Yeah, I’ve been gone for a good bit. I can explain. Politics, the pandemic, and health crises sapped my will to write. Then the sun came out. (And there were so. many. volcanoes.) In this essay, I will ‘splain what’s been going on, and show you some of the beautiful sights we saw as we broke free from a confining year.
This was a summer of slowly learning how to adventure again.
The pandemic was rough, even for introverts. We couldn’t travel out to our favorite volcanoes, and even local outdoors walks in areas without many people felt fraught. The winter was especially tough. My partner was an essential worker, and though we never caught COVID, we risked it daily. Political turmoil made everything much worse, especially when the Capitol was attacked in January. The stress of it all caused me to withdraw and him to relapse. We nearly lost each other. Words failed me for a long time. It felt like nothing would ever be safe again.
But in spring, he went into residential treatment, and my friend M and I began tentatively venturing out. Just to nearby parks, at first. She introduced me to Union Bay Natural Area, where magnificent views of Lake Union, the Issaquah Alps, and Tahoma (Mount Rainier) provide a lovely setting for many fantastic birds. That’s when my passion for the sun was rekindled after a year of being unable to venture out.
I brought her to North Creek, where trails through the wetlands and along ponds provide many more opportunities for birding (yes, it’s become our thing), plus lovely views of the ridges that the Cordilleran Ice Sheet bequeathed to the Puget Lowlands.
It seems like entire libraries have been written about the Mount St. Helens eruption. Here are four books well worth reading.
Let me just start by stating the obvious: this is far from a definitive list. It’s just a microcosm of must-reads. These are four books that provided particular insight. Some are out of print, but used copies are fairly easy to find. This is the stack I would personally hand to anyone wanting to learn all they can about that fateful day, who want accuracy, but who don’t want anything too technical or difficult.
You should purchase a box of your preferred tissues to go along with these books. You’ll get to know some of the people we lost up there. And it’s hard. But I feel we owe it to the dead to remember them, how they died, and to try to prevent the same thing from happening to others.
There are incredible stories of survival here. At times, there are frank discussions of terrible injuries. What a volcanic eruption does to a human body is truly grim. So be mindful of that. Take breaks when you need to.
The best part of all of these stories is that science prevented catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. And we learned so many lessons that helped save lives when other volcanoes erupted.
Mount St. Helens is one of the most fascinating volcanoes in existence. These books do her justice.
– Last words of USGS volcanologist David Alexander Johnston, 8:32 am, May 18th, 1980
Dave Johnston would be 70 today, if he hadn’t been up at Coldwater II, watching the volcano. He should have been safe: before they’d chosen the site, they’d investigated the ridge and determined Mount St. Helens hadn’t done anything particularly terrible to it for thousands of years.
Dave had thought there was a chance she’d blow laterally, like Bezimiany volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. But volcanoes rarely erupt sideways, and when they do, it’s seldom with such force. Miles away, high on a ridge where lahars couldn’t reach, they thought it would be okay. It’s never safe in the Red Zone. But for science, for public safety, you take the calculated risk.
You can never know for sure. And sometimes, like Dave, you end upon the fatal side of the calculation.
Today, take a moment to honor all of the volcanologists who have sacrificed their lives in the quest to further our understanding of these beautiful, dangerous mountains.