You could call me a priestess of sorts, I suppose, albeit a grant-funded and state-employed one. I do spend much time preaching about my lady’s temper, teaching these arrogant mortals to respect the power of Cascadia and all her sisters. They sleep in a ring, you know, dreaming of fire and blood and occasionally waking to deliver death in broad swathes. Cascadia has been sleeping these past three hundred years but when she wakes again her wrath will sunder the earth and drown sin and sinner alike. (Such ancient forces as she hardly care what form their offerings take; it’s about quantity, not quality.) Though she cannot be pacified, still she must be revered. A little fear is necessary to grasp the immensity of Cascadia’s destruction when – not if – she stirs once more. The question is, will humanity heed the words of her clergy in time?
It’s late June and I’m cleaning out my desk… throwing away old papers… saying my goodbyes… but not because school’s out. It’s because…
I’m changing jobs!
See, for as long as I can remember I have been obsessed with disasters, both manmade and natural. I watched Twister religiously as a kid and was supremely disappointed that I was born eight years too late to witness the famous 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. If asked what historical event I would most want to go back in time to experience, I could never pick between the sinking of the Titanic or the destruction of Pompeii. Pompeii would probably win out, though, because geology is the coolest of the hard sciences.
My obsession with disasters is formed of equal parts horror and fascination: horror because these events prove how quickly and completely our human-centric world can be reduced to rubble; fascination because their scale and power are frankly awe-inspiring, especially if you understand the forces at work. Disaster movies might take some scientific and artistic liberties, but they still offer insight into how fucking terrifying the earth can be.
I say all this because emergency management is my passion and finally, after six years in a different career field, I’ve found my way back! Starting this week, I’ll be working for my state’s Emergency Management Division as an Emergency Management Program Specialist to, and I quote, “provide professional level emergency management and public education assistance in implementing the statewide Tsunami/Earthquake/Volcano program.”
HOW FUCKING COOL DOES THAT SOUND??
They’re gonna pay me actual money to talk about natural disasters! And science! And emergency preparedness! Those are like my favorite things!! I’m just so excited that it almost doesn’t feel real. This is literally my dream job. I can’t even.
the earth is on fire and also underwater and i’m trying to embrace this whole apocalypse thing since that seems like the only way to stay sane here in the end times but it’s hard, you know, i’m feeling more and more like crazy cuckoo crackpot cassandra every day or like i’m the only person in pompeii who looked up and thought hey, the mountain’s sure acting weird this week, and if i don’t provide a viable solution to my fear-mongering that’s only because i really don’t think there is one, at least not at this point, not this far down the dead-end road, but hey at least i’ve got some really good news for people who love bad news
I’ve been thinking about inevitability. About how chance and circumstance could lead Igor Dyatlov’s hiking group to set up their tent in the exact center of an extremely rare and unknown wind vortex, the resulting infrasound of which sent them running into the subzero Siberian winter. Those students did everything right, everything, given what science knew at the time, and yet nine people froze to death in darkness. In 1958 no amount of investigation could answer the why of the disaster. Now we know. They couldn’t have.
I’ve been thinking about preparedness. About how chance and circumstance could lead the RMS Titanic to sail through an unknown thermal inversion, an ocular mirage that hid the iceberg, so confused the nearby Californian that it never went to assist, and ruined any chance those floating in freezing cold water had to survive the night. Both ships’ crews did everything right, everything, given what science knew at the time, and yet fifteen hundred people froze to death in darkness. In 1912 no amount of investigation could answer the why of the disaster. Now we know. They couldn’t have.
How can things go so extremely wrong when those involved are as educated, trained, and prepared as it is possible to be? When they do everything exactly right and still meet with helplessness and death? What does that mean for the rest of us who know so little? We can only prepare for what we know is coming. We can only imagine scenarios within the reality we conceptualize. Beyond that we are babes.
I do not fear the unknown. I do not fear aliens or curses or conspiracies, Sasquatch or Mothman or Bloody Mary. I fear what we already know. I fear the sleeping calderas and the pressurized fault lines; I fear the solar flares and the sixth great extinction. And I fear the as-yet-unknown. The to-be-known. The dangers already existing all around us, hidden only by the limits of human knowledge. What awaits us that we will never see coming?
Dreams of you leave me dizzy and exhausted, unable to grasp who or where I am. This one lingers long and I’m still half-blind from the sun reflecting off your metal wings, my ears full of the screams of your victims. I have seen you neither happier nor more powerful than as you hover in the sky raining down death, and thus never more beautiful. With minute motions of your hands you sink seabeds and thrust up cliffs, topple causeways and twist mountain ranges until they leap, suicide-like, into the roiling ocean. There is no escape for the rebels and fugitives who sought to hide in this remote corner of the country; you are barely human, devoid of empathy or concern, and their fear means nothing. What is the death of others, innocent or guilty, to you who are death itself? There is no judgement, only joy in the destruction. You are a weapon that loves its purpose.
