almost got me.

        thanks,dear friend, and your post was beautiful.


        1. Oh, Lisa — I was sure that you would know Carlos, but I had no idea the connection was so close. He did a good job, didn’t he? It must have been unbelievably difficult for him to make the video, but it’s important for the rest of the world to see such things.

          Keep breathing that pure, clean air. Here’s a Texas egret for you, flying your way with wings of love, and hope in its heart.

    1. As a Houston friend coping with our current flooding said to me this week, as long as we live in a real world, there are going to be real threats. But, as you point out, there are real delights to compensate.

      Everyone in Texas is getting a little nudge this weekend. Supplies like generators, non-electric coolers, batteries, storm shutters, and lanterns can be purchased tax-free. It’s just a little friendly reminder from the state: hurricane season is coming.

    1. Looking back, it’s probably good that it happened so early in my varnishing days, Jim. It was more than twenty years before I took another tumble into the water, in quite different circumstances. I learned my lesson.

      I ended up working my way through that entire article last night, and while there was much I couldn’t understand, there was a good bit that I did understand. One detail I thought particularly interesting was the role temperature plays — why the sensor has to be so deep.

      But what amazed me most is the very existence of land tides. It was like the day I realized that the poetic line about the “music of the spheres” in a favorite childhood hymn was more than just poetry.

      I’ll never forget the day I saw the connection between ocean waves and earthquake waves. I was sitting in a large room in Berkeley when a smallish earthquake struck, and we watched a “wave” of energy roll through, raising and lowering the floor tiles. I may even have mentioned it to you. When you see something like that, you don’t forget it.

      1. We live mostly in a safe zone a few miles thick on this planet. It is sobering when you realize how close we are to being destroyed by the awesome forces of nature. They reach out at times to nudge us and remind us they are ever present.

        Long ago, humans were recipients of the effects of natural forces. Now, we are seeing the evidence that we are capable of being a cause to some. The temperatures are rising, extreme weather events are more frequent, and fracking causes earthquakes in places like OK.

  2. That was a lucky escape, Linda. It reminded me falling almost in a dock of a sluice, while jumping from pilings to pilings. It was winter and the pilings and beams frosty. I managed to hold onto a cross-beam but the lower part of my body dangling above the foaming water. Boats were being transferred through the different locks to adjust to the different water levels of the canal. (Holland has an amazing set of water managements in place to be able to thrive below sea-level!) The sluice master pulled me up, and gave me a good well-earned whack. I never tried that again. It would have been around 1949. I was nine years old.

    1. Some memories do stay with us, don’t they? I’m glad you learned your lesson, too.

      “Sluice master” is a new phrase for me. I’ve always associated sluices with panning for gold or other sorts of mining, or with the salmon migration. It is used to refer to parts of water control structures (like the Old River structure and the Morganza spillway, so important during Mississippi flooding) but I guess I’ve just read past it. Clearly, it would be a word more often used where water control is a daily issue, like Holland, and not a matter of occasional flooding.

    1. Inattention and lack of experience can be even trickier than waves, Sheryl. I’m more experienced now, and I try to pay attention, but believe me — I still get tripped up, in a variety of ways.

  3. I appreciated this post on so many levels. I grew up in Kansas and then moved to Colorado, so I have a love of both rolling plains and mountains. But my grandparents lived in California, and I’m attached to the tides and the many gifts of the sea. Your details, and especially your closing, were beautiful and compelling.

    1. Thank you, Marylin. Your comment about the “gifts of the sea” reminded me of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, “Gift From the Sea.” I first read it after I’d been introduced to the ocean, and I thought it captured its characteristics perfectly. Later, I came to appreciate the book for other reasons. I’m told it’s considered old-fashioned, now, but it’s still one of my favorites.

      Like you, I’ve lived in a variety of natural settings, and while it’s true that some aren’t as dramatic as Colorado or California, they each have something to offer. (And yes, I’m thinking of Kansas. Every now and then, I hear the old line about there being nothing to see in Kansas. I just smile.)

  4. Linda, I hope you enjoy reading Max Lacado. I love his writings especially some of the earlier ones. He brings tears and giggles, he gives content and knowledge, he has structure and style. His words vividly paint pictures in my mind. His vocabulary rolls with a rhythm that calls for reading aloud. The essence of his writings add spirit to my soul and motivation to my behavior. If he keeps trying, he might be as masterful as you someday.

    1. I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Oneta, but I’ve never heard of Max Lacado. I had to look him up on the Google. Imagine my surprise when I found he’s located in San Antonio. It sounds as though he might be one of your favorites, so I’m glad to be compared favorably to him.

      One of the qualities you mentioned that made me smile is that “rhythm that calls for reading aloud.” One of the worst mistakes teachers of literature (or of writing) make is to divide the world into poetry and prose. The best prose can be — often is — poetic, and much good poetry is dense with meaning. There are divisions enough in this world, without people trying to impose unnecessary ones.

