Rediscovering Hometowns
Tsunami Alerts Continue March 12 in Northern California

Tsunami in San Francisco March 11, 2010

Last night was clear and calm after a day of feisty winds and dense rain showers -- and before the Japanese tsunami arrived more than 11 hours later in San Francisco Bay this morning, charging across the Pacific Ocean at 600 miles per hour. I was returning from a meeting in Oakland across San Francisco Bay last evening when this scene -- photographed here just 14 hours later -- was invisible under the dark skies of a new moon evening. Literally the calm before the storm. Tsunami600x336
Steven Winter photographed this site at 9:38 am today, recorded for us in the San Francisco Chronicle. Check out this YouTube video that shows it in actual motion. Fortunately there was no damage in this instance.

One of my friends was piloting a fireboat near Sausalito in San Francisco Bay as a succession of tsunami waves -- thought to be at least five -- charged into the Golden Gate between about 8:30 am and 4:30 pm. Most couldn't be seen, like the one above, but at one point, suddenly the energy of the water below the surface became so furious that it was hard to keep control of the boat. A moored sailboat that looked safe in the morning had sunk about two hours later without moving from its post. Such was the subtlety of this extraordinarily powerful phenomenon that stormed below the surface.

According to The New York Times, water that moves at 30 or 40 miles an hour, as these waves did when they inundated northern Japan, has the impact of 1700 pounds -- or a fleet of runaway cars. The kinetic energy of the tsunami waves results in trillions of pounds of water suddenly shifting position. So to be a moored sailboat or a patrolling fireboat take on the extreme disproportions of Moby Dick and the Whale. 

What does one talk about when the eerie aura of "dodged a bullet" disaster is in the air? How stuff happens. How unpredictable life is. How cherished life is. How a client crisis that eats up 6 hours of a Friday becomes a blip on the scheme of things. How trite sayings like "smell the roses" and "take deep breaths" have become trite because they are truly wise. How ducks are suddenly swimming not far from the front steps as the tidal basin marsh mysteriously rises a few feet.

And, most memorably for me, how a relatively dull CNN newscast last night suddenly catapulted me into a live video of a catastrophe in motion. I saw it in real-time last night, as I was unwinding from a long day, then mesmerized by the horror-movie wave of water storming across fields and airports, bridges and entire towns. Then today waking up and learning that it was arriving in the neighborhood, so to speak, evacuations 10 miles away at the coast and watchful eyes on the Golden Gate Bridge. The distant international news becomes local news because of our interconnections on this planet. OK, it gets a little spiritual in the cosmic-ness of it all.

I have been a journalist and a writer my entire adult life. I have seen many many things, many tragedies and many phenomenally uplifting experiences. We put on our armor and we dive in to report about it with the most "distance" we can possibly muster. But when something of this magnitude gets so close to home that it can be felt and almost touched, then I truly feel the fragility of things -- how anything important could break at any moment, how we all are connected and how we must truly keep our perspective, our balance, our appreciation of what matters.