Last night just past 7:00, we had a 4.0 magnitude earthquake here in New England, with its epicenter in Maine and tremors felt as far south as Connecticut. When the quake hit, I was in the bedroom preparing today’s classes and J was in the next room, likewise working; he felt shaking and I heard rumbling, as if snow were falling from the roof. Downstairs, the dogs were unfazed, including our normally nervous beagle; the cats that were sleeping in the room with me were similarly oblivious. In the other bedroom, however, our cats Groucho and Scooby were unsettled by the quake: clearly they felt something the other pets didn’t.


This seems to be how earthquakes are, at least judging from the four quakes I’ve experienced in my lifetime: some folks feel them, and others don’t. I suppose it depends on where you were and what you were doing at the time of the tremors: were you inside or outside, or in one part of a building versus another? When there was an earthquake in New Hampshire several years ago, for instance, Reggie and I felt it on the first floor—Reggie leapt to his feet and ran around barking as if trying to scare away an intruder—but my then-husband, who was working upstairs, didn’t feel a thing. When I was an adolescent and experienced an earthquake in Ohio, one of my sisters and I felt it from inside the house, where I thought the furnace had blown up in the basement, but my parents didn’t feel anything outside, where they were in the yard chatting with out-of-town visitors.

Pumpkins on fence posts

It’s interesting how some people are more sensitive to tremors, sounds, or other physical sensations than others are. During this past weekend’s Dharma teacher retreat at the Providence Zen Center, we did an icebreaker where we closed our eyes then tried to identify a person who was holding a hand over (but not touching) our leg. Others could identify whose hand was near their leg by differences in body temperature, but I couldn’t: if a person didn’t actually touch me, I couldn’t feel their presence, much less identify them. In one of the academic buildings at Framingham State, signs mark a designated restroom and copy-room for employees who suffer multiple chemical sensitivities, and anyone who uses scented soap, detergent, or other chemical fragrances is not allowed to enter. I can barely smell the scented soap and detergent on my own person, but there are others who are so sensitive to smells, they can’t physically tolerate the chemical wake left in the absence of an artificially scented person.

Across the tracks

When I felt an earthquake while on retreat in Rhode Island years ago, I heard the tremors before I felt them, the quake sounding like a low, rumbling hum that surged from far away like a slow approaching train. That was my most intense earthquake experience even though others in the same room didn’t feel it: because I was meditating and alert when the earthquake hit, my senses and attention were honed to their sharpest acuity. It was a sensation I was fully present for, something I couldn’t have ignored if I’d tried.

I suppose we all occasionally need to be shaken from our complacency, an intense physical sensation reminding us of the sensory world outside our own skulls. Whenever we grow too settled or sluggish, the earth herself can wake us up by shifting her old, weary bones right under our feet.

I’ve written about that Rhode Island earthquake before, back in 2004. Today’s pictures have nothing to do with earthquakes; instead, they are random images I took now that I’m able to go for walks on days when I’m teaching in Framingham.