  5. I loved your usage of words that became rhythmic as I read your story in anticipation. One never knows what direction your story is going, sometimes a few paragraphs from the ending. This was beautiful, except the part where you tripped and fell into the water.

    I hope all that rain was not too bad for you. I thought about you many times this week. Houston really was “rained on.”

    1. Honestly, Yvonne? In the beginning, there often are times when I don’t know which direction my story is going. Let’s just say I usually am working off a hand-drawn map on the back of a sales receipt, rather than GPS coordinates.

      Believe me, it was not beautiful when I fell into the water, but it was even less beautiful after I hauled myself out. Remember that old metaphor about looking like a drowned rat? That was pretty much it. There’s nothing like driving home, sopping wet, and meeting your neighbors on the steps. I consoled myself with the thought that at least I’d given them something to talk about over dinner.

      Down here by the bay, we mostly escaped any flooding. There was some street flooding and road closures the day the rain came, but that’s gone now. It’s in the northwest that it’s so bad. I’m making a run down to the Brazoria and San Bernard refuges today, since I’m fairly sure when the crest arrives, many of their roads will be under water, too. Some may be now. I’ll find out.

  6. The world is a terribly random place, which is a truly scary thought. Stuff happens, and can happen to anybody, anywhere at any time, for no reason. The Nepalese are still trying to cope with the aftermath of the earthquakes they’ve had, waiting for another one that is long overdue. Now Ecuador has caught one. What is truly heart rending is when avalanches and landslides take out whole villages. We like to think we are in control of nature, and then earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, tornadoes, wild fires and floods come along to remind us we are still at the mercy of the forces of nature.

    1. Sometimes I think the technological advancements we enjoy have only increased our human tendency to believe we are — or at least could be — in control of natural processes. The logical extension of such thinking can be seen in the recent increase of articles proclaiming that the aging process, and even death itself, are about to be overcome. Well, perhaps, but I’ll not hold my breath for that one.

      The fact that there are geologic and other “reasons” for such events as earthquakes isn’t particularly comforting when you’re in the midst of one. We say things happen for no apparent reason, but it’s those inapparent reasons that get us.

      When I ponder such things, I always remember this, from Annie Dillard: “Last forever!’ Who hasn’t prayed that prayer? You were lucky to get it in the first place. The present is a freely given canvas. That it is constantly being ripped apart and washed downstream goes without saying.”

  7. This is great written piece dear Linda, and you were lucky rescued by a kind person, things on the earth makes us worried everyday. Thank you, Love, nia

    1. There are earthquakes of every sort, aren’t there, Nia? And there certainly is reason enough to worry. But there are good people in the world, who do what they can to help. We could use a little more kindness in the world, I think.

      1. yes dear Linda, good, nice and kind people, what we need… and should me more of them in this changing world. This is the only way for a peace… But could it be as we wish/want/miss… I am not sure… But I am hopeful… Have a nice day dear Linda, Love, nia

  8. I can hardly bear to look at the events in Ecuador. Breaks my heart. It has taken, is taking us, so long to recover from our earthquakes; the task in Ecuador is Herculean.

    1. I thought of you when I heard the news from Ecuador, of course. And then, I thought of Japan — and Peru, and Oklahoma, and the whole long list of places that have been forced to cope with such disaster. Add in the hurricanes, tornados, drought, and flooding, and it’s hard to imagine anyone with a few decades behind them who hasn’t been forced to cope.

      It’s almost a commonplace to say healing — physical or otherwise — takes time, but it’s the truth. No matter how fast our computers, some things can’t be so easily speeded up. Dealing with that reality isn’t easy, at all.

      1. Indeed, indeed. And tomorrow we remember the Anzacs, and again I realise just how much suffering there was and the decades of healing required from that terrible time. We are forced to cope always, I think.

  9. You always pick such interesting topics to write about, weaving facts and life experiences together with such ease. I laughed right out loud at you saying, “Waiting for you.”

    1. I still laugh about that little exchange, Jean. My mother used to tell me my prince would come, but I never expected him to show up with a bucket, a boat hook, and some line. Now, I wish I’d thought to ask him what he was up to — but I had other things on my mind!

  10. As always, the way you interwove events is excellent.

    Your mishap with the spring line (a term I had to look up) made taut by the falling sea reminded me of the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Curious about its origin, I found a Wikipedia article that traces the adage back through John F. Kennedy and his speechwriter Ted Sorensen to a pamphlet put out by the New England Council; the original wording was “A rising tide lifts all the boats.” The earliest instance of the saying that I found was a Google snippet view from 1947 in a book called Design for Giving, by Harold James Seymour. It ties in nicely with the beginning of your post: “And even we native Middle Westerners know that a rising tide lifts all the boats.”

