Envy is still one of the 7 deadly, and you are about to envy me lots.
We did Mount St. Helens with Suzanne. The weather cooperated beautifully: a few wisps o’ clouds, nothing that even came close to obscuring the volcano. And I finally got that shot from Silver Lake I’ve been yearning for ever since getting the new camera:
Okay, so there’s haze (stupid conifers and their hydrocarbon thingies). But she’s indubitably there. And I have another photo wherein she pops, but it’s not as well centered, and I’m going to play at the hack-and-slash (crop) later to see if I can make it look better.
Silver Lake is round about 2,500 years old, and was created by an old lahar. The Toutle River Valley is pretty much paved with lahars. I was staring at houses the whole way up thinking you couldn’t pay me enough to live there. I like to visit, wouldn’t mind staying a night (on higher ground), but live? No. Never.
I’ve got lots of artsy-sciency photos from today, but I’d too damned tired to sort through them. Also, there is cherry peach cobbler waiting for me to eat it with some vanilla gelato, so I haven’t time for more than a few shots. The rest will come, my darlings, I promise.
This sequence of three is quite fun. Helicopter for scale.
Can you find it? I guarantee you it’s there. Make sure you click to embiggen. This, my darlings, is how very fucking huge that caldera is. People call it a crater, but it’s a bloody mile wide. That’s a damn caldera, m’kay? Helicopter proves it.
Find it yet? It looks like a gnat, compared to that mountain. It’s a reasonable-sized helicopter, though. Seats several people.
Fairly nice view of the dome in that photo: it gives you some idea of the size of the thing. You can also see that rampart, created by (if I remember correctly) all those pyroclastic flows roaring out through the gap. This is how Mount St. Helens will regain her former symmetrical shape: by building domes, filling in the gaps with ash and rock and the occasional lava flow. Someday, long after we are gone, she will once again achieve that ice-cream cone shape our young and active Cascades volcanoes favor. And then, one day after that, she will unleash overwhelming violence once again. I hope that people, if they still live in the Northwest then, remember May 18th. I hope they never forget what David Johnston died for, what Rocky Crandell and Dwight Mullineaux and countless others spent so many years figuring out. I hope they remember what she’s capable of, and get the hell out of the way.
That’s assuming, of course, this doesn’t happen in some far-future where humans have learned to safely release the pressure from volcanoes entering an eruptive phase, and convert the energy that would have powered catastrophe into powering lives, instead. Sorry. The SF writer still trapped somewhere inside me can’t help but speculate.
I’ll tell you something: listening to that helicopter fly past, the sound echoing through the valley, was eerie. Part of me knew it was a typical tour helicopter, just out sightseeing. Another part of me thought of the search and rescue efforts those first days, the courageous pilots who flew into an eruption to try and find survivors. I thought of Harry Glicken, commandeering every helicopter he could, persuading the pilots to fly right in front of that deadly north face, trying to find Coldwater II in a place where nothing, no landmarks, no features, remained. Part of me thought of the scientists who flew in later, studying every aspect of the eruption. And I almost expected to see that helicopter land, and dispense people in overalls with complicated equipment.
It’s still a moonscape out there. It’s getting better. There’s some green stuff. But you can see that in this zone, where pyroclastic flow after flow came roaring down. We watched the biology movie this time, and it said nothing survived there. Not a seed, not a gopher, not a single living thing. I can believe it. Judging from the dearth of green, nothing’s finding it easy to get a toehold there, even now.
This is sounding maudlin. I’m not really feeling all mopey, just introspective, and looking at views from Johnston Ridge always gives me a mix of elation, awe and sorrow.
I saw so much more this trip, understood so much more of what I was seeing, and I will share it with you. We have quite a ways to go before we’ve done more than put a scuff on the surface of what’s there to discover. This is one of the greatest places on earth to see geology at its rawest, its most dramatic, and its most beautiful.
When we left, as we drove through young trees that were reclaiming the ridges, life exploding all round, I had only one thought: fuck botany. Screw biology.* Let others have that squidgy living stuff – I’ll take the hard rocks and their stories. Life is an incredible thing, certainly. But I find the fact that something so seemingly simple as a rock can go through so many dramatic changes, and can reveal so much of that history to someone who’s patiently followed its clues, is far more fascinating. Life evolving doesn’t surprise me a bit: that’s what life does. The fact that rocks have such rich, complex lives: now that is bloody astonishing.
Awe is the only appropriate response.
*I actually do like both biology and botany quite a bit. It’s just that I love geology far more. We all have our passions.