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‘The Big One’ is coming to which we say: ‘Bring it on’

News item: The risk of a major earthquake striking the northwest coast of North America within the next half-century is greater than once thought, researchers have found.

News item: The risk of a major earthquake striking the northwest coast of North America within the next half-century is greater than once thought, researchers have found.


I put down my scotch, looked deep in her eyes, gave her elbow a squeeze: "How about it, baby? This could be our last night on Earth."

"It'll be your last night if you don't take your hand off my arm," she replied. "Now get out of the car and blow in the breathalyzer like I told you to."

Jeez, some women have no sense of Armageddon-induced romance. Or maybe her fires of passion were dampened by a cloud of impending doom, the knowledge that "The Big One" not only could, but would, strike at any second, turning the West Coast into a 1970s disaster movie.

For yes, scientists at Oregon State University say there's a one-in-three chance the region will soon be clobbered by the kind of shaker that will result in a dust-smudged Anderson Cooper doing CNN stand-ups in the rubble where the grow-ops used to be.

"It's not a matter of if a major earthquake will strike," marine geologist Chris Goldfinger was quoted as saying. "It's a matter of when. And the 'when' is looking like it might not be that far in the future."

To which we say: Bring it on.

Earthquakes are something we have grown to accept, if not actually relish, on the West Coast. The little ones, the occasional temblors that rattle the teacups and send emergency-preparedness kits flying off the shelves, are accepted with only a mild amount of sphincter-tightening (except in the Gulf Islands, where they are mistaken for acid flashbacks).

As for The Big One - or, to be precise, the threat of The Big One - well, it's the only thing that gives us any Canadian street cred.

The rest of the country looks at the Wet Coast as pampered and plump, our soft pink hands uncalloused by snow shovels, our tongues unused to the metallic tang of the frozen schoolyard tetherball pole.

In fact, it snowed in Calgary on Friday -- the end of May, for heaven's sake.

That's OK.

Calgarians take a perverse pride in it snowing in months without an 'R' in them.

Indeed, all across Canada people wear unseasonably brutal weather like the red badge of courage, bursting with pride every time Mother Nature goes Old Testament. Pummel them with golf-ball-sized hail in August and they'll be on the phone to the cousins in Victoria, bragging about the beating they absorbed. "Peeled the paint off right off the pick-up! Brained your uncle so hard he can't count past 14 anymore!"

Our only answer is to point to the fault line, the ticking time bomb at our feet. "I thought about buying green bananas," we say, "but...."

Then we shrug it off with a fatalistic insouciance, safe in the knowledge that when scientists talk of an "imminent" earthquake, they're looking at a calendar, not a watch.

Even the accelerated agenda of this Oregon State University study warns of a big quake within 50 years, not days. So, yes, we're comfortable living with the seismological sword hanging over our heads.

What we can't handle is this year's eternal winter. With the exception of the two weeks of April that we had during the Olympics in February, it has been March since October, as cold and blustery as a member of Parliament defending his expenses.

It should be strawberry season on Vancouver Island, but as Mayvember gives way to Junuary we haven't even got our tomato plants in the ground. Might not seem like a big deal elsewhere, but here in the City of Gardens it's cause for a Red Cross appeal.

Imagine the response in Africa: "Poor Victoria is five degrees below the seasonal norm. We must dig deeper."

It's enough to chill a West Coaster's heart, to extinguish the flames of desire that have been fanned by the knowledge that we might have just a single day -- or century -- to live.