    1. At the bottom of the page you linked, there’s also a 1942 article that includes the sentence, “Our boatmen have a saying that a rising tide lifts every boat.” That’s the only confirmation I could find for my suspicion that the saying’s nautically-based, and has been around for a lot longer than American politicians.

      It’s included in a number of collections of sailing-based proverbs, but I couldn’t find any better information. So, I just send off an email to the Quote Investigator, who doesn’t have it on his site. It might be that he’ll take it on.

      It occurs to me that there’s another Midwestern connection between land and sea: those “amber waves of grain” that we used to sing about regularly, and sometimes still do.

      As Garrison Keillor constantly reminds people when talking about Lake Wobegon, midwestern values include modesty: particularly, a certain reticence when it comes to talking about ourselves. Still, from time to time, a personal story can be in order. I’m glad you thought this one worked.

  11. I like the way you described your first encounter with the sea. As a Midwestern boy, what impressed me was the heartbeat of the surf.

    Never quite got over it and it draws me back.

    The terrible thing that happened in Ecuador was made all the more terrible by construction methods best suited to stable ground in moderate climates. It brings to mind The Control of Nature by John McPhee. We build what we want but nature always has her way.

    1. Your choice of “heartbeat” as a metaphor is exactly right. There’s something about the regularity and repetitveness of the surf that’s soothing. I suppose that’s why it’s so often included in those recordings meant to help people fall asleep.

      “The Control of Nature” is one of McPhee’s best, in my opinion. The “New Yorker” made the chapter on the Atchafalaya available for free during the flood a few years ago. It’s one of the best pieces ever written about an area I love. And you’re right. One of these years, the Mississippi is going to do what she’s wanted to do for decades — and when it happens, a lot is going to change.

  12. My father was in the Navy in the second world war, and often told us that the Navy had an inordinate number of boys from the prairies. It seems that they were not undone by waves that were endless to the horizon. He soon learned to walk across decks that were oftentimes unpredictable, and from time to time would pull a fellow back from ship’s edge, the sea leaving them sick to the point of unknowing.

    This old planet rolls, and we often are hanging on for our very life. Thank goodness for those who have the aptitude to roll with their hunches and pass along a life line at the right time. I’m glad your story ended well. We pray for the best ending possible in Ecuador and other troubled spots on our globe.

    1. The connection between ocean waves and waves of grain seems to be more than metaphorical: at least, from your father’s experience. And, yes: learning to walk – or to remain stable — on a heaving deck can be a bit of a trick. On the other hand, I sometimes found that learning how to walk on solid ground again after adjusting to a constantly moving deck could be equally challenging.

      It’s really true: the world itself can heave and roll. We use the metaphor of spaceship earth, but forget that this ship, too has a deck. Keeping our balance in the midst of it all isn’t easy, and sometimes the necessary adjustments can take decades, or even longer, to achieve.

  13. a wonderfully written piece. the planet is a living being and we are insignificant on her surface. the midwest had waves of a sort before it was settled, the wind and the prairie grass. and finally, I think we all have had things happen to us that in retrospect we realize we could have just as easily died as lived.

    1. And isn’t it ironic that, generally speaking, we use the phrase, “I could have died,” for precisely those times when death wasn’t likely at all. Extreme embarrassment comes to mind. It may be that someone has died of embarrassment, but I don’t recall ever reading that in the obituaries.

      I spent some time in Brazoria yesterday, and was thinking how similar our place on the earth is to that enjoyed by the various creatures living on the plants. Find a nice, big milkweed, and there can be any number of bugs there, living their buggy lives. Give the plant a shake, and it’s a flower quake for them. Even if they survive, it surely takes a while for them to get their lives back in order.

  14. That was quite a ride. It will sound ridiculous, but it’s absolutely true: I have visited ocean shore communities many times, and have enjoyed walking on the beaches and playing in the waves – but I have never actually observed the tides. Probably has to do with the broad beaches and the timing of our visits to same, guided by sensible people who HAD actually observed the tides. Anyway, I have a plan to visit Nova Scotia and Newfoundland with the intention of experiencing the full effect for the very first time.

    I remember being riveted to the news of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake on SIN (the Spanish International Network) which blessedly had a little channel in Detroit. I remember learning a lot about earthquakes, in particular about how the soil under the city, which is built on an ancient lakebed, essentially liquefied. Waves of waves.

    1. Broad beaches can be a clue that the tidal range won’t be particularly high: topography does play a role. Here along the Texas coast, if winds, sun, or moon aren’t exerting any notable influence, our tidal range is quite small. Bay tides vary by about a half-foot except where there’s an outlet to the Gulf, and no one in Galveston has to worry too much about their beach towels getting wet. We’re at the other end of the spectrum from the Bay of Fundy.

      The one I remember best is the 1989 Loma Prieta quake. I’d only been gone from the Bay area for a few years, and still had friends there. And, of course, there was that familiarity with the places that were affected. I thought a time or two about the number of trips I’d made across the Nimitz and the Oakland Bay Bridge. It does focus the mind. Liquefaction was an enormous factor in that earthquake, too. “Waves of waves” is a perfect description.

