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Sienna Moonfire Designs

Pacific Coast Picture Stories
Website Creation & Maintenance

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OlyWa

Olympia, Washington, so close to Seattle that's what some people call it (they're not from around here). At the bottom of the Puget Sound, with a wide clear view of the Olympics & of Rainier to the East, the town isn't all that, but this place is my little heaven on earth.
One memorable day...
Olympia, Washington: home in the Pacific Northwest -- an hour South of Seattle

Wednesday, 28 February 2001 ~ 10:54 am ~ 6.8

leftie detail of the crack in the dome
I was sitting in front of my computer when the shaking started. It was a noise almost as much as a shaking. It was loud. I knew it wasn't a truck going by (although that similar sound sent quick jolts through me every time I heard it for several days after the quake). With some kind of animal recognition, I understood instantly it was a quake & the only thing that mattered was heading for the doorway. For one brief second I wanted to turn off my computer, the only really expensive thing I own. Funny though, how priorities change. In that moment I didn't exactly fear for my life, but that's the only thing I acted to protect. I felt it, felt my life, my heart, my quickened breath, the tiny vibrant bit of my being as the great earth shook, rumbled & rolled, felt my tender little life & this gorgeous living land more than ever before. I can think of plenty of intense moments but there is nothing like a good quake.
Olympia Capitol dome
After several seconds of shaking itself awake, the live earth began to roll under my feet. I felt it, like slow waves on a broad lake. I could see & feel the walls & floor of my house reacting. Those big rolling waves got me a little bit worried. I was scared, excited, exhilarated, vividly impressed. I felt the huge power of the land as it changed the life of our town in 45 seconds. I paid attention to those seconds like they were the only seconds that would ever exist again. As it went on, as I rode my rocking bumping creaking leaning doorway, I realized that it had to stop soon . . . or else.
It wasn't until several days later that I realized I had been all alone in my house, that had I been injured it would have been some time before anybody would find me. Probably my landlady would've checked on me if we hadn't seen each other outside soon after. Or the friends who were coming for dinner - I hoped they were okay. Days later, that quake made me feel so alone.
the fallen edge of one of the lost roads, still closed
I remembered (if the flashes of pictures going by could be called remembering) the one in '99. The one that hit during my Spanish class, sending us - terrified in a mish-mash of spanglish - to the big doorway in that heavy cement building. We were downtown, all just fill where the Sound used to come in. I didn't want to be there. That one was awful. Our maestro had been telling us how he had met his wife & suddenly we were all huddled together, shaking & babbling in a mix of two languages. Our shaking lasted for hours after the ground settled. I remember the sound of Isabel, his wife, flinging the downstairs door open, bounding up the stairs hollering for Ethan a few minutes later. Hearing that nobody was hurt really doesn't matter until you see your loved ones again.
I knew this quake was worse. I was glad I wasn't downtown. I feared for my friends, so many of my friends all in one building downtown, right on the edge of the water. Part of me had always hated working there because of where it was built, on fill that could turn to mush too easily. It won't last 50 years, but of course we're building up the whole port. I wouldn't want to be there in any kind of disaster. In '99 the one woman who was in the building when the quake hit told me it was still shaking as she left the building, 10 minutes after the quake had ended. That year it had been a wetter winter. This year I think our drought saved us. As we shook & rolled I realized, through the disbelief, that their lives were in serious danger, my life felt in danger on the solid Westside.
Forty-five seconds is a long time.
When it finally stopped, when I could stop yelling out my amazement, making my own noises fill my head to keep away the tremendous sound of the earth quaking, when I knew my house was still intact (it stopped just as everything reached the edge of shelves & windowsills), I ran down to the edge of the hill in my jammies & slippers to look down at Olympia. I am not ashamed to say that I was relieved to see Rainier looking peaceful & still. It was a beautiful day & I could see our big cold mother mountain looming on the horizon with no steam coming out, no snow tumbling down off the steep slopes to melt into a speeding torrent all the way down to the Sound. I wouldn't have been surprised. It was almost completely silent out. I was reassured by the gradually returning sound of excited children at the school behind my house.
leftie the fourth avenue bridge
It lasted for days, that awareness that we are just riding this plot of land for as long as it will hold us. The land doesn't care. It is alive though & it woke us, not just me, to the immediate, all-important, fleeting, tiny reality of Life. It isn't all this stuff - not even the bridge & road we lost, changing our town physically so that we will be reminded of it for years.
I will remember every single one of those 45 seconds for the rest of my life.
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Downtown looked okay. I could see the Batdorf building & I could only hope that all my friends were okay down there. I couldn't call them for hours, yet my computer was still online when I got back to my house. Now I wish I had walked down, walked across the crumbled, ruined bridge for the last time. Seen the fallen fascia of the bank before the workers started clearing it up, as the crowds watched fascinated. At the time some sense of respect for disaster made me stay at home, practically walking in circles for the rest of the day. For days. My focus was shot.
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Washington Federal Saving Bank building
My friends were fine. Nobody died. Seven point oh they were saying at first, then finally 6.8, & nobody died. I wondered where the good karma comes from in this crazy, proud, meddling country of ours. Even in a huge quake, like the California quake of '89 (only 4 times bigger than ours at 7.2), only a couple hundred people (we don't bother with animals & plants) died. That time it was probably the World Series that saved us. It was still a lot of lost life for us, the most I can remember from any recent disaster in this country. As I answered a sweetly worried email from friends in Nicaragua the next day I was embarrassed to admit that - except for the bridge, a few roads & buildings, & our capitol dome - everything was fine. Wrote that to my friends who saw so much loss when Hurricane Mitch swept across Central America. Money. I guess it's not karma, it's money for good building codes. That & the idea that human life is more valuable than anything else. In a third world country they don't take themselves so seriously.
It took me a while to let that thought stop worrying me, took me days to gain back the ability to sit in front of the computer (what a meaningless, invisible activity compared to so much rolling earth) for more than 5 minutes, days to read a whole sentence at one time. It was wonderful in a way. That Saturday I went on a quake damage walk, along with everybody else in Olympia, to get the photos on this page. Everybody smiled at each other, spoke to each other. We were neighbors & remembered that for days. The quake was a gift, a wake up call, a reminder of the beautiful cycle of life & the fact that we lucky people were still riding it, together.
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quake links


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the front page of the Olympian, 1 February our earthquake was an artist -- click to visit the website
Our earthquake was an artist in Port Townsend.

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intensity map on the PNSN website
As for general links, I like to check the map of recent quakes.
The U-DUB site is also lovely.
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Last Sunday, 10 June, at 6:19 am, we had another quake. I honestly can't remember if I was awake anyway or if I bolted up just before it hit. Either way I was wide awake instantly, hollering "down, down" because my bedroom is up in the loft, which I do not trust like the doorway that carried me through that last one. By the time I got to the stairs it was over anyway. It didn't last long, a 5.0, located near Satsop, which is west of here about 30 miles. Where there's a big nuclear plant that never got opened because once they had it built somebody finally decided maybe it was a bad idea considering it's right on a fault line (obviously active 'cause that's where our '99 5.9 one was too).

What amuses me is that I grew up in California. I was always bummed when my mom came home from work & told me we'd had one. I never felt them. She worked on the top floor the old State Library so her building shook even when the quakes were pretty far South. Then in '89 I was in Fiji with part, but not all, of my Californian family. That is another story (the headline read: HUNDREDS DIE in California Quake the morning before we took a little boat to spend a week on a tiny island - which did, luckily, have one radio phone).

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leftie some bikers look at the parkway damage in Olympia, Washington after the February 2001 earthquake
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