What’s lurking beneath *your* garden?


Rude revision to one’s life plans: Florida man disappears with bedroom into sinkhole.

The news these days is enough to have us all hiding under our beds. Not that this strategem is foolproof, it seems.


Other network-newsworthy causes for alarm:

Near miss: asteroid.

Near miss: meteorite shower over Russia (largely spares pop. centers).

Near miss: fiscal cliff; sequester still plunging through atmosphere inspiring panic in many quarters.


How many other near misses go unnoticed and unremarked? There’s a whole range of trolls, some of them as yet unimagined, lurking beneath our individual and collective gardens.

Here’s a clip from a 2009 Wall St. Journal interview with Cormac McCarthy (author of The Road, a fine post-apocalyptic novel).

WSJ: When you discussed making “The Road” into a movie … did [they] press you on what had caused the disaster in the story?

CM: A lot of people ask me. I don’t have an opinion. At the Santa Fe Institute I’m with scientists of all disciplines, and some of them in geology said it looked like a meteor to them. But it could be anything — volcanic activity or it could be nuclear war. It is not really important. The whole thing now is, what do you do? The last time the caldera in Yellowstone blew, the entire North American continent was under about a foot of ash. People who’ve gone diving in Yellowstone Lake say that there is a bulge in the floor that is now about 100 feet high and the whole thing is just sort of pulsing. From different people you get different answers, but it could go in another three to four thousand years or it could go on Thursday. No one knows.

Re-reading that McCarthy interview, and hearing about the unfortunate Florida resident, I was reminded of a story I wrote in 2004 about the Andaman Sea tsunami, which killed nearly 230,000 people and caused incalculable property damage (“Monster Beneath the Garden,” by Collin Piprell, Phuket Magazine). The lead to that story is especially pertinent.


It’s like having some fabled subterranean monster beneath your garden. One minute it’s all butterflies and flowers and skipping about in the sun. The next, the earth opens up to devour you.

Countries bordering the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean have long presented the world with a vast tropical playground of beautiful beaches, rich forests and marine life, exotic cultures and welcoming local people. And the Phuket area enjoys an added attraction — historically, it has appeared all but immune to natural disaster. Even typhoons have been rare and generally weakened by the time they hit this part of Asia. “Disasters” tend to run to such things as a temporary drop in whale-shark sightings among scuba divers.

For untold years, meanwhile, a monster lurked beneath this idyllic garden. Perhaps 40 kilometres beneath the sea bottom not far west of northern Sumatra and running north under the Andaman-Nicobar islands and beyond, colossal pieces of the earth’s crust, subjected to unimaginable pressures countered by friction between these blocks, were trying to slide past one another along a 1,200-kilometre fault line. Given the current state of geophysical sciences, there was no way to anticipate when the slip would come. But come it did. In the event, it set off an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale, the world’s biggest in 40 years, and violent enough, according to geologist Kerry Sieh of the California Institute of Technology, as quoted by CNN, to make the Earth wobble on its axis.

The point of all this? What with devastating tsunamis and sinkholes under beds, I find myself periodically reflecting on the contingent nature of our moment-to-moment existence. From this perspective, current threats from disciples of Ayn Rand and Al Qaeda together with renewed economic recession to my financial prospects may pale beside other quirks of Fate.

Never mind. My office ceiling might choose this moment to collapse on me, spelling an end to concern about any of this, including calderas pregnant with surprise or some micro-meteorite on a trajectory to aerate my head.

“What a good idea,” says Sara. I’m not sure what she means by this. It’s hard to interpret her smile.


Sinkhole photo from the Christian Science Monitor.

For more on the Yellowstone caldera: “Yellowstone’s Plumbing Exposed.”

Tsunami map from http://tsunami2004videoarchive.com.

4 thoughts on “What’s lurking beneath *your* garden?”

  1. Hi Collin,

    we just met over a Henry Moore but with rapidity you departed into the ether , whilst I was man handling my French interior designer and wrestling him to the ground for money.
    I like much of what you write…I will send you some details of the contagious disease we spoke of , so prevalent that is even a considered option in the Obamha health plan.
    I refer of course to the highly contagious “Psychoschemia” explained in more detail in my latest book ” Are the French intrinsically unhappy”or Psychosemia where to get it?
    I am sending you by separate post something to giggle at.


    • Hi Lee. Good to hear from you. I would’ve stuck around to chat, but I didn’t want to sour things with your customer.

      I found the notion of psychoschemia very interesting (as does my spellchecker), and wanted, among other things, to ask how it differed from plain old vanilla neurosis.

      We arrived back just last night, and I have much to catch up on, but I’m looking forward to reading what you’ve sent me. Thanks for that.



      • Hi Collin,

        My thoughts about this condition and its potential came about as a thought provoking talk I did to executives of a large hedge fund, three of whom were clients that I saw in my practice.
        I spoke to eleven people who gathered for this talk in their spacious offices, the assumption I made is that because they had all achieved enormous financial success , the might of their intelligence would evaporate my silly talk about something which sounds feasible medical but has no substance.
        This is he gist.
        Psychosemia a condition which is manifested by though, be you proactive or reactive.
        After all the power of the mind dictates, just as circumstances dictate choices and fear defeats reason etc etc.
        There is no basis of fact about psychosemia ( a word I jointed together) other than the assumption we assume it makes to the way we think.
        ‘We think therefore we are”
        As Magritte said ‘ sometimes a pipe is just a pipe”
        What surprised me is that no one questioned the validity of this nonsense concept.
        Which goes to show that an item is just a label which dictates its pice,however you will gladly trade you valuable watch for a glass of water when dying of thirst.
        “Once we were ruled by things , ow we are ruled by things”
        These executives sat for an hour listening to a lecture of something which did not exist and paid me money for my time.
        I am reminded when Martin Borman was confronted by the fact that he paid millions for a fake Vermeer……I leave you to find his quote .


        I am going to Starbuck you, Cantonese translation.
        Sing Ba Huk…… am going to slap your face.

        • Hi again.

          I’m sorry to say this week has been hectic, and I haven’t read your ms. yet. But I am looking forward to it, and expect to read it this weekend.

          I love the thought you can gull these financial executives so readily. Turnabout is fair? Given the way they often appear to gull the entire world merely by donning suits and ties and explaining in detail what’s already happened and why their prognostications seem to relate only to some not-so-near parallel universe.

          Or something.



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