Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | May 22, 2002

Seeing and shaking for miles and miles

The earth moved a week ago, causing many to worry anew about the next “big” one.

For a relative newcomer to the left coast like me – having been here since 1996 – Loma Prieta was experienced via the news, not by living through the fatal temblor that rightfully scared the bejeebers out of so many.

I think the video and stories of people trapped in collapsed freeways will always haunt even people like me, who ‘experienced’ them from half a continent away.

But with or without earthquakes, I love the Bay Area, and I’m not about to let something like the earth shaking every once in a while chase me away.

I grew up in the Midwest – mostly in Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio – let me tell you, those are flat, flat towns.

When I moved to the Bay Area, I was immediately struck by the vistas.

Especially in South County, you just have to look up and to the east or west to see into the hills and mountains for breathtaking distances. As the Who song says, I can see for miles and miles.

I like that better than seeing for blocks and blocks, like I did in the Midwest.

It’s still a soul-stirring experience for me to look into the hills that are miles away while doing the most mundane chore. Who can complain about doing the grocery shopping on a Sunday afternoon with all the other working moms in town when you’re surrounded by such beauty on the way to and from the local mega-mart?

While driving in Cupertino and Sunnyvale on errands recently, it occurred to me that I couldn’t see the hills in any direction, and that I might as well have been driving in Columbus, because I could only see down the street a few blocks.

I wonder if Bay Area natives appreciated the wonderful skies we have here. Montana may be big sky country, but Northern California ought to be called blue sky country.

I don’t mean to trash the Midwest, it has many wonderful features – two that pop to mind immediately are a reasonable cost of living and basements – but I had no idea how many gray days I had endured until I moved to Northern California.

What passed for a sunny day there is nothing compared to the intense azure skies we have regularly here, occasionally accented by a few white clouds that serve not to gray the skies but to punch up the intensity of the blue.

My 10-year-old son’s favorite type of days – gray in the morning but clearing to sunshine – are a common occurrence here. It’s hard to argue about the merits of a foggy morning that gently transitions into wonderful summertime swimming-pool weather.

Clouds spilling over the hills west of Interstate 280 on the Peninsula are a moving and magnificent sight.

I also like the frequency of rainbows here in the Bay Area. Rainbows are a relatively rare phenomenon in the Midwest. I remember driving to South County one early afternoon from the Peninsula and trying to drive straight on I-280 and trying to point out to then-toddler Katie in the backseat (and see for myself) an extravagant triple rainbow.

More than one driver had (wisely) pulled over to view the spectacular sight, although I doubt a CHP officer would have agreed that rainbow viewing constituted a legitimate emergency use of the shoulder.

It’s a frequent occurrence for me see a rainbow to the southeast of my home. What a nice thing to become commonplace, just like being awakened on summer mornings to the sound of a hot air balloon firing its burner as it floats over my home. Trust me, I was never once awakened by that noise in the Midwest, and I don’t mind it one bit.

One the the Midwest has all over the Bay Area – and I do miss – is spectacular lightning storms. When we get lightning out here, it’s usually the flat, boring sheet variety.

I’m sure firefighters think its just as well during fire season that lightning is relatively rare here, but it’s wonderful to sit in a darkened room on a stormy night and watch for gnarled fingers of jagged, forked electricity.

It’s a great show, and one I miss.

So after having survived – with no damage – a 5.2-downgraded-to-a-4.9 shaker, I think I’ll stay in the Bay Area. So far, earthquakes are a small price to pay for such spectacular beauty.

The cost of living – now that’s another column.

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