Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The earth moved...

In the silence of the night you can hear the aftershocks coming - a distant rumble, followed by a sharp jolt/rattle. I am beginning to feel movement all the time and I don't know whether it is just me or whether there is constant subterranean movement, barely perceptible.

In the dark following the big quake, my overwhelming thought was that, when daylight comes, the world will look different. The mountainous harbour skyline will have changed irrevocably. And come the sunny morning, everything looked the same, familiar - and yet unfamiliar in light of what had happened. I continue to struggle with this disjunct. How can such force leave the Lyttelton Harbour profile apparently untouched?

But it is only apparent. One thing I am learning is that the ravages of such an upheaval are not necessarily immediately apparent. There is the obvious damage, so sadly apparent in many central Christchurch buildings, and then there are the less visible cracks and fissures threading their way across buildings, snaking through the landscape.

The fissures extend to we humans. We are on edge, sleep-deprived, apprehensive, out of control, frightened. In the hours after the big quake I cleaned up the shattered glass, the emptied bookcases, the pictures and ornaments that littered the floor - and then found it so difficult to settle to anything. I have spent a lot of time wandering and standing, looking outside at that 'unchanged' world... The cats are terrified. They head out of the house at each shock. Following the main quake the chooks staged a mass breakout, forcing their collective way through a weak place in the netting enclosure. Normally stoic Rosie goat is up for all the cuddles and comfort she can get.

With no phone/internet contact I was so grateful  for the local neighbours and friends who called in at various times - Steve, Nigel, Denis, Claire, Elaine and Mike... we supported one another and we talked, the talking a way of re-viewing the experience from a safer place, of sharing the fear and the strength. On Saturday afternoon I walked around the foreshore track. Everyone I passed stopped to talk, acknowledging the exceptional experience, sharing information, putting a human face on an inhuman event. On Sunday, still without phone contact and with no idea of how friends and whanau over the hill had fared, I was finally able to get my car out of the garage and do a sweep of the southern city, calling in on Elaine in Cashmere, Claire and Genevieve in Opawa, Anna in Heathcote, Simi, Chris, Jai and Priya in Redcliffs. Just touching base. A surreal weekend ended sitting in the sun on the deck of Denis's Charteris Bay home with coffee and chocolate cake!

The big local sadnesses are the damage to tiny, historic St Cuthberts Church and to Miles Warren's Ohinetahi, both Bay landmarks. Further around the harbour, Godley House is reportedly in a bad way. Many of the historic Lyttelton buildings, including the Harbourlight Theatre and the Mitre Hotel, are under threat. 

As I write this in the middle of the night, the aftershocks are coming thick and fast. I find them more disturbing than the big shake itself because now we know just how bad it can be - and could be again. Yet in the midst of the thousands of sad dramas playing out all over the city and rural areas, is it also possible to suggest that perhaps it is good to be reminded of our comparative insignificance and powerlessness? To be reminded that try as we might, we cannot yet control all the forces of nature. To be put firmly in our place.

Included in this mix, a precious Royal Doulton jar that belonged to my Nana and a lot of gooey, freshly made marmalade

Dining room...
...and again

On the foreshore track
Flag at half-mast on the off-limits Governors Bay Hotel

St Cuthberts Church


  1. We thought of your beautiful home and beloved animals in the hours following the quake, so it's with a mixture of relief and dismay that I see your photos. Most things in the southwest suburbs look (from the outside) much as they did before the quake, which is an uncanny feeling when we see what has happened to our friends in the east and over the hill.

  2. And I thought of 'we three'... What stories you will have to tell Anna as she grows up...

  3. I've just been introduced to your beautiful blog by your friend, Niki. This post is indeed heart wrenching. Brought tears to my eyes. I could feel the fear. As we hear media news of your quake from afar (Decatur, Georgia, USA), it is an extraordinary thing to read it from the perspective of one who experienced it---in the very moments. Your meditation about our own smallness in the face of a catastrophic event was exceptional. Here's hoping that all of your loved ones are safe and well in the aftermath of the quake. I will look forward to reading future posts on other topics, as well.

  4. How lovely to read your comment (which I could well have missed). Thank you! We are all fine. But I think there is still more to write about the quake and your reflection may encourage that...