      1. I’m glad to have the explanation of why I’ve been tide-oblivious. I remember the 1989 quake, too – the idea that a bridge might pancake just horrified me. Why that sticks more than all the other awful things that happened I do not know. Dangerous planet, this one.

  15. What a poignant post, Linda, and the analogy to Ecuador is complex but clear. Your accident so long ago must have been terrifying when you really stopped to think about it. I know that realization sometimes comes more than a bit after the event itself. Living here in the north central states, we don’t get a lot of extremes. Unless you are by a river or water, floods and tides aren’t part of our daily thought, nor are cyclones, hurricanes or even tornadoes, though we are far from exempt from those — but no “tornado alley.” Our summers are never as warm as the south and while winter can be very cold, it’s nothing like the mountains. We have felt earthquake tremors here but live far from the faults. So hearing this, learning about it is really fascinating.

    I, for one, send out a long overdue thanks to that fellow who happened by on that day so long ago. Although you may have made it to safety before he came along, I have to say that yours was a life worth saving. Maybe they all are, but I know yours was for sure!

    1. Actually, Jeanie, I never was terrified, even in retrospect. I was happy to get off that danged boat, and the drive home required extra concentration, but there was so much that was interesting about the experience, I ended up thinking about those things more than the horrid possibilities. For example: it was a bit ironic that I became a good swimmer because of sailing — I wanted to be able to snorkel in the islands, and certainly wanted to stay afloat if I went overboard. I did go overboard — just not in a way I’d ever imagined.

      Some time ago I went in for the second time, under much different circumstances (although in the same marina). Because it was twenty years later, and I’d come to know so many people, I heard plenty of tales about other people who’d also taken a dive — I can think of more than a dozen, right off hand. I suppose the truth is that, if you hang out around boats long enough, it’s going to happen. Like most disasters — even earthquakes and hurricanes — we can’t prevent them, but we can prepare for them.

      1. Well, I, for one, am very glad you made it out of both your incidents! My life is all the richer for it so it may be a bit of a selfish thought — but then, I think a lot of us are the richer for that, too!

        1. Despite the beauty of the quilts you showed us, I think it’s far nicer to wrap up in the warmth of such nice sentiments. You know it’s mutual, of course!

  16. Nature does as she pleases. My family has always lived by the tides. Our livelihood depended on it. That’s still true for my brother.

    The ocean does have the ability to “compel fascinated attention,” doesn’t it? I guess that’s why people flock to it every year, and return.

    Thank goodness someone came along to give you a helping hand, to rescue you. We all need that occasionally, even countries.

    1. You’re right about people flocking to the coastal areas. It’s a movement that’s perfectly understandable,even though it keeps city officials and emergency managers up at night.

      There are more people every year along the Texas coast who never have experienced a hurricane, and of course the same is true in other states. The tendency to assume it can’t happen is widespread, as well as understandable. Even after Alica, Allison, Rita, and Ike, I can be a little casual about it all. But it’s time to start preparing, again. I feel another bout of decluttering coming on.

      As you know, the boating/waterman community’s pretty good at supporting one another. If I ever need help again, I’d much prefer it be on the water, rather than on a Houston freeway.

  17. Beautifully done, Linda, first evoking the Mid-West and then the ocean. Moving on to your near disaster, and then finishing with Ecuador and the world’s ever-restless nature.

    Living, as I have for most of my life, on an active fault zone, I’ve experienced a number of earth quakes… but never the BIG one. There is much talk and worry in our area about the Cascadia Fault and it’s potential to create one of the largest earthquakes ever in the not very distant future. Recently, our neighbor attended a lecture on the possibility of the large dam above our house going. Even though we are way up on the side of a hill, the water is predicted to hit our house. When the big one strikes, Peggy and I are headed for higher ground. –Curt

    1. Your comment about heading for higher ground reminds me of the old Japanese tsunami stones that, in at least one case, offer a specific warning: “Do not build your home below this level.” You may have read about them, but here’s the NY Times article. It’s fascinating, and perfectly analogous to the situation today in so many parts of the world.

      The good news about hurricanes, as opposed to earthquakes, is that a window of opportunity exists to escape. It didn’t take much experience for me to adopt an approach modeled after the old joke about Chicago voting: I evacuate early and often.

      1. Laughing about Chicago voting. The old bosses used to have quite a lot of dead people registered to vote as well.
        We’ve always made a point of building well above the flood plain level. Dams add another element. But it isn’t one I am going to lose sleep over. The BLM folks actually said the water might be a foot below our house. I wouldn’t wait around to see. The house shakes we have a few minutes to get to higher ground. :) –Curt

  18. Linda, your description of toppling into the wintry water brought back my last fall…the one where I broke two ribs. You’re fortunate water is more forgiving than a concrete sidewalk!

