Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Things That Can Kill You in California

As anyone who follows my Facebook knows my new Californian buddies have been having a gay old time messing with my sleeping patterns by telling me about all the unusual ways there are to die in California. I can get bitten from anything from a spider to a shark. Hell, the earth itself could swallow me whole here. Sitting on the porch enjoying a book and a cup of coffee this afternoon a hawk swept past me so close it ruffled my fringe and landed on a tree about nine feet away, prompting me to dump scalding hot coffee in my lap while running into the house frantically whispering "Hawk! Fucking hawk! Fuck fuck fuck.... Hawk!" I'm not making this up, I have a witness. Well, ok, the coffee was for comedic effect. But I'm telling you, that hawk happened.

Dick Move #1

This all started on the way home from the airport where Robbie, my designated chauffeur, explained how to survive an earthquake, illuminating his tale with memories of the "big one in '89," pointing out what parts of the Bay Bridge were repaired from the "pancake-like collapse," while we were bloody well on it. Lolly, who is a geophysicist and whom I've just put on the spot, has this *cough* one sentence explanation of the whole giant earthquake situation:
Statistically they expect a big earthquake in San Francisco every, say, 10,000 years - why are you typing? - Anyway, it's coming up to that magical number, and people don't understand statistics so.... 
As someone who doesn't understand statistics I interjected at this point, and she explained:
People think that if you have, say, a 1 in 10 chance of winning the lottery and you play the lottery ten times you should win. No, you have a 1 in 10 chance of winning the lottery every time you play. Same thing with earthquakes. If there is a 1 in 10,000 chance of there being a big earthquake today, there is also a 1 in 10,000 chance of there being an earthquake tomorrow. But pressure is building on the plate. It will eventually go.
Then, some time later, presumably concerned that I was, indeed, quoting her:
Actually, it's not really about statistics, it's more about averages. So they tell you there's an earthquake every, say, 10 years. But in reality you get one quake, then another one 100 years later, then a bunch in a row. 
I think this was all by way of making me feel better, but then she undid all that, finishing with:
"There's really no good way to predict earthquakes yet. So nobody knows."
For those in the class paying attention, the take home lesson from this is that the earthquakes of 1906 and 1989 were not, in geophysics terms, sufficiently 'big'.

If you want to sit in your bedroom wearing a tinfoil hat freaking out about this, the Seismic Monitor is worth watching. Note the lack of things that can kill you in Ireland. 

Anyway, what I learned from Robbie on the way home from the airport was this:
  1. Try to be out in the open, but if you're inside don't run outside because you will be sliced like a hard boiled egg from the glass shattering off the windows of your house.
  2. Stand in a door jam, if you must be inside, you fool.
  3. Don't read.

Dick Move #2

So I'm finally starting to come to terms with the whole earthquake thing, cover my ears and pretend its not happening, and quietly lose my mind every time I go under San Francisco Bay on the BART, when Matthew educated me on Spider protection 101. 

This all began when I mentioned that I had squished a not insignificant spider while sitting on the loo a few days ago. I tried to describe my furry little eight legged friend, and his proportions in terms of currency (about the size of a quarter) / (about the size of a euro). 

Never. Ever. Ever. Google. Spiders.

Have you ever had a headache and a cough and felt a bit clammy, and googled your symptoms only to learn you had somehow contracted lung cancer during cold and flu season? Pretty soon we were full sure I had squished a Hobo Spider with toilet roll and my bare hands.

The interesting (read: terrifying) thing about the Hobo Spider is that it attacks. I'm not shitting you, this is how Matthew described them. They come at you. Apparently they have terrible eyesight and don't spin webs, so they have to go after potential food sources as soon as they move. Matthew also mentioned that his Grandfather had passed this piece of trivia down to him, so secretly I think he was just exorcising the terror his 8 year old self felt, by passing that terror to me. I did not sleep. 

Brown Recluses and Black Widows are also not to be invited to tea, nor hugged. Ironically, Black Widows are notoriously reclusive, while Brown Recluses can hide in your shoes if you leave them outside.

Matthew's much kinder girlfriend Lauren subsequently informed me that that Brown Recluse spiders do not live in Northern California. While those two are arguing about this while I type, I'm going to breathe a slight sigh of relief while I mentally pare my list of things to be terrified of down to just earthquakes, hobo spiders, black widow spiders, bears, snakes and poison oak (see Dick Move #3).
How to avoid having your leg amputated due to spider attack:
  1. Never put your hands under a large heavy piece of furniture. Dust it off with heavy work gloves first, or, ideally, ask a friend you don't like to do so. 
  2. Flush the toilet before you sit on it.

Dick Move #3

When Lolly and I went hiking in Tilden woods a few weekends ago we met a very nice stranger named Randall. Randall is a blogger too, though judging by his content and readership probably rather more successful than I. Please note this blog will require a subscription starting Monday. I make no promises as to the regularity or quality of posts. 

Spectacular Skyline Trail in Tilden Woods
Behind Lolly: Poison Oak. Frickin tons of it. 
Sitting atop the Skyline trail looking out across the entire Bay Area, I asked Lolly and Randall if they had ever geocached before. They had not. Phone in hand, I set out into the brush in the general direction indicated by my phone's crappy compass. 

Never. Ever. Leave. The Trail.

Randall stopped me almost immediately and explained about Poison Oak. Basically, if you touch it, the oil from the leaves seeps into your skin leaving you with an angry red swollen itchy rash that takes about two months to work its way out of your system. Undeterred, I daintily picked my way in the direction of the cache, only to spot the lunchbox hidden under a great big bush of - you guessed it - poison oak. If we hadn't met Randall, we wouldn't have known, and Lolly and I would be scratching furiously while casually discussing fault lines. I'm itchy just thinking about it. 

As Randall directed us back towards the carpark I ran my hands over the beautiful long grasses in subtle golden brown hues, having apparently learned nothing about poisonous plants, and asked what kind of grain they were. "That's rattlesnake grass" explained Randall, as I leapt away, turned green and started dry heaving. Lolly laughed loudly, telling me that this wasn't what he meant, "It makes a sound like rattlesnakes in the wind." "Yes but also it is full of rattlesnakes," Randall persisted. I've since heard a few opinions on this, all contradictory. It seems unlikely that there are rattlesnakes in the Bay Area - it's not super hot consistently enough - though it feels pretty toasty to me...
Decent view
Incredible view from Randall's porch who, thankfully, was not a serial killer.

Randall very kindly invited us back to his house for a glass of wine to watch the sunset. While the panorama of the Bay from his house was undoubtedly spectacular, a perceptive reader might pick up on the fact that Lolly and I went home with a stranger we met in the woods. 

If the earthquakes, spiders and snakes don't get me, I will undoubtedly make trouble for myself. 

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