Tag Archives: aerial

East Coast Earthquake

We interrupt this evening’s regularly scheduled blogging to inform you that the earth shook yesterday afternoon. On the East Coast. Where such things, as a general rule, do not occur.

Doubtless, you’ve already heard about this event, because the news media and the social media spheres were both awash in it. If you live on the east coast, or know someone on the east coast, you might have even experienced the XKCD seismic wave phenomenon:


Because you have already heard so much about the earthquake, I will not bore you with details. I will not tell you how it started with a mysterious rumbling almost like a cat’s purr, nor how the sushi chef at the restaurant where I was lunching barely glanced up from his work to calmly tell the crowd, “it’s an earthquake.” As a fellow patron began to scoff, “we don’t get earthquakes in DC,” the ground started shaking in earnest, splashing out bowls of miso soup and spilling mugs of freshly-poured tea. Then, as a  small, detached part of my mind started looking for the nearest doorway and another part of my brain tried to figure out magnitude, the shaking stopped. It was replaced by the excited jabber of incredulous voices and the instantaneous googling on mobile devices.

But I will not tell you all of these things, of course. You’ve heard similar things from all over the blogosphere by now. You’re probably also aware that the quake did very little damage, as evidenced by snarky images like this one.



I do, however feel the need to blog something about this event for three reasons.

1) It was my first earthquake.

(Okay, technically there was one about six months ago at about 5am, but since I slept through it I don’t think that one counts).

2) It was unexpected.

I remember hoping, as a child visiting relatives in California,  that there would be an earthquake every single time I went to the west coast. My relatives lived a stone’s throw away from the San Andreas Fault, and I was sure that if I spent a week or two in proximity I’d be in an earthquake and therefore be the coolest kid in school when I got home. I never experienced an earthquake in California. How did it come to pass that I’d experience one in DC?

3) I was scheduled to practice aerial that same evening.

To those of you who aren’t aerialists (I’m assuming that’s most of the people reading this blog), the two might seem completely unrelated. What could the earth shaking possibly have to do with hanging from the ceiling…from exposed beams in the ceiling…in an old building…in an area not known for earthquakes and therefore not known  for earthquake-resilient construction…see where this is going? I don’t know much about rigging, but I do know that you want your support structure to be able to take a lot of weight and a lot of g-force.

My friend Echo, of  shenanigans at Smith fame, is an engineer as well as an aerialist. She’s also (rightly) paranoid about safety, and insisted on extra care in inspecting the beams, bracing the ladders, and using floor mats even on the lowest of apparatuses and the simplest of tricks.  According to her, aftershocks are likely within 48 hours of an earthquake, and if you’re hanging upside down from the ceiling when the earth starts shaking, you’re pretty much guaranteed to fall. A mat can make the difference between a mild concussion and a cracked skull. Though there wasn’t an aftershock during practice, and no one fell, I remain much more viscerally aware of bodily fragility and the tenuous nature of even the best structural engineering.

Aerial Shenanigans at Smith

Despite my last post about Reunion feeling slightly strange to me because only a portion of my community was there, the fact is that I had a blast with the friends that I did see. We caught up, we bought drinks, we ate delicious food, we wandered around campus and celebrated old memories and made new ones. Most of these new memories involved good conversations and having good food and wine and revisiting old haunts.

And then there was this one.

My friend Echo is an aerialist, and she majored in Engineering at Smith, back when the then-new department was housed in a temporary building affectionately dubbed the “Green Monster” for being an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful brick-and-ivy campus. Now that the very new and shiny engineering and science building is up and running, Echo felt that she had to pay tribute/play a prank in the best way she knows how: by hanging from the ceiling.

Now, Echo has been a friend for a long time now, and I know that she is generally quite paranoid about safety. I also know that she is incredibly stubborn, and that any attempts to dissuade her that might be made by well-meaning friends would almost certainly backfire. So I knew it was my duty as a friend and fellow aerialist to come with her and make sure that she didn’t break her neck while attaching her silks to the ceiling.

Also, I admit it. I wanted to hang from the ceiling too.

Along the way, we found another Smithie aerialist and her girlfriend, who wanted to participate in the insanity. But because there was only enough equipment for one person at a time, and Echo was the only one who knew anything about rigging, she was the one to go climb on the beams.

So. This was the space we were working with.


The very tall atrium in which we were planning to hang silks.




We went in, wielding the kind of equipment normally associated with mountain climbing: a harness, carabiners, ropes, etc.  And Echo began to climb.


Echo sorts the span sets while hooked onto a beam.


She got to the main pillar…


Can I really climb this thing?


And discovered that she couldn’t actually get the span sets over the main beam.


If I only had a few more tools...

So. We decided to simplify our plan and hang from one of the lower beams, and Echo began the slow process of shimmying back along the beams she’d climbed on previously in order to get back to the balcony where the rest of us were standing. As we traipsed downstairs, we were intercepted by a Public Safety officer.

A report of people climbing on the beams? Surely not!

But we confessed to trying to hang fabric from the ceiling (without mentioning that we were planning to then climb, contort, and otherwise do tricks on said fabric), and told him that we had special insurance (which was entirely true). Unsurprisingly, he still said we needed to leave. Damn.

So, no actual photos of doing aerial dance or acrobatics. But we didn’t die, and we didn’t get arrested, and we now have a story to tell…