Loma Prieta 1979

True narrative by Alex Forbes

From Loma Prieta - click photo for larger image

from Loma Prieta - click photo for larger image

The top of “La Loma” is the top of the world. We would leave the cabin well before dawn and take the jeep the rest of the way up the hill. The fog was so thick our own headlight beams would blind us. Actually, we are in the clouds. The jeep trails are not for people who do not know the land up here.

The younger ones would take up high positions and sleep right through the hunt (not that anything ever came our way). The older generations would walk the crest in further and disperse into the fog, awaiting the first twilight. Then Fernando would go down into the canyon with the dogs. We would wait. Down jackets help, but the cold penetrates when you are not moving. The fog would begin to thin out, and soon you could see fifty yards through the gloom, then a hundred.

By the time the sun cleared the horizon, the mountaintop would be free of fog. We welcomed the warming. The orange sky fades into blue. There is no sound up here, and will be none until we hear Fernando begin to work the dogs a mile down the hill. Hollister, Gilroy, San Jose — the whole valley below is filled with a blanket of fog. To the west you can spot the Moss Landing power plant, at ocean’s edge, but only by the giant smokestack poking through the fog.

“Ha, Queenie!” Fernando is working the dogs in the brush near the bottom of canyon. It is rough work. I could not do it. His voice drifts up on the cool morning air ever so often, and then fades. It will take him another two hours to get back up here.

There was the year Fernando finally flushed the biggest forked horn we’d seen in those parts. It bolted into my sector, headed straight for me. I had him in my iron sights for 100 yards, and I never miss. He bounded right past me and disappeared into the brush below. No shot was ever fired. Tio Tom asked me, “Why didn’t you shoot, boy?”

I said that the kids were in my line of fire, which technically was true. My neighbor, who knows I never miss, asked me later about this. “Buck fever, Neighbor?” We laughed together. We both know what it is, to just want to let this one live.

We last went up the hill to Loma Prieta in about 1982 or ’83. Standing by the corral after unloading hay for the horses, there was a deep subsonic rumbling sound. We watched a ground wave, an unbelievable advancing sine wave of rippling tree tops, come roaring up the hill at us. Earthquake! The shock hit us. One of the horses fell to its knees, and the water slopped out of its trough. A few dead trees fell on the property over the next day or two, an eerie precursor of the lethal California quake that was to put the name “Loma Prieta” on the map forever in 1989.


©Alex Forbes 2002

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