Dispatch from the Edge

By Peter Anderson

Apocalypse When?

Everybody needs a story (or stories) to live by. Lately doom and gloom narratives have been hot – you know, government conspiracy, Mayan prophecy, endtime and rapture, zombies on the doorstep. Wonder why.

To find out, I thought maybe I should get a little more apocalyptic. I didn’t have to look too far. Here along the edge of the great Rio Grande Rift, a geological feature which extends from Leadville to Mexico, our planet’s outer crust may look and feel solid, but in fact, it’s thin and taut, fractured and fracturing. Some day, our local fault will slip and slide and the ground as we know it will rearrange itself.

Walking underneath my house to look over the flimsy cinder block piers that hold it up, I couldn’t deny the truth any longer. When I was less apocalyptic, I didn’t worry much about the ground. Now I realize it’s only holding up our house temporarily. When the big one comes, the ground will up and move and our seemingly solid house will slide off those piers and fall out from underneath our feet. Who knows which beams will crack or where the roof will fall? We’ll just have to duck and cover and ride it out.

Truth be told though, I am less apocalyptic than I used to be. In Salt Lake City, I lived next to a fractured piece of earthcrust that was due for a heavy duty shake and bake. Those who know such things said the interval between quakes was about 1,400 years (give or take 300) and it had been about 1,400 years since the last one. After we felt an earth shimmy one night, I couldn’t get my mind off that six-story apartment building just west of us. The shadow it cast across our little house each day became darker, more sinister.

Here the impending geological apocalypse is less menacing. Yes, it’s been 7,500 years since the last big quake shook this mountainside, but they only happen every fifteen thousand years or so (give or take a few thousand). In other words, the end of the ground as I know it probably won’t happen on my watch, which bodes well for my health, but doesn’t do much for my apocalyptic status. The only doom and gloom stories that deliver much meaning are the ones that promise action in our own life spans. Otherwise, ho-hum.

Well, there’s always fire season.