Posted by: ktzefr | July 16, 2010

Earthquakes and Singing Birds…

“The fact that we/don’t understand/their language/doesn’t mean/that they don’t converse/If they could/understand us/they would/consider us to be/completely incomprehensible/and mad to boot.” ~ from “Monkeys” by Klara Koettner-Benigni, Austria

A few minutes past five this morning we had an earthquake in the DC area.  It woke up everybody in the house.  I was startled from a dream and thought that odd clap of thunder was the old air conditioner singing its last song.  We’d been talking about it at bedtime and hoping, with all this 90+ degree weather, that it would make it through the summer.  When the house shook and the windows rattled, however, I guessed it wasn’t the air conditioner.  Though Californians might consider it only a tiny disturbance in comparison to their own experiences, the 3.6 magnitude quake was the strongest ever recorded in the DC area.  When the windows rattle around here it’s usually a helicopter or the occasional F-15 flying low overhead.

Some people believe animals can sense an earthquake coming before it happens.  All day birds have been coming to my feeders — cardinals and chickadees and finches.  A grackle and a dove.  The doves eat off the ground with the squirrels and chipmunks.   They don’t seem to be concerned about anything except eating sunflower seeds.  So, if they know what’s going on beneath their feet, I guess nothing is going on and the predicted aftershocks won’t happen.

I read today that a woman in California swears by her pet parrot.  The parrot looks at the ground all day before a quake, she says, and doesn’t want to go into its cage.  She claims the more intense the parrot’s staring, the more intense the quake.  Who knows.  Scientists aren’t sure, can’t prove the animal theory one way or another.

A few weeks ago we were in the Virgin Islands when tropical storm Alex was stirring up trouble in the Gulf.  When I mentioned the 2010 hurricane season (predictions are not rosy) to an old local fellow, he just smiled and said the birds were still singing.  “I don’t worry about a storm until the birds quit singing,” he said.  “When the birds leave the island, it’s time to take cover.”

On St. John in the VI National Park the tropical mockingbird sings all night long.  I like to listen to its song mixed with the tunes of tree frogs and insects.  It makes for good sleeping…

Tropical Mockingbird, St. John USVI

Our yard birds start singing at the break of dawn, but I don’t recall hearing them this morning.  It could be that I wasn’t paying attention after I was shaken awake or perhaps they, too, were a bit disoriented by the earth’s sudden movement.  In any case neither us nor the birds can do anything about it.  For those of us who are control freaks and like to keep our ducks in a row and make sure everything goes off without a hitch, it’s disconcerting and humbling to experience even a few seconds of this profound sense of vulnerability to mother nature’s whims.



  1. I have always read that about animals sensing earthquakes and storms. My first thought was a very low flying jet, but I didn’t hear any engine noise, then maybe some explosion in the house or nearby, or then a huge truck going by, but that made no sense — and then I thought just maybe an earthquake — and then I fell back asleep for three hours — so much for my sense of survival, ha!

  2. Ditto. We all got up and then we all went back to bed. Weren’t sure what it was until the morning news.

  3. There was no doubt it was an earthquake when I was in Quito in April, and it was scary. A little over a year ago I was sitting in my living room in Bangladesh and felt the Nepal earthquake roll through. I’m really grateful I was far away from the epicenter of both of them, but, yes, it is humbling to feel the rumbling (forgive me, I must be channeling a bit of Ali!).

    • I can imagine. Pretty pics of Ecuador on your blog. I remember the cloud-shrouded mountain tops in the Andes. Beautiful.

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