Saturday, July 8, 2017

Fishing the Earthquake

I've always liked how fishing serves as a gateway to experiences. It's a reason to go somewhere. It's a reason to get out of the car. It's a reason to choose one hike over another. It's a reason to be outside in places and at times you may not otherwise have gone or been there. And when there, you often get to witness things you wouldn't have experienced or seen otherwise.
Sunset over the house a couple hours before the quake.

This week I had the pleasure of being one of the few -  if not the only - fishermen to be picking my way along the river's edge when a 5.8 magnitude earthquake jostled the region at 12:30am. I did not know how widely it had been felt in that moment, so I noted the time on my watch and planned to look it up later to learn the details. But as dawn glowed on the horizon and I found myself driving back into cell range, my phone began dinging with various alerts and updates about it - when it happened, how big it was, where the epicenter was, check my structures, report gas leaks, etc.  Social media was plastered with people's stories of surprise, shock, and general uneasiness. It had provided a good scare back in civilization.

This caught me off guard because I'd been pretty intrigued and felt fortunate, I'd even say lucky, to have gotten to experience it. Maybe it is the geological background I have, or just my built-in awe and curiosity of natural things, but I enjoyed myself. I wasn't ready for it to be over when it ended.

Before this, I'd felt only one other earthquake - and it was one of those where you had to talk yourself into believing you'd felt it. That was on a visit to California years ago. For this Montana quake I was perched on a kitchen table-sized rock slogging waterlogged mice to nocturnal browns. They whoosh through the air and splat on the surface of the water, the jet trail of spray sometimes dripping down on you. My mouse had just landed and was waiting to be brought to life. The moonlight was glinting off the curve of the rings as the ripples spread outward.

I heard the roar first.

The senses are heightened when fishing in the night. I may not have heard it as early as I did had it been daytime. I quit working my fly and just listened to the odd noise that had caught my attention and was sweeping my direction.  It was distinctly traveling toward me from the direction of where I would later learn the epicenter was, further west of my location in Lewis and Clark County near the town of Lincoln.

The sound was kind of reminiscent of serious wind in trees, or a distant waterfall - but the sound wasn't traveling on the breeze so to speak.  The noise was beyond the trees, deeper than the hillsides. It came from within the ground.   Kind of like when a passing train rattles the walls of a building and the bricks hum. Then my knees buzzed a little and I began to guess what it was.

The motion set in next. Nothing so intense that it messed with my balance, but it did make me look around for something to grab just in case. Small rocks cascaded off the cliffs above me here and there. I couldn't see them, but I could hear them bouncing down like a passing animal had set some loose rubble tumbling.

I glanced around  in the moonlight and judged I was in a good spot - not too close to any steep slopes or potential path of falling debris. I was on a slight rise with a bench above me which probably put me out of reach of anything but the largest rollers. I was free to stand there and soak the experience in. Not many people were outdoors, let alone standing in darkness with all senses on high alert. It was like the geology class field trip that could never be planned.

on the road to the water
The rollers didn't come. Nothing big jostled loose. The earth just moaned and throbbed as some crustal adjustment took place. A few aftershocks followed. I think I missed some while walking, but one was nearly as strong as the initial quake, only shorter lived. The shaking during the quake and the aftershocks created the sensation of floating, like I was hovering over the water's edge.

I can't say it improved the fishing. Things were slower than normal, but I was exploring a new spot and didn't really know what to expect. I missed three takes on the mouse and did battle with a beefy fourth for a little while before losing it. It had taken as I swam the mouse downstream behind a boulder - an easy-going but decisive slurp followed by an impressive eruption of foam and whitewater. After stripping some line from the reel it came off when it changed direction and came back my way. I'd hoped to land it and have a picture of a brown from the night of the quake. But either way, I can always say I was fishing during the earthquake.

I do wonder if it affected other wildlife though. I bumped into several deer near the water when normally I don't see any. And on the way out in my truck I saw a herd of elk congregated in a field in the dusky pre-dawn light. It was in an area I rarely see elk, and there were over a hundred of them in this clearing. I laughed to myself and thought how their fire drills at school had paid off - they all made it safely to the rendezvous point just like they'd practiced.
Makes me hope there's another earthquake this fall during hunting season....

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