I saw A’yahos, Seattle’s earthquake serpent spirit

Quileute charmIt isn’t often you come in contact with a spirit creature of ancient legends, is it? I know I can count the times it’s happened to me on the fingers of one hand. Well, actually just the thumb. But it did happen once, and I’ll never forget an instant of the experience–terrifying, mind-boggling, astonishing.

I was at my writing desk in the late morning of February 28, 2001, typing away at my latest novel, when the Nisqually Earthquake ripped loose at magnitude 6.8. My writing office was in a renovated attic room in my house. I recall a loud boom, as if a wrecking ball had hit the place. And I felt the entire house lurch sideways at the same moment.

The kind of panic that strikes when objects you consider immovable or almost so, like my heavy writing desk, heave sideways, carrying you along with them–that sort of panic only hits a person a few times in an entire lifetime. That must explain why I totally forgot the good earthquake advice I had been given since grade school, to drop, cover, and hold on.

Instead, I leapt from my chair before it had even settled and sprinted to the stairway, then down and out onto the back deck. Although ducking under my solid desk and waiting things out was the prudent course, I don’t regret my choice to evacuate post haste, because, you see, that’s what gave me the opportunity to meet A’yahos.

Tillicum AyahosI scurried to the deck’s back railing and held onto it with both hands while the house rocked back and forth, creaking, cracking, and groaning under the strain of the quake energy. Stable on my feet for the moment, I had a chance to look around and, man, what I saw!

The entire neighborhood was rolling like a series of waves underground, moving from the south (the direction of the quake’s origin near Tacoma) to the north, where Seattle would be rocked moments later and the Highway 99 viaduct would nearly collapse (it was later condemned and demolished).

What astonished me most was my neighbor’s yard. I could see his wide lawn rippling like a slithering serpent. Two big trees, one on each side of the yard, swayed like two crazy metronome pointers, swinging together, then apart, then together again in tune with the rolling of the ground swells. All this was accompanied by deep a thunderous rumble emanating from the depths of the earth!

Kwakiutl dancerThen it was over. The land settled and the neighborhood went back to its serene suburban balance. There might have been a dog barking, or a human voice somewhere far off, but peace had returned with little harm done to our home. Some small splits in walls and ceilings, a brick loosened in the chimney, but no major repairs needed. Elsewhere around the region, there were injuries from fallen objects and one death attributed to the quake. We got off easy.

But I’ll never forget the ripples underground or the accompanying thunder on the day I met A’yahos, the Duwamish Tribe’s legendary earthquake serpent spirit. I’m a believer now, because I saw him slithering with my own eyes!

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More info on The Great Seattle Earthquake

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes Peyton McKean mystery stories and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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