    And I so love your description of standing in the ocean for the first time. Yes, we Midwesterners typically don’t know what ebbing and flowing waters feel like. I was one of the lucky ones who had relatives living along the coastline, and even today, the sound of those rolling waters calls to me.

    Most generous of you to call our attention to Ecuador’s recent earthquake. Living near the New Madrid Fault Zone as I do, an earthquake certainly isn’t out of the question. Tornadoes threaten every spring, too. Mother Nature can be powerfully cruel at times.

    1. I suspect you were pretty young — maybe not even with us! — when the Illinois quake of 1968 took place on the New Madrid fault. I was living in south central Iowa at the time, and we did feel it. It wasn’t much, for us, but I did have the chance to watch glassware happily marching off a shelf and hitting the floor. It’s amazing how many people don’t even know that the fault line exists. I hope it stays so quiet, they don’t have to know.

      Was ice involved in your fall? That was the first thing that came to mind. When I still was living in snow and ice country, those neat Yaktrax hadn’t been invented yet. We still were dependent on shovels, sand, and salt, and their effectiveness was limited. Down here, ice is infrequent, but when it comes, it’s a pain: in every sense of the word.

  19. Reading this post reminds me once again how much time so many of us (and I am certainly not exempt) squander on what is inconsequential when what we could and should be doing is lending a helping hand where it matters.

    1. Helping where it matters is important, of course — but helping where we reasonably can is part of the equation, too.

      I paused while writing this, thinking: the issues in Ecuador are compelling, but there are people in Houston who’ve also lost everything in the past week. Should I write about Ecuador, or head up to Houston to help tear out sheet rock? This sort of decision comes to us every day, in one form or another, and there’s nothing to do but decide, and then do the best we can to implement our decision.

      One thing I’ve noted and appreciated through this is that direct aid began flowing almost immediately, thanks to social media and GoFundMe sites. It’s also of great benefit that groups such as the Ceiba Foundation are providing frequent, detailed updates. It’s a far cry from the days when you just sent in a check, and never knew what difference it was making. After I contributed to Jama Relief, the acknowledgement arrived promptly, and the updates began arriving regularly. It’s really quite wonderful.

  20. Geological tides in slow motion – a concept I had never considered. As always an essay that educates, fascinates and makes us think as well as being so well written. When I first moved into a village in central England as the start of my medical career in 1976 there were elderly folk in that village that had never been to the seaside, never physically seen the sea or paddled in the shallows. I found that so very strange to contemplate that there were still people around in that bizarre situation.

    1. I had a similar experience when I moved to south Texas, Andy. Our small town was only a hundred miles or so from San Antonio, but there were older people who never had been there. As one woman said to me, “Why would I want to go there? I’ve always had everything I need right here.” And I’m sure she did.

      It seems to be a fact that some people — even those close to the water — are impervious to sea-fever. Masefield’s “call of the running tide” simply doesn’t speak to them. I don’t understand that, but I know it’s true. I have a friend who loves lakes, but lakes seem closed-in to me. I’ve always preferred the ocean, and the sense of being able to travel to new ports on it. I suppose that’s why I love your series of ocean photos as I do. The experience of being on the water sparkles as much as the sun on the waves.

      1. You are absolutely right – a lake is no substitute for the Ocean. To sit on the shore, listening to the rhythm of the sea, staring out to the horizon is all the yoga I need to know!

    1. It does look like a shark, doesn’t it? Given the size of that “fin,” I’d hate to see what was underneath it. Thanks for the kind words about the post, too. Sometimes it’s hard to write about events like Ecuador’s earthquake, but having friends there made it important.

  21. The vagaries of life on earth. The difference being that the spring line could have been avoided with experience or observation. There’s nothing we can do about nature taking its course. At any time, our planet can have a spasm that destroys all we think of as permanent…reminding us of our own impermanence and reliance on nature’s benevolence for our existence.

    Thank goodness you were able to propel yourself from the winter waters. I had a similar experience as a child, falling through thin ice, and know how the possibility of that moment shakes you once it has passed. I was too young at the time to appreciate my good fortune but looking back it still gives me a chill…yes, intentional choice of word. So glad you are still with us and sharing these thoughtful posts.

    1. You’re exactly right, Steve: experience and observation can help us avoid a good bit of trouble. On the other hand, even with experience and observation on my side, there are times when I trip up. Currently, it’s fire ant bites that are reminding me to pay more attention.

      I did have to laugh when I looked at our NWS postings tonight. While I was happily typing away last night, we had an EF-0 tornado a couple of miles south of me — it ended just short of my favorite grocery store. There wasn’t much damage, with winds topping out at 70 mph, but if it had been more substantial, and a little more north, I never would have heard the warnings. So it goes.

      I’ve heard some of those falling-through-ice tales over the years, but you’re the first person I know who actually did. I’ve always hoped you were really, really careful while you’re out and about photographing near winter water, but now I’m even more sure than I have been that you take care.

