Green Eyes On: When the Earth Trembles


View of a cobblestone street that split in half after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Photo courtesy of Getty images.

At the crack of dawn on Friday, April 18, an earthquake rocked the Midwest. You read correctly -- the Midwest.

Now let's back up. When we think of tornadoes we think of the Midwest. When we think of hurricanes we think of the Florida coast, and sadly, due to Katrina, New Orleans. When we think of earthquakes we think of California. But we don't think of the Midwest.

That said, on April 18th (exactly 102 years to the day after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906) a tremble started in West Salem, Illinois, 125 miles southwest of Indianapolis, and reached as far as Cincinnati, some 250 miles to the east. It registered a 5.2 on the Richter scale.

So maybe when I say "rocked" I'm exaggerating. Maybe it was more like a tickle, but it was a 5.2 magnitude earthquake and it quaked, not on the California coast, but in Middle America.
Sara Snow's home escaped harm -- only a cabinet opened. Photo courtesy of Sara Snow

This was on a Friday morning. Residual tremors were felt throughout the weekend and then, in the early morning hours of the following Monday, another quake occurred. This one registering only 4.5, but still a decent little quake for the Midwest.

As it turns out there are a few fault lines in the region, and earthquakes do occur every decade or two. The most forceful was a 5.4 magnitude in 1968.

I find this fascinating. But not only that, I find it exciting and fantastic. To me it means the earth is alive. It's moving and turning and reacting still to things that happened thousands of years ago, when plates shifted and mountains were formed. The earth that seems so solid and strong still shivers and trembles and we, as tiny individuals and representations of life, are sent wiggling and trembling on our beds and in our cars.

I was in Indianapolis the night/morning of the quake. My husband and I sat straight up, jiggling next to each other, trying to figure out what was going on. At first we thought our beloved dog was leaning up again the bed and satisfying an itch. Then, because our windows were open to enjoy the warm spring night, we heard the rumbling sound that came as all the houses in the neighborhood -- as well as the streets, the dirt, and the trees -- absorbed the vibrations and did a little jig. I remember sitting there thinking, wow, this is the earth that we rely on and live on -- we run on it and eat from it. We fly from place to place touching down on different parts of it. It turns on its axis but we never feel that. But suddenly, in the middle of the night, it hiccupped. And that hiccup in turn shook our houses, our beds, our offices and our schools. That little hiccup shook our world.


Dozens of buildings crumbled after the San Francisco quake. Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

In actuality, the damage was small. In our house, only a bathroom cupboard opened. But the truth of the earthquake resonates much farther than that. That little Midwest earthquake serves as a staunch reminder that, if the earth is still rumbling from time-to-time in response to plates that collided so long ago, isn't it true that our actions today and the ways we treat the earth will render an affect that extends well beyond our living years?

This is a fragile earth. It's strong and beautiful in many ways, but it's also fragile. A piece of the ocean, some say it's twice the size of Texas, is congested because we demanded and then disposed of too many plastics. Whole species of plants and animals that this earth once loved and supported like it does us, no longer exist because we have lived beyond our means. And climates have changed in remote and near locations, leading to a whole new host of challenges -- problems the full weight of which we can't possibly imagine.

So if you do nothing else today, take a moment to appreciate this earth. Appreciate it for its strength and its frailty. For its beauty and the ways it rears its ugly head. Take a moment to walk outside and breathe the air. Hug a tree -- yes, some people actually do hug trees! And get down on your knees and press your face into the dirt and remember that the ground on which you walk may seem firm and strong, but it too is fragile and tenuous.

If for nothing other than the reminder it gives us, I'll happily celebrate a mild earthquake or two -- particularly in the Midwest.

More on natural disasters
::Natural Disasters in Latin America Blamed in Part on Climate Change
::Natural Disasters Up Four-Fold over Last Two Decades: Global Warming to Blame?
::Katrina and Rita Responsible for Nation's Worst Ever Forestry Disaster
::Strange Things are Happening to the Planet

More on earthquakes
::Geothermal Power Plant Triggers Earthquake in Switzerland
::Melting Ice Cap Triggering Earthquakes, Endangering Wildlife

Sara Snow is Planet Green's lifestyle expert, and a regular contributor to TreeHugger via her Green Eyes On columns. She can also be seen on CNN.com on Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Tags: Natural Disasters | Sara Snow

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