As we go to sleep tonight, let us think about where we are.
In a house?
In the bush?
On a boat?
In Ōkarito, where I sleep in a house, I am very aware of how fragile my hold on the house and land is – a decent storm will make such a surf that the ground will shudder under the ocean thud. The ground is ancient swamp, recent river bank, sand dunes, all very prone to liquefaction, subject in the quite recent past* to tsunami inundation –
the ground I sleep on is not sure.
“liquefy = to bring or make a solid or gas into liquid condition – hence, liquefier/ liquefacent/liquefaction/liquefactive/liquefiable…”
Humans, being the hopeful mammals we are, expect yesterday to herald today – it will all be the same, and Life will go on, just as we know it.
We are always horribly surprised when Life doesn’t.
A long time ago, when I was an adolescent, I met a man who was passionate. I was in the Upper Sixth form (Year 13) going for University Scholarship exams – don’t worry about these archaic terms! What it actually meant was, in my babyboomer high school (Aranui, since you ask) there were very few people in that form, and, if you chose certain subjects you wound up with an individual teacher, just for you.
My specialities were biology (knew a wee bit more than the teacher there) and history (got really frustrated because it was Tudors from here to breakfast, and they were an especially evil lot) and … geography.
My teacher-just-for-me in geography was a Pom. He hadn’t been long in our country. He was incandescently pale, and had a receding chin, was kind of weedy, skinny – o stereotype eh?
Except he was passionate. Not as it turned out, about the regular geography syllabus – what he loved was geomorphology.
I’d never heard of the word.
Have you ever known the name C A Cotton?
Because, bless that lovely deeply intelligent passionate Pom, C. A. Cotton opened my worldview unto this day.
How do you see our wonderful motu? Body of our mother Papatūānuku? The one sure thing that is here despite all the ruckus we humans can create? That which always survives us, will hold our bones, and be a surety, a sustainment, for all our offspring?
C. A. Cotton was a long-ago person born here (1885) who wrote a most marvellous book. It is called, quite simply, Geomorphology (my copy is the 7th edition, revised 1958, reprinted 1968, and costing me $3.25 in that year from Whitcombe and Tombs.) The subtitle is An Introduction to the Study of Landforms.
And what it does is make anyone who reads it understand that all of our earth is not a certainty, nor a stability, but a process. It makes you sort of, kind of, understand earthquakes.
We know about Rūaumoko, and he is a good metaphor – someone occasionally lively in Papa’s womb, but constrained by where he is contained. There is a sense of resentment, a “let me go” – but then what? A demiurge out of this world going to do –what?
But if you look on this lovely sea/earth as a continuing process, and if you look on crustal plate movement and jar and uplift and shift as the way our world heaves and moves and breathes – then, quite simply, we have to alter our way of living.
Especially our kind of homes.
I was born in Christchurch, schooled there. I have no idea what happened to the erstwhile family home at Leaver Terrace, North New Brighton – it’s a long long time since I lived there, and I’ve never wanted to go back, so I’m not interested in any damage that happened there. But I do know that tile roof and plastered wooden walls are not necessarily a ship to ride out earthquake waves.
My house is wooden-framed, wooden- clad except for the galvanised rooves: it survived the 4.35am CHCH quake fine (as it has survived an earlier 6.9 here) and it moved and creaked like a ship in a surge. But – come a shift in the Alpine fault, and an 8 – forfend! a 9 – my home and me are goners.
I can fantasise dwellings that are earthquake/ volcano/tsunami/storm-proof – they tend to involve dirigibles and materials that haven’t quite been made yet – but living in our real and rather dangerous world, one of the easiest ways we can avoid being destroyed, our homes being destroyed, is – avoid building on places that are subject to – for instance – liquefaction or rockfall. Being in a houseboat is a good idea on inland lakes or the inner areas of lagoons. In the bush – depending on your comfort levels (I know someone who lives up trees) – a really well-built old-style Southern whare (partly sunk in the ground) will survive most hazards, dependent on where it is sited. Sleeping rough is always tough, and the transients and street people are always going to find it hard. We need to think about those among us who don’t even have shelter when the earth shakes.
Sleep safe, us all.
And, read Charles Cotton!
*The last tsunami to overwhelm Ōkarito was probably in 1826. Brunner wrote, after his trip through here in 1847, that: “The timber here is very small, and appears of recent growth. I think to the foot of the mountain range has been recently washed by the ocean.” (p.289, Taylor, Nancy M. (Ed.). 1959. Early Travellers in New Zealand, Oxford: Clarendon Press.)