      My one experience with icy water came as a result of truly bad pneumonia when I was a child — maybe only three or four. When the doctor arrived at our house, my fever was so high it was straight to the hospital with me: where they plunged me into a tub of ice water. It gives me chills to remember that one.

      I’m pretty happy to be here, too. Here’s to many more years for all of us.

      1. Aren’t there tornado alarms or some other warning device that can be in your home? Another good reason, along with preserving one’s hearing, to not listen to music with headphones…I’m not saying you were or weren’t.

        Absolutely, even with all that experience and usual attention to detail, we can still trip up. I am very careful on ice in general and it is rare that I will venture onto it over water that is more than head deep, but I fall a lot easier now that my balance is not what it once was, so am even more cautious. Even with that I still fall at times and, with 40 pounds of camera equipment on my back, once I start listen for the call of “Timber!”. :-)

        1. Oh, sure. If there had been any indication that we were going to get rain, thunderstorms, or other bad weather, I would have been paying more attention to alerts online or on the radio. But “out of the blue” does happen sometimes, especially with tornados and waterspouts. The comment just below this one was left by a neighbor. She mentioned that she and her husband were outside grilling burgers at the time, and didn’t have a clue what was happening until they started getting texts. Even the forecasters were going, “Whoops….”

          I’ve never used headphones or earpieces, even at work. I don’t like the sense of shutting the rest of the world out.

  22. One giant comparison and so many little ones. Rivers like cows and old trucks – really really good ones there.

    Ecuador is struggling and the after shocks have been severe, too. It’s like the plain girl down the block that’s invisible to others – few aware of it even in good times. Japan may get more media play because of our military presence there or the interrupted flow of car parts and computer chips from there?

    Once thing rapid news coverage seems to have done is make the images/news of one bad event have less impact as far as length of concern. (Hope that makes some sense) in previous times, if something bad happened around the world, people would talk about it fo the longest time – search for news and pictures. Now, today this bad thing happened here, and 30 min. later this bad thing happened somewhere ilse, and then this afternoon this bad thing happened…it’s hard for the human mind to focus one one event when others – equally severe or not – keep jamming into the brain. Maybe that’s why so many turn to soft fluff scandal gossip – as a life raft for the randomness and dangers all around us?
    Don’t know but, Ecuador is in trouble

    Cabella’s was damaged by one of the small tornadoes yesterday – we had people texting us to take cover as we were grilling hamburgers and wondering “what?” Really getting tired of this rain hope it clears for the Grand Banks thing (Mosquitos on the way!)

    1. I just mentioned to Steve, up above, that I didn’t know we’d had a tornado until tonight, when the NWS posted its damage assessment. It looks like it terminated just short of 96. It had to be as localized as a waterspout, because I was sitting here looking out the window as I worked, and didn’t see any indications of bad weather.

      What you say about the news cycle and our shortened attention span is exactly right. One of the best places to see that in action is the Twitter timeline. After the earthquake in Ecuador, that was the top “trending topic” for about twelve hours. Then, it dropped to number two or three for a day, and now? There’s plenty of information, but you have to go looking for it — and who has time for that? (Insert sarcasm tag)

      Beyond that, I’m convinced there’s a numbing effect associated with the 24/7 “news” cycle. So much of what’s offered up isn’t news at all, and the hunger for clicks leads to tabloid reporting. Sites like Drudge offer up the internet equivalent of nighttime AM radio scare stories, and people can’t (or won’t take the time to) sort fact from fiction.

      Ah, well. There’s rain in the forecast — there’s something different!

  23. There are those incidents in life we remember and try not to remember. If a lesson was learned, then that’s good enough. Dignity is least. Me, I’m terrified of water. I can even scare myself in a swimming pool. I envy those who do know the seas and rivers, but my plan is to stay on firm ground.

    Even so, that firm ground can be taken away, as you say. There is nothing like the fierce opening of the earth to remind us we are living on a planet that goes about its days with nothing personal in mind. A yawn, a sneeze, a cough, a little gastric combustion.

    1. Of course, lessons and events can’t be entirely separated. I suspect that old saying about those who forget the past being doomed to repeat it applies to personal history as well as the history of communities, nations, and so on.

      I understand your fear of water. I had to get over that, and fear of dogs, as well. And you’ll not find me scuba diving, or spelunking. Being underground or under water is just a little too spooky. I’ll stick with snorkeling, and look at all the pretty fishies and corals.

      I laughed at your description of the earth. That’s it, exactly. The planet does what the planet will do. We’re just along for the ride, so to speak.

  24. Earthquakes in developing countries wreak havoc. Ecuador is right there in allowing sub- standard building to continue. When local and state governments refuse to approve buildings of straw and brick to be erected, then the death toll in earthquake-prone regions will decline. It is a very sad situation in Nepal and Equador. Sounds harsh but is sadly true.
    Written by one living directly on top of the San Andreas Fault.

