You Are All Going to Hate Me Sooo Much

So, I’ve just had a rather lovely day at Mount St. Helens.

Mount St. Helens from Elk Rock Viewpoint.

If you don’t click for the larger version, you’ll hate yourself more than you hate me right now, which is a lot. This is the view of Mount St. Helens from Elk Rock Viewpoint. In the center left, you’ll see Mount Adams peeking over a ridge. In the center, all that knobby topography down by the river is the debris avalanche. Look up from it, and you’ll see the rampart formed by several pyroclastic flows coming down from the amphitheatre created in the May 18, 1980 eruption. And, of course, center right is the Lady herownself. The river valley you’re looking in to is the North Fork Toutle River, which hasn’t got much water in it at the moment.

Hate me yet? Kinda sorta not really? Here.

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Mystery Flora: Hanging Round

I can’t wait any longer. I should really be doing the spectacular flora atop Marys Peak, but I really adore the little orange delights I found at Al Borlin Park, so they’re going up.

The park’s in Monroe, WA, along the Skykomish River. It’s dim and cool even on hot summer days, shaded by tall old trees. These little darlings seem to love the shade: I saw them mostly on the shadiest parts of the trail.

Mystery Flower I

There are banks of them, little drops of orange dangling happily from all that vivid green.

Mystery Flower II

Let me see if I can put you there with me: you’ve just got out of the hot sun. The trail has a few dapples where intrepid beams managed to sneak through, but for the most part, you’re in a realm of shade and shadow. Banks of leafy green things grow up along the trail, and while you’ll see a few blackberry brambles here and there, volunteers for the most part seem to have got rid of those, allowing native plants to flourish. They ramble around the trunks of the tall trees that shut out the sun.

And these little orange beauties just sort of hang in the void spaces between leaves.

Mystery Flower III

So you stop to take photos, and run into two issues: one, it’s rather dim and uncertain light, and your camera has a hard time with orange to begin with, so it takes a lot of effort to get a focused photo. And two, whilst you’re struggling with that, the mosquitoes are like “Ooo, the mobile buffet’s arrived!” and go absolutely to town. You’d think I’d have lived here long enough to figure out that if you’re going down near a river, you should wear bug spray. Argh.

Still. Worth every bite.

Mystery Flower IV

Click to embiggen that one. You won’t be disappointed.

Whilst you’re attempting to focus and getting feasted upon by the local insects, the birds are singing. So are the locals. There was some sort of outdoor concert going on somewhere on the other side of the river, and there were places where the music filtered through the trees. So my efforts were punctuated by a band that I assume was mostly middle-aged men singing Tom Petty and other such songs. They didn’t suck. It was actually kind of fun after a while.

Mystery Flower V

Let me get back to the birds for a moment. The forest was absolutely filled with their calls. Ringing with ‘em. And do you know how many birds I saw? One. One bloody bird that wasn’t a crow, and that one darted across the trail and into the trees so fast I might as well have never heard it at all. If it hadn’t been for the Tom Petty-and-others cover band, I would have just bloody well recorded their songs and seen what you lot could do with those. It was terribly frustrating. Luckily, I had a billion of these little orange flowers to ease my pain.

Mystery Flower VI

I quite like this park. I get bupkis for birds, but I find fantastic flowers every time I go. Okay, so I’ve only been twice, now, but the first time was when I saw Pacific Bleeding Heart in the wild for the first time, and that was happy times for Dana, lemme tell ya.

Mystery Flower VII

(And yes, that flower is mooning you. You are not wrong.)

I sometimes worry I’m going to run out of mystery flora for you. Then I come across things I’ve never seen before, and I realize this is western Washington. We have a bajillion plants that flower at all different times, and I really don’t get out that much, so I’ll probably be able to find new things for years. I’m not used to this. We don’t get this sort of variety in Arizona.

Mystery Flower VIII

There are times when the Southwest in me rebels, and is completely overwhelmed by all of this green. I lived there for nearly thirty years, from the time I was a toddler until I was in my early 30s, so I suppose five years up here won’t have erased that identity just yet.

Mystery Flower IX

I think a part of me expects this to all fade away, that we’ll return to the high desert and lush, wet green will seem like a dreaming. Just an imaginary land. Nothing like it on earth, not the earth I know. But another part of me is settling in quite nicely, and becomes upset when we go east over the Cascades and see the rain shadow. Bare rock and dry earth stretch for miles, and that little acclimated part is crying, “But it should be green!”

Mystery Flower X

That bit of me is quickly thwacked into silence by the native Southwestern bit, which is smugly asserting that this is what a landscape should look like, and the inner geologist, which is screaming with joy because there isn’t a bunch of bloody biology in the way of all the geology, while my damp-adapted nasal passages gently weep in the bone dry air.

No problem with that down by the riverside. My inner geologist hopes there’s at least a little something interesting at the river, and my native Southwestern bit looks sulkily at the flowers and allows how yeah, this isn’t bad, but it’s not home, is it? Good thing the part of me that goes gaga over flora is so enchanted it could give a flying fuck for all the other bits.

Mystery Flower XI

It really is spectacularly beautiful here. I’m glad I get the chance to share it with you, my darlings.

All You Seattle-Area Folks Wanna See a Summer Play, Right?

