Beautiful Day

Yesterday I accompanied my cousin on a trip to a farm near Rakaia, which is near Christchurch. His job was to check and re-service the wireless hub on a movable irrigator; mine was to keep him awake long enough to do it and drive back, and also pester him with endless questions about dairy farming and the technology used to facilitate it.

Research, folks! Not just in libraries.

He went off to consult with the farmer in the milking shed, while I, in keeping with my “no pooh” policy, peeked in long enough to get an idea of the environment, and then returned to the car to stay out the way and play Plants vs Zombies. At which, by the way, I am a freaking legend.

At 1:58 pm, there was a 5.8 earthquake, 8 kilometres underground, off the eastern coast of New Zealand near Christchurch.

Christchurch has had a shit of a year, and the aftershocks had finally started to die out. Now they’re back. They got four strong ones and myriad small quakes after that first 5.8.

I noticed when the car started wobbling. At first, despite being trained to be earthquake-aware since I was very young, despite knowing that Christchurch and the surrounding areas are a volatile zone, despite having been in various smaller quakes and experiencing the ground roll under me, I wasn’t sure what was happening.

Then, “It’s a quake,” I said, out loud to no one, and pulled my legs inside the car. I was oddly calm – I have anxiety about things that might happen, and only very rarely about things that actually are. The farm was very quiet. There was no sound of panicking birds, no cows mooing. The farm dogs came out and jumped around the car a few minutes later, also silently. I shut the door then; I should have done it when the quake began, but I didn’t beat myself up about it.

My cousin came back. The farmer said the quake had been a 5.8, and I thought of friends in Christchurch, but had no way to get in touch. My cousin drove us out to the irrigator and fixed the wireless router. Liquified cowshit began to pump out over the thick green grass.

On the way up to Rakaia, the radio had been full of cheery summer hits and those hearty-banal holiday greetings DJs do so well. On the way back, it was full of news and warnings. Liquefaction in the streets. Electricity out to over 15 000 households. Rockfalls from the Sumner cliffs.

But there had been no major damage or serious injuries reported. Every newscaster, as we flicked between stations, repeated that.

By Timaru, two hours into the return journey, I couldn’t take any more. When we stopped for gas, I picked up a double CD entitled “High School Hits”, and we sang “Wonderwall” and “Place Your Hands” and “Lightning Crashes” until we got back to Oamaru.

The news was full of pictures of chaos: smashed wine bottles on supermarket floors; huge queues at airports around the country. I had enquiries from anxious friends on twitter and in my inbox. I was checking my own friends’ accounts for any news.

The sky was so beautiful yesterday. The music was good. And 60 injuries – all minor – have been reported.

We thought it was over. I just want it to be over.

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