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I am this world and I eat this world. Who knows this, knows.

Taittireeya Upanishad, ca 7th century B.C.E.


Late one autumn evening, a hundred miles below the Forest of Nicene Marks State Park in California, the great turtle on which the earth depends flexed its carapace. Eased by the action, it slowly settled into comfort and dozed again, to lie almost still and silent till some other irritation of growth or decay should urge it once more to wakefulness.

On the surface the shock was palpable. Houses on the ridges that worshipped Loma Prieta were blown off their foundations, to land where they would as ruins and rubble. The downtown districts of both Santa Cruz and Watsonville, the centers of each end of the county, were devastated. A hundred miles north, by some quirk of energy transmission too subtle for the scientists, the landfill of San Francisco's Marina District pulsated, the Bay Bridge partly fell and the Oakland section of I-880 collapsed.

At 7.1 on the Richter, the Quake of October 17th, 1989, was a Pretty Big One. Half a dozen residents of Santa Cruz County died and thousands more lost millions of dollars worth of things, from trinkets to palatial estates. Some fled but most remained, shocked but determined to remake their lives, their towns, in the face of catastrophe. In the eerie, candlelit evenings that followed there was a grim sense that they had taken the blow they half-expected, rarely acknowledged and always feared. There was anger, fear, grief, and occasional bleak humor, mixed with collective love and determination into a roiling mess of feelings encased in a sense that the way onward was up.

What followed was worse. Not the dozen or so 4.0 or greater quakes that hit in the first seven hours; not the ninety measuring 3.0 or more that came in the next thirty days; not even the lengthy 5.0 that scared the living daylights out of everyone two days after the Loma Prieta Earthquake itself. What was terrifying was the cumulative effect of five thousand separate aftershocks in the following month – one every eight-and-a-half minutes on average, much less near the beginning, longer later, but stretching on for months, maybe years.

After a couple of weeks, the survivors learned to remember to forget, like novice sailors finding their sea-legs, but then Cal-Trans reopened Highway 17 and shoppers could drive to the better-stocked stores of San José. In the new routine, they opened their car doors and braced themselves for the tiny adjustments that the quivering land continually demanded ... and shook themselves because the pavement was still.

They were out of sync with their world.

Everyone always is, to a degree, except for the odd ecstatic mystic and the occasional artist surfing the zeitgeist to immortality, but most of the time most of us resonate closely enough with our universe to ignore the anomalies and accept the mundane realities of everyday life. We accept the paradox of a shared culture of individuality. We know that molecules are mostly empty and the earth barely more substantial than the vacuum of outer space but still, when in need of balance, we say we ground ourselves.

Solid ground is a convenient approximation, a useful fiction, part of the consensual reality that we agree to honor.

Solid ground is a cliché.

Solid ground is a myth.

(Searching for) Solid Ground is a quest for right living in a wrong world.

It's also a love story of sorts, but then what tale worth its salt is not?