A few days I blogged about the four minor earthquakes we experienced here in Northern California over a seven-day span. These temblors were mild, registering between a magnitude 3.0-4.0 on the Richter scale, which is not particularly earth-shattering (pun-intended). For most of us in the Bay Area, the impact of a 3.5 quake is that you hear a short low rumbling sound, or maybe your kitchen window rattles for a second. Truthfully, I am often blissfully unaware of quakes of this magnitude, until I hear about them on the local evening news or read about them online. Still, four tremors in a week is enough to make a fellow curious.
I did some reading to find out what significance geologists ascribe to this rapid series of mini-quakes, and from what I can tell, the scientific conclusions are akin to, "who the hell really knows." They could be foreshocks, minor tremors that precede seriously bad evening news broadcasts ("it was a rough commute on Highway 101 this afternoon as the entire road liquified and fell into a gaping hole in the earth"), but more likely, it's just routine shifting of tectonic plates - the geologic equivalent of the earth having a yawn and a scratch.
I can accept a little ambiguity. We are talking about the earth's crust, after all, which was formed by complex geologic pressures and events that took place over billions of years (or nearly 5,000 evangelical years). If we need a few thousand more generations of scientists to really nail this down, then so be it.
My earthquake research led me to discover more about the San Andreas Fault, the 800 mile long crack in the earth's surface that runs through California, and the place where two of the earth's giant tectonic plates meet, and then proceed to occasionally tussle a bit. When these two plates rub elbows, there is enormous friction and an energy release in the vicinity of the fault line, which sometimes causes your hummels and tchotchkes to shimmy a little, and other times causes tall buildings and double-decker bridges to collapse.
The San Andreas Fault serves as a perforated line that runs north-south through California, wherein the state can conveniently be torn in two with the western half then free to drift out into the Pacific Ocean. Most of us who ever lived outside of California have made that joke, but most of us didn't subsequently end up moving ironically into the heart of the land of tectonic wonders.
When relocating to Northern California, my goal was to be positioned in the middle of the Bay Area, fully recognizing this would also put me in a seismically central location. San Carlos, the peninsula city where I settled about twenty-five miles south of San Francisco, has turned out to be a perfect locale, close enough to everything, but not too close to anything. The setting is natural and beautiful, and the quaint condo where I live overlooks a canyon, beyond which, about a mile away, is the Pulgas Ridge. Oh yeah, and did I mention that another mile beyond the Pulgas Ridge is the San Andreas Fault?
On the map below, the red X marks the location of my condo, and the bold red line, about 2 miles to the west, is the fault line.
That's the bad news - I chose a unique and comfortable west coast town to live in, and the earth chose to put California's "cut here" dotted line just two miles away.
On the upside, the quality of life in Northern California is unbeatable. Sure, housing costs a little more, but we hike in scenic hills and walk along the Pacific Ocean, we have the Golden Gate Bridge and the one-loss Forty-Niners, and it doesn't rain here for eight straight months every year.
In the end, you take the good with the bad, which is actually kind of easy when you live somewhere that has so much to offer. In the highly unlikely event the "the big one" hits in the next couple of decades, and I still live here in Northern California, well, I suppose it'll be my fault. I can live with that.