So many dreams of pursuit, and I should have known you would be waiting at the end of them all. You are at every end, o radiant angel, and no matter where I run I always run toward you.
I think we live in a fucking parking garage
breathing in exhaust and someone else’s ash
avoid the puddles and the bodies
eh, we’re all gonna die anyway
We anthropomorphize what we do not understand and deify what we fear. Perhaps, therefore, I should call this terror and awe Cascadia and give it a name, a form, a realm to rule. Grand Cascadia, She Who Slumbers Uneasily, She Who Builds Mountains and Destroys Cities. Ancient Cascadia, who sleeps beneath the earth’s crust and whose every toss and turn rattles the land above. Cruel Cascadia, whose laughter stirs tsunamis, whose anger detonates stratovolcanoes and sends shockwaves of destruction through two thousand miles of rock and earth. I see her body made of the fine silt of the ocean floor; her eyes glow the hot white of magma; her hair is ash and smoke and seaweed and minerals. She is a uniquely Pacific Northwest goddess, one link in the great ring of fire through which she and her sisters transform the world.
It is tempting, I’ll admit, to hand the fear of what I cannot control over to a deity I can at least implore. I could light red candles in her honor and leave her offerings of seashells, saltwater, Mt. St. Helens ash. Beneath her altar I could store flashlights and emergency rations. I could write songs and poems for her, about the people she has killed already and those she will kill in the future. I could, I could, I could – but what good would it do? Even if Cascadia were a true goddess, she would not be swayed by offerings or pleading. She would be something more terrifying than Kali and more uncontrollable than Sekhmet, something that gloried in death even more than Inanna or the Morrigan. There would be no appeasing her. She would only sleep, wake, slaughter, and sleep to wake and kill again. All the prayer in the world could not reckon with her, and when she next wakes her death toll will be in the hundreds of thousands.
Sleep, Cascadia. Sleep.
a molten core, pressure building
praying for eruptiontoday the depression is
a granite pluton hard and cold
yielding to erosion
maybe Yellowstone will redeem us
before we can do too much damage;
you know, wipe the slate clean, hit restart on
this whole “life” business
foolish man, to think nature
does not always hold the trump card;
they ignored the signs in Pompeii too
but hey, at least they’re famous
turn to geology on your deathbed
it is the only science that can save you
“That was… unsettlingly close,” Daren brushed ash and embers from his clothing as he stepped out onto the roof. Beside him, Tanim nodded in agreement. “Isn’t it always?” He seemed distracted, staring at something over Daren’s shoulder, and the younger man turned to see what had caught his attention. His shoulders sagged. “Is that…”
“Tornado?” Tanim nodded again in a matter-of-fact manner that belied the danger of their newest threat. “Yes. Yes, I believe so.” Although they stood on the roof of a towering skyscraper, a forest of other building spires surrounding them in all directions, a dark, fat funnel of wind roared not far away. As it rolled its way toward them, it chewed up buildings and streets alike, leaving nothing but rubble in its wake.
“Okay,” Daren turned away from the tornado with a sigh of unwilling acceptance. “Cool. And that?” He pointed upwards to where the dark clouds, from which the twister had been birthed, were bubbling and roiling like boiling water. Amid the movement the broad edge of some spacecraft could be seen; it took up half the sky, and beside it the tornado seemed a paltry risk. Tanim stared at the ship that was clearly out of the trailer for Independence Day: Resurrection and commented mildly, “You know… it occurs to me that we might not make it out of this one. She’s not that good.”
“Time to wake up?” Daren suggested, indicating with a nod the direction where there were, as yet, no new surprises – though a distant glint implied a tsunami might be approaching. Giving the impending warship one final wary glance, Tanim mumbled, “sounds good,” and followed Daren to the roof ledge. Without any parting words or declarations of love, he pushed Daren over the edge, then closed his eyes and let the dreamer take over as he fell as well. At least she was good at slipping out of dreams when necessary, even if it was her own mind that conjured the various disasters and threats they faced.
the earth awakes
in violent tremors, roaring
cacophonous subterranean thunder
bridges buckling, overpasses shuddering
brick collapses in clouds
of red dust like the skies of Mars
glass shatters and power lines topple
while beachfronts slough off into white-capped water
and it seems to go on forever, minutes becoming an eternity
while the world shakes and quakes and destructs
like nothing Chicken Little ever could
have expected, the sky is falling
the sky is falling
and in the aftermath
nothing is untouched or
unharmed and yet
The summer’s all forest fires and blood, drought and shitty poetry, but migrating geese offer a moment’s respite, a bleak surge of hope for approaching autumn.