    1. I’m not aware of straw and brick being the primary building materials in coastal Ecuador, although of course inadequate construction is a problem. The same was true in Haiti. An engineer I know went there after their horrific quake, and was involved in the creation of new construction guidelines. Unfortunately, handing out guidelines to people who can’t afford — or even find — the materials necessary to meet them is problematic.

      1. Straw and brick were allusions to homes that are destined to crumble when the earth rumbles. You are right.

        In developing countries, no earthquake-resistant structures are mandatory. I find these types of tragedies so frustrating as so much money is used for things that do not necessarily help the citizens; often, the corruption is so endemic that the people are rarely served. When tenuous homes in developing countries fall apart and residents die needlessly, I think like this.

        1. Your point about corruption is well-taken. And it isn’t only construction that suffers because of it. Medical care is another area where well-intentioned donations, both large and small, get diverted to those more dedicated to lining their pockets than improving a system.

          The smallest and most concrete example of the dynamic I can think of is the second-hand clothing market in Liberia. When I was there, it was possible to purchase clothing from the US on the streets of Monrovia. Large shipments from well-meaning contributors in this country were “diverted” as they arrived in port, and never made it to the people for whom they were meant — at least, not without a cost.

  25. You’re such a good writer – I love winding my way through your essays to the essential point & back again. And what a poignant point this one has! Sending prayers their way…

    1. Thanks, Dana. To some degree, I suppose I write the way I like to travel — winding through the back roads. As long as I get to a point and find my way out again, it’s all good!

      As always, there are some amazing stories beginning to emerge — and there’s no question your prayers are important. Everyone in the country was affected, even those whose homes and businesses still are standing.

      And by the way — welcome home from your own journey.

  26. Nature is unpredictable. We can learn to handle it’s wimps and variations, to some degree. One thing is when it’s one boat, quite a different when it’s a whole country suffering under its spell. You write with passion and compassion, Linda.

    1. Unpredictable may be an understatement, Otto. Of course, that can be as much a delight as a problem, but when it’s a problem, it’s usually a big one. Imposing order — one of our favorite human occupations — is impossible. Learning to cope is possible, but still difficult. It’s a good thing we still can experience both passion and compassion. It’s a far poorer and more frightening world without them.

  27. I was in Japan during the 2011 earthquake, and your analogy really does ring true. The earth rose and rolled like a slow Pacific creeper wave, sucking homes and cars and people into its callous riptide. And then the actual ocean followed it. We forget, so often, that we may be specks of dust in this universe, but even closer to home, we are a mite on an anthill, subject to every little shift in the sand, whether through wind, earth, or water.

    Another beautiful post, as always. I’m so glad you didn’t get injured in that tumble!

    1. Your comment — “and then the actual ocean followed it” — brings back images from the Boxing Day tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Cruising friends were anchored off Phuket, and escaped only by heading out to sea after the first wave. It’s still terrifying to watch the videos, and humbling to see the resilience of people determined to rebuild.

      I was surprised to see there are some faults in your new neighborhood, too. We’ll hope that your part of our shared anthill stays nice and quiet, for a very long time!

  28. What a poignant post, written so beautifully and with such insight and feeling. How I feel for those poor people…..having the earth rise and fall must be utterly terrifying as your poems demonstrates so eloquently..xxx

    1. Isn’t it hard to watch such things. Dina? It’s understandable that, as time goes on, we tend to look away. There are too many sad events in the world, and each of us has only so much energy. But, the people who are affected have to keep coping. Even if we only can offer continued attention and our small contributions, it counts. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your comment.

  29. Your post has led me to investigate the Caribbean fault zones, which are two: the Septentrional-Oriente fault zone with runs north of Hispaniola, and the deadly Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault zone which which runs along the southern side of the island of Hispaniola, where Haiti and the Dominican Republic are located, and is named for Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic where the fault zone emerges, and extends across the southern portion of Hispaniola through the Caribbean to the region of the Plantain Garden River in Jamaica, and it was responsible for the Haitian 2010 earthquake.

    Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are located at an active plate boundary between the North American plate and the northeast corner of the Caribbean plate, but up to now we’ve had only tsunami-type of events. Your poem is very moving as it describes the earth’s natural forces that continue to rule despite our expectations and daily lives. These events seem to be reminders of how life on earth can be so cyclic, and often make me wonder about how little control we really do have over it.

    1. I had to smile at the name of the second fault zone: “Plantain Garden.” Such a lovely name for such a deadly flaw. I see that the Plantain Garden river is the only one in Jamaica that flows east and west: interesting.

      I don’t think there’s any question that our lack of control over natural processes, geologic and otherwise, is a good part of what makes them endlessly fascinating. Whether it’s farmers talking about the weather or geologists talking plate techtonics and the percentages of the “big one” finally happening, everyone does it. Here on the Texas coast, you already can hear people talking about water temperatures in the Atlantic, and the prospects for this year’s hurricane season. It’s more than idle curiosity; it’s a way to deal with anxiety.

