Far beneath the Big Land, deep below the spruce-clad hills, underground to where the Earth’s crust floats on a sea of molten rock, that’s where the great continents stirred and trembled last week — moving Labrador a little bit to the west. Not that anyone noticed. None witnessed the event except for the remote sensing devices that recorded the data and reported it to the peoples of the world, Labradorians included.
As earthquakes go, it was not a strong one, so although the epicentre was a mere 150 kilometres south of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, few would have felt anything even if they hadn’t been asleep that early on a wet Sunday morning.
Earthquakes are rare and weak all along the eastern seaboard. The region is on the sheltered edge of the continent’s westward drift. As North America moves away from Europe, the west coast suffers the most horrifically powerful earthquakes because it’s smashing head-on into another oncoming continental plate and is consequently being forced beneath the Pacific Ocean.
Our side of North America, however, is just being pulled along like a coat trailed in the mud, with the Atlantic Ocean gently filling up the gap we leave behind. Last week’s little earthquake was essentially a sign that Labrador had got snagged up on something for a moment and then suddenly broke free. What that thing was we will never know, as it lies hidden beneath the whole surface of the world, but we can speculate. Perhaps it was a lump of congealed magma clogging up the Earth’s fiery arteries. Or maybe it was an outcrop of iron from the deeper layers of the planet, thrust up by immense forces to lightly graze the base of Labrador. Most likely it was a piece of rock broken from the underside of the continent further west, some stubborn fragment refusing to get dragged with the rest of the landmass to burn in the bowels of the Earth.
If we may leave science for a moment (rather than just twist it for possible comic effect), ever since humanity has walked this Earth we have felt it move beneath our feet — or as we lay in our beds, as the case may be — but we have feared the trembling for more than the terrible destruction it so often wreaks. We have taken quakes to portend even more dire events to come, or to represent the thoughts of the gods we’ve worshipped — thoughts we’re usually better off not knowing.
Even small quakes like the recent one can’t be ignored and they’ve been taken to mean that a higher deity wishes to make comment on some aspect of human affairs. If that is the case in Labrador, one can’t help but wonder just what has drawn such well-placed attention to this out-of-the-way and (it must be said) reportedly cursed region — the land God gave to Cain, and all that.
Messages from higher beings are seldom straightforward, so it’s probably nothing obvious like, “Watch out! Earthquakes are bad and you’ll get more if you keep flooding massive reservoirs.”
That would be too easy and, besides, it might be misleading — that is, the weight of hydro reservoirs do trigger earthquakes, but unless last week’s was caused by dams Hydro-Québec is building along southern Labrador, it was most likely a natural occurrence.
Folklore suggests that if a god wants to say something with an earthquake he’s going to be somewhat oblique. So, what’s he saying now, that it’s time Labrador catches up with the rest of Canada? Sure, OK, but we already know we should be recycling like everybody else. We’re trying, but it’s difficult without any real government involvement.
Or maybe the earthquake was meant as some encouragement for the sitting MP. He’s been trying to shift Labrador closer to Alberta ever since the last election, but he’s been unsuccessful until now. Maybe he just needed a little help.
Whatever brought the earthquake about, whether gods or nature, we’re not likely to feel another in Labrador for a good long while. But you never know: the one predictable thing about earthquakes is that they can’t be predicted, not one way nor the other.
Michael Johansen is a writer
living in Labrador.