So we pack up the terrier and drive to the coast for the day. It only takes about an hour and then there you are by my Pacific Ocean. (I do share it.) We stop in a state park right on the beach and open the car’s hatch and I am suiting up Max the Westie there in his harness-vest thing for walking…and suddenly there is this horrific siren sounding overhead, LOUD, like maybe there is a nuclear attack, and it goes on almost forever and then it stops.
I look across the sand at the breakers, and then the horizon beyond. I’ve been coming to this coast all my life and I’ve never heard a siren before. I try to imagine a big wave out there, moving our way. Is this how I die?
I report to Mr O that maybe we should kinda sorta get the hell back inland.
“Why no,” he says casually, “That’s not what we should do–we should walk up a hill, and watch.”
“You want to stay and WATCH? What kind of a sick guy-curiosity thing is THAT?’
He speaks calmly. “Do you prefer to get stuck in traffic and drown?”
I notice a woman by a car, holding a phone and looking hysterical. Here, I realize, is someone I can relate to. I ask her if she lives here, if she knows what that siren meant. “I’m calling my husband in Seattle,” she says. “He keeps track of these kinds of events.” But the husband in Seattle isn’t answering.
In all the coast towns there are signs, about evacuation routes and being prepared, stuff I never read. Max is excited to hit the sand and keeps wondering why he is still in the back of the car. I give him familiar commands: “Sit. Stay. Get ready to run for your life.”
Finally Mr O (aka Mr Cool) wanders back from wherever he’s been. “There’s a sign on the siren pole,” he says. “They do a 30-second test every now and then. If there’s a real tsunami coming the siren stays on.”
30 seconds. That’s what it was.
I relax and breathe and wonder how many tourists die of siren heart attacks here. I find the Seattle woman and tell her we probably aren’t drowning today. I think of what she will say when she finally reaches the news-tracker husband. (“You weren’t there for me Frank. I needed you and you weren’t there.“)
Here’s the pole with the loud thing at the top.
During the ride home I did some online reading about the Pacific coast and tidal waves. Just like Mr O, the official websites say to walk– don’t drive– up whatever hill. And then they say you should know the route and you should have an emergency kit: “Get a kit. Make a plan.”
I visualize a tiny light backpack with water, maybe chocolate and nuts, a flashlight, your iphone in your pocket… But it turns out the emergency kit is more like a steamer trunk. You need a sleeping bag and cans of sterno and enough food and water for three days for each person and extra batteries for the flashlight and and a radio and warm clothes, a recliner chair, inflatable raft, your computer on a long cord…
Okay I exaggerate. But I can imagine people floating, drowned wearing their enormous backpacks, so heavy that they couldn’t climb the hill and now full of water and sinking…
The officials also say that if you can’t leave the house then tie a white sheet or towel prominently on your front door and maybe someone will help you but probably not so really get a kit, make a plan.
[You can think of this post as a public service message if you want to.]
Having escaped death-by-ocean we proceeded to enjoy the day. Remarkably, there were almost no people around–perhaps they were all off shopping for kit supplies, I don’t know. The beautiful beaches were so empty that Max had a lot of off-leash time, or what we call freedog!freedog!
The sun peeked out now and then–we had our smoked salmon and beer on the sand and lots of walks and all the way home I pondered tidal waves which I can tell you is not a healthy sort of thinking. But I learned some things on this trip. If I lived at the coast I would do a lot more research, and I would get some really expensive chocolate for my kit too.
Thankfully the gardens were waiting for me at home and, other than a little fear-mongering here just to share my trauma, I’m done thinking about giant overwhelming walls of water for a while.