      If only there were a more reliable way to predict earthquakes.

  30. Thank you for this poetic, affecting post, Linda. I grew up on a small island, and understood from a young age, at a visceral if not a cerebral level, that Nature’s unpredictable power could tear the world apart, as well as make it anew, wash everything clean. Chaos always lurks, waiting to tear down order…

    1. I’ve come to believe that our early place in life — shore or island, mountain, plains — affects our understanding of the nature of the world more than most of us realize. There are experiences that will challenge that understanding as we grow and travel, but on the deepest levels, we remain children of the early world we knew.

      In fact, that’s precisely why places like the Children’s Wood are so important. The concrete, brick, and steel of a city aren’t evil or bad, but they’re so different from the natural places we need to become fully human.

  31. Only those of us who have been trapped underwater with the tide pulling us deeper and deeper can appreciate the terror you must have felt when landing in the water. I grew up at the beach and was never afraid of drowning even when a life guard caught up with me far outside the safety of the breakwater. My only fear was that my mother would find out I had cut school that day. But years later while swimming in Hawaii, I was caught by a sneaker wave which didn’t want to let me back up. But the relative safety of scuba diving with quiet waters seems soothing in comparison.

    1. Actually, Kayti, the only time I’ve felt terror in the water was during my YMCA swimming lessons. I was in grade school, and my folks thought I ought to learn to swim. Unfortunately, I was mistakenly placed in the intermediate class, and on the first day, when I was told to jump into the water, I was so shy I couldn’t bring myself to say, “But I can’t swim.” So, I jumped, went straight to the bottom, and finally was fished out — once they realized I was doing an imitation of a rock. I think I might speak up, now.

      I admire your ability to dive. Snorkeling was the best I could — or wanted to — manage. I think I might be just a touch claustrophobic. Even cave snorkeling, while beautiful, left me feeling a little tentative. It must have been wonderful, growing up with the beach so near. We had some very nice pastures, but it’s just not the same thing!

      1. I’m afraid the diving and the snorkeling are in the past for me, but I’m glad of the experience. I’m happy my great grandchildren are beach people too. They go me even better by going to Nicaragua every year while their parents are surfing. It won’t be long for the 9 year old to hop on her board.

  32. Your (highly compelling) story about your abrupt introduction to tides made me think of my own relatively recent tidal experience. Even though I’ve lived in the Midwest most of my life, I lived on the East Coast until I was eight and spent parts of several subsequent summers ocean side, so I’ve always been aware of tides. But last spring, I had a very direct reminder of how critically important it is to be aware of tidal forces when on or near the coast:


    1. Now, that was a compelling read. The lessons extend far beyond the importance of keeping a tide table close at hand. Every landscape has the ability to turn into a challenge, if not a life-threat. Paying attention is critical. Ask anyone who’s stepped into a gopher hole in a pretty, gently rolling prairie, and rolled an ankle while miles from the car. (Uh — yes, I have a little personal experience there.)

      When I began sailing, the wisdom of “one hand for the boat, one hand for yourself” was drilled into me. Apart from the physical need to hang on from time to time, it was meant as a reminder that not paying attention — to everything — could be dangerous.

      One thing is certain. Your simple presence there at the scene was critically important. There are times when the distance between one and none is infinite. Just seeing you no doubt was a great comfort to the woman — as seeing that kid with the bucket was to me.

      1. Before my first extensive experience roaming around on wild Pacific Coast beaches (2009), everything I read talked about the importance of knowing what was going on with the tides AND understanding the implications of the incoming and outgoing tide.

        On my first day at Ruby Beach (Olympic National Park, Washington) I saw someone round a headland in the midst of an incoming tide and be hit by a sizeable wave in the process of doing so. He managed to keep his feet and make it around the headland, but that image stayed with me.

        When rounding a headland on a wild Pacific beach it’s simply imperative to know if/when you’ll be able to make it back AND how you’ll cope if you can’t. If you don’t know the answer to both of those matters, you simply shouldn’t round the headland in the first place, period. Unfortunately, a lot of people simply aren’t aware of these issues.

        1. That ability to make it back or to cope is another lesson well known on the water. Most long-range cruisers I know limit the size of their boats: 38′-45′ is common. Couples and people with crew are cautioned to buy a boat that can be single-handed, should the worst happen.

          On a more humorous note, I once saw a photographer near San Francisco — clearly part of a Japanese tourist group — turn his back on the ocean to take a photo. He certainly wasn’t expecting the wave that sneaked up from behind. It appeared he thought his yelling and pointing subjects were mugging for the camera.

    1. When I think back to my own experience, that’s exactly what I think, sherri. Thanks for stopping by to read my little tale, and to remember the people of Ecuador.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.