Letter From The Desert: Ridgecrest, 7.1

What you have to remember is that none of this would be here were it not for the slow, aching caress of one crustal plate against another raising shivers beneath us. These mountains, this desert, the forests to the west and north and the sea cliffs at the end of all things: none of them here without temblors. Or at least without the tectonic gavotte of which quakes are about the least important manifestation. Our planet would be entirely blue, a global ocean of uniform depth, any ancestral continents long ago eroded flat and then eroded even flatter and submarine, except for that engine below that roils the earth’s blood in convective currents. We live on a gigantic ball of boiling rock and iron and nickel, and this whole friendly earth, all its ecosystems (of which we are currently aware), all its trees and whales and coral reefs and symphonies, all its succulents and startups, survive by clinging to a thin bit of froth that has risen to the surface and then hardened a little. We all of us are fleas on a soup skin, except that our cauldron has only surface and no sides.

It is a good thing that no one seems to have been badly hurt in Ridgecrest. That is deliberately excepting the financial sense. Unlike many other California cities, Ridgecrest has not been even a little gentrified. It may never be. Gentrifying Ridgecrest might be impossible. And so there are still middle class people in Ridgecrest, and working people, and poor people, and chronically ill and disabled and elderly people who have managed to scrape together enough for a down payment on the local relatively inexpensive housing, which many of them have now lost. (The Ridgecrest Lions Club is helping out the worst-off, and you can toss something their way here.)

When the 7.1 hit I was 150 miles away south by southeast, spending time in the adult Californian’s natural habitat: a big box office supply store in La Quinta. The building creaked and shifted noisily, and the signage hanging from the high ceiling swayed for a good five minutes after. La mujer que amo called: the shaking had woken her and the dog. The dog went back to sleep. I reassured her that I was fine, opined that the likelihood of damaging aftershocks in Joshua Tree was close to nil, and then drove home by way of a 20-mile section of the San Andreas Fault.

We are, indeed, fairly close to the San Andreas, and closer still to its subsidiary Pinto Mountain Fault, which on its own could generate a Ridgecrest-sized temblor. Such is life in the Eastern California Shear Zone. Were we three to go camping for several thousand years, there is a good likelihood that we would return to find our little house had been shaken off its slab several times, and possibly buried at least partway in a new alluvial fan to boot. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a new bookshelf here I need to bolt to the wall.