Voices from the river

Voices from the River: When the earth moves

Damage from the Nov. 30, 7.0 magnitude earthquake on the highway exit ramp nearest to the Trout Unlimited office in Anchorage.

By Jenny Weis

I found myself still tip-toeing around my house Saturday morning as I cleaned broken glass and straightened bookshelves, over 24 hours after the 7.0 earthquake that rattled Anchorage last Friday. I didn’t want to make any sound resembling what I heard when the earth moved.

I had just finished breakfast when the shaking started. As most in Anchorage probably did, my very initial reaction was a wholly apathetic, “Huh. Earthquake.” Then, obviously, it continued far past the allotted window were apathy still applies. The rate of shaking intensified, as did the noise. While the earth and my house thundered and moved around me, I could hear bowls flying off shelves, pictures falling from the walls, and drawers rocking open. I wish I could say I kept calm, but simply, I panicked. I felt so vulnerable, and so alone. When the shaking stopped, I sat on the couch, breathless somehow, petting my dog.

Shakily, I used both hands to stand, checking my balance, before walking around to assess the damage. Forgetting about aftershocks, I had just started to get my wits back about me when the first one hit — a massive 5.7 magnitude. After that, my nerves were shot. I hate to admit it, but I was a basketcase the rest of the weekend. Apparently, Anchorage can expect thousands of aftershocks in the coming months. We’ve had hundreds already. I wanted three points of contact throughout the rest of the day and evening — two feet on the ground, and a hand on a counter or wall. Better yet, my butt on the ground and legs outstretched. I took a conference call early in the afternoon, seated this way under a doorframe.

Though I rationally know the worst of it is over, with each jolt, the rumble would match the sound, however briefly, of the first quake and my adrenaline would jump back up. This repeated over and over. I slept at a friend’s house, and we were woken a few times in the night by 4-plus magnitude aftershocks. Luckily, I’ve since started to calm down. Reflecting on the whole experience, all I can think about is how tiny and insignificant we are. How, though we give a good illusion of controlling things, we’re utterly powerless to the world upon which we reside.

I’m far from an expert at yoga, but I’ve dabbled long enough to have learned a few things that weigh on me today. I’ve learned about the five elements of Ayurvedic teachings—earth, fire, air, water, space— which are present in everything in and around us. I’ve always most appreciated the earth element — the instructor brings this up in some of my favorite poses: mountain, tree, downward dog, child’s. This element and chakra are associated with security, safety, and stability. When I’m instructed to root my feet or hands into the earth, I feel that connection, that solid ground. There’s peace and safety in it.

I think part of the shock I’m processing as someone who’s never experienced a quake that large before (not to mention this massive and growing number of aftershocks), is grappling for the first time with a mistrust of the earth. The fact that the ground, where we root and find stability, can threaten us, try to buck us like a horse. It’s unsettling, and I’m not sure how to handle that.

Ultimately, my friends and I are safe. We all had minor damage at our homes, but we are OK and incredibly, there were no fatalities. Anchorage will recover from this. Maybe we’ll somehow be stronger from it — more connected as a community at least.

But I’ll never lose the perspective of the stunning power of the planet we’re borrowing — its noise and vigor. And I probably won’t be stomping around my house for a decent while, either.

Jenny Weis is the Alaska communications director. She lives in Anchorage and apologizes that this post has nothing to do with fishing.