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WHOSE FAULT IS IT ANYWAY?

Damage to a cliffside near Lake Lillinonah in New Milford, Connecticut. It probably occurred during a recent violent storm.

Recently, my friend Suzi took me hiking near New Milford’s Lake Lillinonah. It was the day after a brutal storm had torn through the area, and as we ascended a steep hill in the shadow of a cliff, Suzi noticed a chunk of the mountain had come loose: massive ledges of rock had tumbled onto the trail. Because the air smelled of freshly-broken trees and earthworms and the exposed earth was wet, we surmised it had probably happened within the last twenty-four hours. We laughed about how violent the moment must have been, and, since she walks her dogs there every day, she was glad she hadn’t been there when it occurred.

This fascinated me. I’m a USGS[1] geek. Earthquake alerts are delivered to my e-mail, and lately, my inbox has been getting hammered: a 7.0 hit Haiti[2] on January 12 and rocked the Ryukyu Islands on February 26[3]; an 8.8 creamed Chile on February 27[4]; a 6.3 tore through Taiwan on March 4.[5] And let’s not go into all the fore- and aftershocks and anything below a 6.0. Although scientists insist that this recent activity isn’t abnormal[6], it’s hard not to wonder if something extraordinary isn’t going on.

An earthquake happens when “blocks of earth suddenly slip past one another. The surface where they slip is called the fault. While the edges of faults are stuck together, and the rest of the block is moving, the energy that would normally cause the blocks to slide past one another is being stored up. When the force of the moving blocks finally overcomes the friction of the jagged edges of the fault and it unsticks, all that stored up energy is released.”[7] In other words, everything’s in gridlock until the amount of energy becomes overwhelming and it is forced to move.

This phenomenon isn’t exclusively geological; it happens in people’s lives. Consider Tarot Card Number 16: The Tower. The card’s artwork depicts people leaping from a stone tower buckled by a violent lightning strike. While the card’s literal interpretations vary slightly, my favorite is from The Lord of the Rings Tarot Deck & Card Game: “That which has been built on bad foundations will be reduced to rubble.”[8] Some may recall similar wording in the Bible’s Matthew 7:26-27: “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”[9]

I’ve spent years reading tarot professionally, so I’m no stranger to The Tower card. In my experience, it means the client is in denial that something in his life, like a situation, isn’t good for him; he’s getting signals, but ignoring them, so the client is in stasis. But the pressure is building up—and eventually, something will shatter or destroy the situation for him.

An excellent example of a Tower moment is in a favorite short story that appeared in The New Yorker: TC Boyle’s “La Conchita.”[10] In it, a man damaged by a relationship has become selfish, angry, and unhealthily obsessed with his career. He ignores all the signs signaling him to change. So the universe hurls a cataclysmic mudslide in his path, fouling his most important day—and permanently destroying the emotional front he’s created for himself. He emerges from the rubble a selfless individual who can now confront his painful past.

Tower moments are almost always messy. What’s helpful to keep in mind is that surviving one is a lot like surviving an earthquake: when it’s all over, we have to climb out of the rubble and rebuild. And when we do, usually what we’ve built is stronger.

This is the cliffside where the damage occurred.

Another shot of the damage.


[1] United States Geological Survey: http://www.usgs.gov/.

[2] Specifics on the Haiti quake here: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/us2010rja6.php

[3] Specifics on the Japan quake here: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsww/Quakes/us2010teb2.php

[4] Specifics on the Chile quake here: http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/eqinthenews/2010us2010tfan/

[5] Specifics on the Taiwan quake here: http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/bulletin/neic_tkab.html

[6] “According to the US Geological Survey, the earth usually has one magnitude-8 or higher earthquake per year, some 17 quakes between 7 and 7.9, and roughly 132 earthquakes a year with a magnitude of between 6 and 6.9 – like the most recent quake in Turkey.

“The recent earthquakes are not abnormal in frequency, scientists say, but have received more attention because of the loss of human life.”

Stephen Kurczy, “Turkey earthquake kills 51; scientists say earthquake frequency not rising,” The Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2010/0308/Turkey-earthquake-kills-51-scientists-say-earthquake-frequency-not-rising

[7]Lisa Wald, “The Science of Earthquakes,” United States Geological Survey, http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/kids/eqscience.php

[8] Peter Pracownik, Terry Donaldson, and Mike Fitzgerald. The Lord of the Rings Tarot Deck & Card Game. (Stamford: US Games Systems, 1997).

[9] To read the entire phrasing, visit Bible Gateway: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+7%3A24-27&version=NIV

[10] You can read TC Boyle’s “La Conchita” for free here: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/12/12/051212fi_fiction

WIND CRAZY

Storms. I have always loved bad storms, even if I was simultaneously terrified of them. Right now, the storm that dumped a ton of snow back where I live in Connecticut earlier in the day has just arrived—only there isn’t any snow. There is wind. There is wind, and banging, and drums beating, and shaking, and slamming, and tremulous thunder, and glass breaking, and roaring.

We had a similar whopper here on Monday (although it was fifteen degrees warmer, at least, than it is outside right now). I was running back and forth between my apartment and the Mailer house, because there I was treated to a wonderful view of the angry waves (see photographs of the storm below). The sea smelled clean, like fresh vegetables and salt. And the wind moaned and shrieked like a thousand dying souls. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.

But I’ve found that this extraordinary sound doesn’t only exist during storms here. Even at the close of a lovely day, I sit in my apartment and hear the wind moan and wail. Sometimes the house groans and creaks or even shakes, and nearby I can hear things banging: doors, mailboxes, real estate signs against the picket fences. It’s all very noisy.

But it is also incredibly atmospheric. I mentioned this to my next-door neighbor, Peter, who theorized that part of that wonderful noise is due to the proximity of the structures: the wind has plenty of small spaces to whistle through. I told him it was a frightening, but magical, sound. He sipped his beer and looked at me and said, “Once you’re used to it it’s not so great. Just everything you do, no matter what you’re doing, all you hear in the background is that moaning. Sometimes you hear things you can’t explain. When you’re here all alone, all winter long, you go wind crazy.”

I was wishing I could put that wind in a bottle and let it out back home, to see what “wind crazy” feels like.

Until ten minutes ago (yes, it’s a little after three a.m.). I heard glass breaking from somewhere. I roused from bed, climbed into layers of clothes, went out, walked around the house, checked all the windows and doors, and came up with nothing. Out of concern, I called Peter (feeling bad for waking him up, but seriously so terrified it really didn’t matter at the moment).  He said, “thanks for checking—if you didn’t see anything, it’s probably okay.” He said he’d check everything again in daylight, but don’t worry about it, go back to bed and try to get some sleep.

Yeah, sleep.

I think I’ve gone wind crazy.

Pouring, slamming rain

Dark at 2 p.m.

The flooding begins outside Pete's door.

...and miles to go before I sleep...

This might look like candyland, but try to open the gate (I stress the word 'try' here) and you'll find out it's the opposite...

The Angry Sea

I don’t have the greatest camera, but if you listen closely, you can hear the sound of the waves. This was taken from indoors.

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