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I’m not a geologist, nor do I play one on teevee.  Nonetheless, I love items like this one:  Mysterious Maine Earthquakes Caused By Ice Age Rebound

On the last day of April and first five days of May, dozens of tiny earthquakes caused Maine’s eastern coast to tremble. What could have shaken this geologically quiet region, located in the middle of a tectonic plate, far from any active faults?

The last ice age, say geologists. Like a trampoline’s surface after liftoff, Earth’s crust along the eastern seaboard is still springing back from the pressing weight of a massive ice sheet that has since melted. The earthquakes are a present-time reminder of processes that are prehistoric at a human scale, but from a geological perspective still ongoing.

“This action is still taking place,” said Robert Marvinney, director of Maine’s Bureau of Geology. “Five or ten thousand feet of ice weighs a lot.”

All the quakes measured below 2 on the Richter scale, and many were too small to feel. Early notification came from residents’ calls to local authorities, reporting the sound of gunshots and unexpected blasting. It was actually the sound of Earth’s crust buckling.

Maine experiences several earthquakes a year, but swarms are rare. The last took place in 2006, and before that in 1967. All were part of this rebound, said Marvinney.

How cool is that?  I like to try and construct a kind of mental time-lapsed picture of phenomena like this, in order to try and wrap my tiny little braims around the geological perspective.  Indeed, I can sometimes make myself quite dizzy with the results.

Rereading George MacDonald Fraser’s McAuslan stories always awakes the sleeping Jacobite in ol’ Robbo.  (One of those stories is centered on this tune, “Hey, Johnnie Cope, Are Ye Wakin’ Yet?”  which commemorates the Highlander victory over Sir John Cope and the English at the Battle of Prestonpans during the ’45.)

Yesterday afternoon, the Port-Swiller family climbed aboard our aging Cherokee and toddled down to Mount Vernon.  I knew for a fact that I had not been there since before the gels started coming along and, after a quick bit of mental arithmetic, guiltily realized that this means ol’ Robbo, who professes to be such a history buff, who lives within twenty miles of the estate of the Father of Our Country, hasn’t set foot in the place for at least fourteen years.


Anyhoo, the grounds were much as I remembered, and we spent a restful hour or two strolling about.  Once we had reached the wharf and the pioneer farm next to it, Mrs. Robbo and the elder gels decided that they would prefer to take the shuttle bus back up to the top of the hill.  The nine year old and I, being made of stronger stuff, elected to walk back up by way of the forest trail (which, now that I think of it, is new since I was last there).

As we came back to civilization and began to cross along the west end of the bowling green, the front of the house itself was basking in the full light of the late afternoon sun.

“Look at that,” I said, waiving my hand toward it.  “Isn’t that handsome?”

Daaaaaddy!” the gel immediately shot back, “You can’t call a house ‘handsome’! It’s not a boy!”

“Oh, yes I can,” I said.  “Just look at those lines – straight, well-proportioned.  And the decoration – subtle but elegant.  The whole thing speaks of common sense and practicality.  That’s what we call “handsome” architecture because it has all those mannish qualities.   Now, if it was painted pink and had lots of gilded railings and curlicues and other lavish and fussy bits, well, then you might use a different adjective.  There is a such thing as a “pretty” house, but this isn’t it.”

I will probably be put against a wall and shot by the Truth and Gender Reconciliation Committee, but I know what I’m talking about when I say a building is handsome.

As for the gel, she simply rolled her eyes and laughed and, with her usual snipe-like speed, went on to some other observation.

Eventually, we all fetched up at the visitor center.  I recollected that it had undergone a massive make-over a few years ago and was now supposedly chock-a-block with all kinds of nifty educational materials.  I must say, however, that as I wandered around the displays, killing time before dins, I decided that I don’t much like it.   The place is layers deep in audio-visual pseudo-dramatic “presentations”, flashing lights and “interactive” gadgets.  Curiously, it reminded me of nothing so much as the “Winnie the Poo” ride down at Disney.  I understand that this is designed for the attention-deficient teevee generation, but the only effect it produced on me, especially as the corridors were filled with shoals of high school kids, was to give me a violent headache.   History ought to be contemplated in calm and quiet, and I don’t much care to have it shouting at me.


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May 2011