Most of us haven’t got air conditioning up here, and it’s going to be a hot weekend. You could do lots of stuff to cool down, but Burien Little Theatre has air conditioning, and this is opening weekend for Anna in the Tropics. What’s that, you ask? It’s this:

A poignant and poetic play set in 1929 Florida in a Cuban-American cigar factory.  When a new “lector” reads aloud to the factory workers from “Anna Karenina,” he becomes a catalyst for his listeners, for whom Tolstoy, the tropics and the American dream prove a volatile mix.  In English.

So there’s a little bit of a lot, here. You’ve got literature, you’ve got Cuban-American culture, you’ve got the Roaring Twenties, you’ve got the workers rising… sounds hot! Only it’ll be cool, because air conditioning.

And since it’s opening weekend, there’s deals. Every day!

You can see it come together here, and hit the stage here, and read the director’s notes here, but what I’d do first is get a flower for your hair and head down for some entertainment. I won’t be doing that, because we’re headed to Mount St. Helens for the weekend. But if you’re anywhere near Burien, you can snicker at me sweating my arse off under the merciless sun in the blast zone while you relax in a cool theatre and watch excellent entertainment. Lucky barstards.

If you’re too far away from Seattle to attend, you can tell me if you’ve ever made it through a Tolstoy novel, and if so, whether it changed your life. Or you can tell me how much you hate me for going to Mount St. Helens without you. Whichever works.

Off to the Blast Zone

My intrepid companion and I are off to Mount St. Helens for the weekend. We’ve got a full dance card: quite a bit of hiking on Saturday, and taking Suzanne for her first look at the mountain on Sunday.

View of blast zone from Johnston Ridge, Mount St. Helens, WA. September 2011.

This means I’ll have limited access to the intertoobz, and first-time commenters will be stuck in moderation until I can set you loose. Sorry! If it’s any consolation, at least you’ll have lots of delicious photos of one of the most geologically fascinating places in the continental US soon.

I’ve got posts pre-loaded, so the blog will chug right along. Wish me luck getting some great St. Helens UFDs. At least there aren’t so many trees for the little buggers to hide in…

New at Rosetta Stones: The Final Prelude

Thank you for staying the course, my darlings. Your patience will soon be rewarded. Prelude to a Catastrophe is now complete.

Wow, right?

Mount St. Helens viewed from Coldwater Ridge, taken in early May. Bulge at upper left side of peak between Dogs Head and Goat Rocks. Note dense fir forest. Photo by Harry Glicken. Skamania County, Washington. May 17, 1980. Image courtesy USGS.

This has been one hell of a ride, and you all know it gets orders of magnitude more intense from here. You also may want to stock up on tissue and practice saying something must have gotten in your eye, because some of what’s coming up is going to rip your heart out.

Keeping watch over erupting volcanoes is extremely dangerous. We owe the geologists who do it a debt of gratitude we can’t ever repay. So hug your volcanologists (with permission), and take every opportunity to buy them their drink of choice.

For those new to the series, and those wanting to have one last read-through before strapping in for the main event, here is the complete Prelude to a Catastrophe.

Dedication: The Geologists Who Died at Mount St. Helens. Yes, geologists plural. We’re fortunate most of the scientists working on the mountain survived, but we did lose a few of our own. They showed incredible dedication. This series is dedicated to them.

Prelude to a Catastrophe: “The Current Quiet Interval Will Not Last…” In 1978, USGS geologists Dwight Crandell and Donal Mullineaux published a paper that spelled out the possibilities of a future eruption of Mt. St. Helens in stark detail. The work they did on this volcano prevented the catastrophe from being far worse than it was. This paper put everyone on notice: we have a dangerous mountain in our midst, and she could wake up at any time.

Prelude to a Catastrophe: “One of the Most Active and Most Explosive Volcanoes in the Cascade Range.” Dwight Crandell had nearly completed an exhaustive study of Mount St. Helens’s eruptive history when she added to his workload in 1980. She had quite the history of hijinks. Crandell’s study of her violent past helped predict her current behavior.

Prelude to a Catastrophe: “The Unusual Character of the Seismic Activity Became Clear.” In mid-March of 1980, a swarm of earthquakes unprecedented in our experience of Cascades volcanoes put everyone on notice: something big was happening, and it was only getting bigger…

Prelude to a Catastrophe: “Something Dramatic.” One of the seismologists watching the earthquake swarm unfold later wrote, “We did not see how this activity could continue without something dramatic happening.” And something dramatic did.

Prelude to a Catastrophe: “Pale-blue Flames.” Eerie blue light dances within the crater, and geologists scramble to protect the public as Mount St. Helens roars awake.

Prelude to a Catastrophe: “The Only Way It Can Stabilize is to Come Down.” The bulge grows at astonishing rates. David Johnston and his fellow geologists know that the side of a mountain can swell only so far before gravity pulls it down. There is no question of if, only when it will fall.

Prelude to a Catastrophe: “Our Best Judgement of Risk.” While the bulge pushes out at upwards of five feet per day, geologists assess other signs that Mount St. Helens, despite the lack of explosions, poses an enormous risk to life and property. They risk their own lives to protect ours.

Prelude to a Catastrophe: “The Volcano Could Be Nearing a Major Event.” Phreatic eruptions resume, steam pours from fumaroles and cracks, the bulge continues to grow… and the countdown nears 0.