by Timothy Reilly
IF IT OCCURS in May, the fast-talking weather reporters call it “May Gray.” In June, it’s “June Gloom.” Outside of May and June, when the weather reporters lose their ability for rhyme and assonance, they refer to it as a “marine layer.” On these balmy days, when my wife and I look up at the low clouds, we sometimes call it Earthquake Weather. We live in Southern California: an active member of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Of course, we don’t consider the notion of Earthquake Weather a “hard science.” It does, however, seem to be an innate human faculty: a mysterious feeling, like déjà vu or nostalgia. Unfortunately, déjà vu and nostalgia—as well as God and prayer—have been invalidated by the overreach and hubris of neurologists. Even the “down to earth” seismologists have debunked the idea of Earthquake Weather. But as Shakespeare’s Hamlet rightly observes: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
In the 1950s, when we were in our respective elementary schools, our mothers packed our lunches with certain foods they called “ruffage.” This concept was universally given the empirical brushoff as an old wives’ tale. In our science classes, “continental drift” was then only a theory. But now, in the twenty-first century, fiber (formally ruffage) and Plate Tectonics (formally continental drift) are both considered “scientific facts.”
I respect the Scientific Method—in its proper applications—but there is no way to test the hypothesis of unbidden premonitions. I remember one time, in 1971, a college chum (a devout pothead) and I decided to visit the Museum of Natural History. While exiting the freeway (I was doing the driving), I looked up at the hazy L.A. skyline and was rattled by a sudden strange feeling.
‘I think we’re in for a major earthquake,’ I said.
‘Far out,’ he said.
The next day, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake struck (the notorious Sylmar Quake). Soon after the shaking paused, I phoned my pothead friend and asked him if he remembered what I’d said just the day before.
I was so frustrated by his response, that for weeks after, I took several pathetic shots at predicting the exact date of the next big tremor. I failed every time—even in predicting the days of the predictable aftershocks. I felt like a complete idiot; like one of those people trying to bend a spoon with thoughts. Premonitions, like prophecies, are neither science nor magic; they cannot be controlled or conjured. They are things outside of Horatio’s philosophy.
In our current troubled age, Apocalyptic prophecies abound from both scientists and theologists—with the overlapping evidence of floods, famine, plague, war, earthquakes, and worship of false gods.
My wife and I have observed an increasing worship of a false god called technology. We are of course grateful for things such as laparoscopic surgery, but can see no benefit to humankind in pursuing self-driving cars or “virtual reality” goggles or texting or drones that deliver fast food and alcoholic beverages.
Yesterday, on our morning walk, we discussed a multitude of the troubling signs of the times. While stopped at an intersection, waiting for the light to change, my wife looked up at the sky. ‘Earthquake Weather,’ she said. At that moment, a male of undeterminable age went speeding down the middle of the street on what appeared to be some kind of futuristic electronic unicycle. The boy/man wore no helmet, and was traveling at a rate of at least twenty-five miles-per hour.
‘Better living through technology,’ I quipped.
Meanwhile, three miles away, deep below the Earth’s surface, a strike-slip fault was waking, gathering energy, pushing against itself: like hands pressed in fervent prayer.
Timothy Reilly had been a professional tubist (including a stint with the Teatro Regio of Torino, Italy) until around 1980, when a condition called “Embouchure Dystonia” ended his music career. He gratefully retired from substitute teaching in 2014. Twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, he has published in Fictive Dream, Zone 3, Superstition Review, and many other journals. He lives in Southern California with his wife: Jo-Anne Cappeluti, a poet and scholar.