A Silly Little Slide

We had a silly little slide outside the neighborhood a few days ago. I say silly because it is small relative to the slides I geek out on at @DavePetley‘s blog. He chronicles the massive slides that sometimes make the news, and also the ones that are equally massive but ignored because they happen far from “civilization”. The locals probably think differently about that civilization thing. Our slide wasn’t a surprise. For a long time I wondered when it would go. Now that it has, it has inspired quick reviews of the various emergency preparedness actions I’ve taken over the years, including simple frugality. A small thing can uncover big issues to those involved.

I live in a nice neighborhood with great views, a small marina, and only one road for access. That road, like several on the island is above an earthquake fault, passes through a tsunami zone, and is built on the rubble pile of sand and gravel left by the glaciers. Slides are common, but they usually happen off to the side where they are curiosities. Occasionally, big ones hit the news when they move houses or parts of neighborhoods. Luckily, this one isn’t threatening to move a house. It did, however move much of the land that holds the bluff that holds the road above the shore. I trust the local authorities to find a solution. I won’t be surprised if it means moving the road over a lane or two. I also won’t be surprised if it means some interesting disruptions while they work. We all hope that we aren’t treated to yet another surprise which is the slope sliding more and cutting off the road, or the power, or the phones, or the various cables that provide civilized services to the hundreds of homes in the various neighborhoods.

Well, thinking about those earthquakes and tsunamis mean I have an earthquake kit. In this situation, I’m comforted more by all the preparations in place for our power outages. A full pantry, various ways to cook food, and local water and septic services mean interruptions don’t interrupt as much as they might. If all goes well, I won’t have to worry about anything more than dealing with a one lane road for a while. If something goes amiss, well, that’s a broad range of possibilities.

I won’t make claims about cause and effect, but here’s the sequence as I saw it. The road runs from just above the high tide line, roughly follows the shore of Cultus Bay as it climbs over a hundred feet atop a forested bluff, then heads south with roads splintering off into a patch of suburbia poised beside Puget Sound. On my various walks, I noticed a skinny section of the shoulder near the top of the bluff. It was a spot to avoid when cars came by, but it wasn’t dangerous, just a risk not worth taking. Wait a bit then walk on. Looking out from the shoulder it was hard to tell how steep the bluff was because of the heavy undergrowth. There was also a tree not very far out that was very far down. Look straight out and seemingly see more than half way up the tree. We grow trees tall here, so that was possibly a very large drop to the ground. No evidence of slides or subsidences. No cracks in the asphalt. No particularly tilted trees, that I can recall. Maybe the signs were there but I missed them. I am not a professional geologist. I’m just someone fascinated by nature and the fluidity of the seemingly solid earth. A short while ago we got a treat. Finally, a road crew installed a long guardrail along the bluff. A very prudent idea, and surprising in retrospect that it took so long. The guardrail starts in the tsunami zone and finishes just a few dozen feet past the skinny section. Yeah! More civilization! The next time I drove by the work crews were gone, a shiny strip of steel wound along the bluff, and one of the lanes was blocked by traffic cones near the top end of the rail. I can’t recall if I noticed the extra sunshine. Last week I was fortunate enough to have a client within walking distance. Walking made it much easier to get around the traffic cones and look down a ravine that was naked of foliage. From the road side of the guardrail posts, possibly to the asphalt, the ground was gone. The trees and the shrubs were piled up most of the way to the shore. I didn’t want to be late, so I didn’t dally. On the way back there was much more time. A pair of neighbors were there when I walked back. The damage became more apparent. They pointed out that one of the guardrail posts was completely exposed. The only thing holding up the post was the guardrail. There was dirt on the post, so it apparently was installed in dirt, but the dirt left the scene. Now, the traffic cones are accompanied by two stop signs that use the honor system to make sure people look before driving in the one lane. Straw has been spread on the slide. And we wait and wonder.


The Seattle area has had one of the wettest winters on record. The weather year around here goes from October to September. We’ve already had a year’s worth of rain. If it didn’t rain until next October, the total would look normal (but the months of drought would look abnormal.) The landslide hazard throughout the region is elevated, particularly after rains. It rains here. This will be interesting.

It has already been interesting watching people’s reactions. Events like this challenge assumptions. What would you do if your car or truck was stuck on this side of the slide? There are some inventive routes through backyards and over the ridge, but I suspect the neighbors may protest and the saturated yards may not cooperate. If it is only the road that is out, but the utilities work, then what can be done about temporary parking lots and changes to bus schedules? I’m comfortable walking and bicycling, so frugality has its benefits, again. If the utilities are out, I’d have some interesting commutes because almost all of my work is online. No Internet equals a big dip in my revenues. One neighbor is considering getting their RV out of the neighborhood before there are any width or weight restrictions. Others are wondering what it would be like to commute and shop by boat, a return to island life of a hundred years ago. Check your tide tables.

It may be a silly little side, but it is a valuable one. The repair will be valuable, and pricey. But one of the benefits may be an increased awareness of the riches we unconsciously enjoy, the value of properly maintaining them, and the security inherent in at least some level of self-sufficiency. Understanding basic resources is one of the key characteristics of frugality. Resourcefulness is best exercised by choice, rather than necessity. Our silly little slide may be an interruption, but if it is going to happen, it is better to happen when there are few other distractions. If it happened because of an earthquake, work crews would be busy working in central locations, first. Maybe this way, the road and the utilities will be better prepared to survive another event; as will the residents.

Of course if a tsunami took out the road at the other end, well, that’s another issue.

Stay tuned for updates. I know my neighbors will be.

About Tom Trimbath

real estate broker / consultant / entrepreneur / writer / photographer / speaker / aerospace engineer / semi-semi-retired More info at: https://trimbathcreative.net/about/ and at my amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0035XVXAA
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