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Earthquakes and Wildfires and Snakes, Oh My!

When the decision was made for our family to relocate to San Diego there were many of our New York family and friends who were aghast at the idea.  “Why would you move there, you will die in an Earthquake.”  First off let me say that New Yorkers are excitable creatures by nature, so this very dismal response to a statement we made was not unexpected.  Of course, there were a few who were more positive. 


Their response was, “Wow, that is awesome, I hear that San Diego is absolutely beautiful, but hopefully you will not die in an earthquake.”

For East coasters  earthquakes are a foregone conclusion on the west coast.  The funniest part is that about three weeks after we moved to San Diego there was an earthquake, but not in California, in New York, in the area from which we just moved.  It was actually several years before I ever experienced an earthquake in California.  At the time I was on the top floor of a downtown office buiding where my office was located and basically all I felt was a gentle swaying of the building, scary?  Yes, but it ended in a few seconds and all was well after that.

To my surprise, the concept of wildfires was never mentioned to me by anyone on the East Coast or the West Coast for that matter.  It was 2007, I had been here eight years at that point when one of the scariest events I ever experienced, second only to being kidnapped at gunpoint at the age of 18, hit our neighborhood. 

Reverse 911 calls were received and as we gathered our kids, our German Sheppard mix, and as many valuables as we could fit into our two vehicles, did I say, “How did I not know this happens in San Diego?  It was their best kept secret.”  Thank God for that or I may have decided to stay on the East Coast.  We headed for what was supposed to be a fire free zone.  As we drove the radio warned of fire creeping to just about every drivable part of our City.  Finally we found a motel downtown, but were told dogs were not allowed, so we did what every responsible pet owner does in that case when their beloved pet might be in danger, sneak them into the room when the coast was clear.  That night was memorable, but included little sleep as we took turns grabbing our dog Rusty’s mouth to keep him from barking since German Shepherds are incredibly good watch dogs and any movement outside our motel and he would viciously attack the door.

Luckily, the only damage done to our Rancho Bernardo home was that a fence was knocked down by a tree that fell.  I cannot say the same for houses very close by that were ravished by the fire and many families lost everything.  It was wonderful to see how neighbors came together, took those affected in their homes and donated clothing and necessities for these poor families.  No, they lost family photos and keepsakes that could not be duplicated, but the neighborly gestures allowed them to realize that as long as they were safe, the rest could be replaced, though not as quickly as they hoped.  Rebuilds for some families took years and the experience was devastating for those affected. 

A few years later another wildfire with similar outcomes struck and again destroyed many neighborhoods, for some unfortunate individuals they found their new house burnt to the ground once again.  But we are a tough breed here in San Diego and we rebound from it and learned to follow guidelines by the fire department and safety agencies to minimize the casualties both human and property.

During these times phone calls came from friends and family anxious to hear if we were okay and suggesting that we should move back to New York where it was safer, hmmm, not so much but the dangers there are more human than nature.

So here I was, a survivor thinking wow, I came through an earthquake and two wildfires basically unscathed except for some emotional trauma, smokey lungs for a bit and a broken fence.  I thought, “What else could happen?  I have survived natural disasters and I am still standing strong!”

Then it happened.  I am in my house minding my own business as I bent down to grab my pressure cooker getting ready to start dinner when out of the corner of my eye I spotted it.  “No, I thought, I must be seeing things.”  So, I grabbed my glasses and walked closer to the backyard window when I screamed in fear and felt my body quivering.  I wasn’t imagining anything.  There on the side of my window was a five foot long snake slithering up the window staring at me and sticking his little tongue out at me.  Let me preface this by saying, I am a city girl.  I grew up in an area surrounded by concrete.  I never went camping, nor even considered the idea, my idea of roughing it is staying at a Howard Johnson’s hotel instead of a Hilton.  The only snakes I ever saw was on a school trip with my daughter’s class when she was in the fourth grade, and she is 32 now.  I might add, it was in a tank, and I stayed at least 8 feet away from it.

So what do I do?  Who is going to save me?  I thought, animal control I’ve seen  them on TV.  So, I called information, yes they still have 411, and asked for animal control.  The operator was perplexed and said for what?  I screamed into the phone, there is a snake trying to break into my house!  She told me she wasn’t sure who  handles that, so she quickly connected me to 911.  Now I felt stupid.  The first words I uttered into the phone were, “this isn’t really a 911 matter, though secretly I thought it was, but there is a snake trying to get in my house.”  To her credit she did not laugh but told me that the fire Department handles that.  So, she connected me to them, I gave them my address and anxiously awaited their arrival.  Six of the biggest men I ever saw rang my bell with a variety of tools including a large bucket and some long metal sticks and I led them around to the backyard.  When they got to the back window, there was no snake to be found.  They looked through our small backyard and said well he must have left.  I said now wait a minute you can’t leave he was here a moment ago.  I pulled out my phone and showed them the pictures.  One fireman said, wow he is a big one, while the other said.  It looks like a king snake and they are not dangerous so we probably would have just thrown them over the fence to the hill behind the house.  And I said, “Oh no, you wouldn’t you need to find him and take him with you.”  They stayed for a bit and no snake appeared.  Our window had rubber gaskets around it for a security window that the previous owners had installed and I said maybe he is in there.  One of the firefighters grabbed our hose and started shooting it at the window and the gasket, but to no avail.  So off they went with all their snake removal gadgets.  I on the other hand went back in the kitchen and stared at the window because I knew he was still there and I knew I would never use my hottub or the  backyard again if we didn’t evict this horrifying creature.


Sure enough ten minutes past and he made his second appearance.  I immediately went through the process got to the fire Department and screamed into the phone, “He came back.”  The operator had no idea what I was talking about so I tried to quickly and concisely explain what had happened while never removing my eyes from the snake.  He was not getting away this time!  A few minutes later the doorbell rang, and another six gigantic firemen were at my door.  I yelled, “go around the back” several times because I knew if I took my eyes off sneaky snake he would be gone.  Apparently, these were six different firemen who had no idea what I was talking about.  So I excitedly ran to the door, explained what happened and they went around the back as I ran full speed to the backyard window, not realizing that the water that had been sprayed at the window earlier came through the borders of the window pain and I landed flat on my behind.  Now six firemen were looking at me on the ground and I just yelled, “I’m Okay.”  I saw them smirking at this crazy woman lying on the floor, screaming about a snake.   Luckily they spotted him.  He had snuck behind our bbq grill and they captured him and took him far far away on the firetruck.  Needless to say.  I have never used the hot tub again and only on one account set foot in the back yard.  As it turns out we had a family of doves that had taken up residence in our backyard gutter and had just laid eggs and the snake decided it would be a hearty lunch—poor baby birds. 

As for my trauma, thankfully we just moved to a new house and the first thing I did was sign on an exterminating company to keep an eye out for any new slithering visitors.  Actually earthquakes and wildfires aren’t as bad after all.

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