Monthly Archives: March 2019

Terra Non Firma

It was easier to believe in solid ground before it became common knowledge that the Earth is a sphere with tectonic plates rafting over molten rock; unlike the popular myth, not even turtles go all the way down.  It’s been nearly 4 months since the November 30th earthquake, yes, but also 55 years since the 1964 quake.  There are those who have become hypersensitive to every slight jolt and quiver, whose home pages have changed — perhaps permanently — from the innocuous Kitten War to the Alaska aftershocks website, now measuring the anxieties of their lives not in Prufrock’s coffee spoons, but in logarithmic fractions they never paid much attention to before.

And why not?  To my mind, this particular local zeitgeist was best captured by L. Juhnke 54 years ago. The Anchorage Times was the recorder of daily Anchorage history from 1916 to the day its doors closed in 1992 (joined in the late 1940s by the Anchorage Daily News), and one editorial page feature was called Poet’s Corner (or, depending on the day’s typesetter, Poets’ Corner, or just plain Poets Corner).  On March 27th, 1965, exactly one year afterwards, Louise Juhnke’s poem March Jitters was published; it applies just as much to the aftermath of 2018 as to that of 1964.  (A little further research in the Times database revealed L. to be Louise, a frequent poetry contributor.)  For decades, the only way to find that poem would have been by looking at frame after frame of microfilm, or by choosing the right Times clippings notebook from among thousands.  But as of last October — just in time for the November 30th earthquake, if anyone had known to look for it — March Jitters and the rest of the Anchorage Times became fully available online back to 1916 — amazing.  Those thousands of clippings notebooks were replaced by searchable full-page scans of the Times: a local historian’s dream for many decades.

It’s easy to repurpose popular songs as unintended earthquake anthems:  All Shook Up, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On, I Feel The Earth Move.  You can also find in the Times that John Hartford, composer of Gentle On My Mind, performed in Midtown at Grand Central Station on May 5th, 1984.  It was a little over 20 years after the ’64 quake when he sang California Earthquake: “Mother Nature’s got gas, her diet’s gone stale / …acid indigestion on the Richter Scale…”  To say the least.  (http://tinyurl.com/y26kqcsj)

Most people between 3 and 4 feet tall in pre-Star Trek 1964 were watching a science fiction puppet show called Fireball XL5 on that Good Friday (the Exxon Valdez spill also occurred on Good Friday and November 30th was also a Friday — what is it with Fridays and major disasters in Alaska?)  Here, we need to switch to the Anchorage Daily News database (which began in 1985) to find that Robert Gottstein hosted a Fireball XL5 party at the 4th Avenue Theater on the 40th anniversary of the ’64 quake in 2004: everyone remembers Colonel Steve Zodiac and his crew.  You can find episodes and the remarkably romantic theme song for its target age group on Youtube.  (http://tinyurl.com/qfhjcqe for a short sample.)

You’ll find plenty of Alaska earthquake books in the QE 535 call number area, but it was only in 2017 that the best popular book on the 1964 quake and how it changed the understanding of all earthquakes was published, The Great Quake by Henry Fountain. (ALASKA QE535.2.U6 F65 2017)  For photographs, a good place to look is Alaska’s Digital Archives (https://vilda.alaska.edu); I don’t see any for the November 30th earthquake yet, but it’s just a matter of time.

For all of our own seismological woes, I still think from time to time of those poor people in Chile in 1960. (https://santiagotimes.cl/?p=69068)  Our 2018 earthquake lasted up to a couple of minutes, depending on where you were; think the first two verses of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway To Heaven.  (http://tinyurl.com/o9x4u5x)  The 1964 earthquake lasted about four and a half minutes; think a little over half of Stairway To Heaven, up to the words about the May Queen.  But Chile?  Think Stairway To Heaven, and then play the first two verses over again. Ten minutes is a heck of a lot of rock and roll.

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