I write this after the 5.9 magnitude earthquake that hit central Virginia about an hour ago. I’m recalling the exact personal circumstances of the event, since all I’m hearing in the news is a bunch of people saying simply “I felt shaking”.

I’ve been working at home all day, as usual, sitting at my desk. I was reading through some code for a project I’m working on, when I started to ask myself why I couldn’t seem to focus on the text on the screen. I sat back a bit and looked at my monitors as a whole. They were shaking. The top one, which is wall-mounted, was swinging back and forth slightly on its arm. I looked over to the planter for the hops, where I have four long bamboo poles for the vines to climb on. All four of them were swaying like they were in a heavy wind.

I remember thinking that this was kind of strange. Having an irrational fear of death from WMD’s, I started down a mental checklist of what to do to stay sane and find out what was going on. I assured myself that I didn’t hear any explosions, then went into the family room to find the kids.

I found Abby and Nana in the family room, and told them to come to me (“Hey guys, come here.”), under the load-bearing doorway in the center of our house, away from windows and light fixtures. Abby came over, and I stood her closest to the wall. Nana wasn’t responding. “Where’s Riley?” I asked calmly.

The two of them stuttered at me, not sure where he was exactly or why I was asking. I don’t think they knew there was an earthquake going on. The plates in the kitchen cabinets were still rattling. “Come here!” I said, more strongly. I couldn’t understand why Nana wasn’t movng. She stayed sitting on the couch, oblivious. “Nana, come here!” I yelled, finally realizing she thought I was talking to the kids.

Riley finally showed up from upstairs, and I put him next to me and Abby. Nana finally came over too, and we waited.

As we stood, Abby and I felt the floor of the house moving under our feet. It’s a hard sensation to describe. It’s like standing on Jell-o, but you can tell the whole house is moving at once. The paintings on the wall were shaking, the plates in the cabinets were rattling, and I could feel it - the moving, and a sense of unease, almost vertigo. I think I’m particularly sensitive to inertial motion, so this was really eerie.

I looked over at the cats in their cat tree near the window, who were sitting with their heads perked up, but completely still and looking inward toward the house, rather than outside, like they usually do.

Abby started to realize what was going on, and get a little nervous. Riley became scared, shaking a little bit. At this point, we still didn’t really know what was going on. I mean, earthquakes don’t happen here. It had all of the signs of an earthquake as I had read in the past, but we had no confirmation. As soon as we couldn’t feel motion anymore, I went to get that confirmation.

The first thing I did was post “Earthquake?” to Twitter, then did a quick reload. Others in my Twitter stream seemed to confirm our suspicions. Then we turned on CNN, to see if there was any news or emergency instructions.

All of this seems kind of overkill at this point, but really, what if there was less of an effect here than there was up the road at the Limerick nuclear power plant? We live in the evacuation zone, after all. And today I learned that Limerick was ranked as the nuclear plant third most at risk of damage form earthquakes so it’s really no joke. They took the plant offline in response to the event, hopefully to find nothing wrong in their inspection.

I called Berta’s cell phone several times right after the quake, but she didn’t answer. She texted me soon after and said that she couldn’t call out. It is disconcerting that our cell infrastructure is so fragile. If there was a real emergency, it seems clear that we could not count on the cell network to work as we expect it to day-to-day.

The kids have since calmed down, and I was able to reassure Riley by showing him about earthquakes on the internet. Abby found solace by discussing the event with her friend via Facetime. Nana was generally unfazed. And now we just sit around waiting for the aftershocks (there was already at least one 2.8 quake with the same origin, although it wasn’t as obvious as the 5.9) to subside. Totally freaky event, though.

Next up, Hurricane Irene? Ugh.