A Saturday Singsong About Butterflies, Starring the Summer Falls Butterflies

We’ll get back to Mount St. Helens soon, I absolutely promise, but after all the news this week, I figured we could use a nice sing-song about butterflies, plus some pretty butterflies, and maybe a waterfall or two. Right? I’m pretty sure I’m right. So: refill your drink, situate yourself in splendid comfort, and press play.

Then enjoy these lovely butterflies, which live at Summer Falls near Coulee City, WA. [Read more…]

Reveal That Metazoan! Frenchman Coulee Fuzzy Critter Edition

Let me tear you away from the slopes and Silver Lakes of Mount St. Helens for just a moment here, and take you back in time to the previous trip, when B and I headed to the dry side. We saw some pretty super-awesome things on that journey. One of them was barely visible. I’d never have noticed it, but B’s brain is really good with the something’s-not-like-the-others game. Let’s see if you can spot it.

Image shows a rocky slope, a few sage bushes, and a barely-visible animal that is probably in the Sciuridae family.

Mystery Metazoan I

C wut evolution did thar? No? Okay, I’ll give you some hints: [Read more…]

Bad News for Hollywood

So, you know those disaster movies where volcanoes explode like St. Helens but also spew fountains of really runny lava like Kilauea on laxatives?

I have really bad news for them, courtesy of Edward Wolfe and Thomas Pierson in Volcanic-Hazard Zonation for Mount St. Helens, Washington, 1995.

Lava flows are destructive but generally not life-threatening because they normally advance so slowly that people can walk or run away from them.

Drat.

Of course, it’s never about realism anyway, which is why I avoid any disaster movie with a volcano in it – I know I’d end up ruining everyone’s movie experience by howling, “That doesn’t happen!” every ten seconds or so. (And no, I sure as shit am not going to see San Andreas – that looks even worse than the volcano flicks, and I’m not interested in dying from apoplexy at my tender age. I will probably eventually watch Pompeii because some of you asked me to years ago, and I can now watch it here at home, where I can scream into a pillow so as not to disturb the neighbors.) I’m not a fan, is what I’m trying to say. Some people enjoy disaster films despite (or because of) the absurdity. I have a lot more fun with reality. I mean, this is the greatest shit ever!

Did you hear that crackling?! Did you see the little pieces of volcanic glass popping up like popcorn kernels in a hot pan? Did you seem them cook burritos and marshmallows on a bloody pahoehoe flow? And hear the squeals of pure science-geek joy? Oh, yes. That’s my kinda flick! You can see the whole video here.

So yeah, those of you who like your volcano disaster flicks can enjoy the ridiculously-funny lava and the volcanic bombs that set off huge gasoline explosions wherever they land and stuff. I’m just gonna enjoy watching geologists amble around the edges of active lava fields.

Image shows a steaming black lava flow oozing onto a grassy field. It appears to have eaten a fence.. A geologist in a red shirt and a backpack skirts close to the edge.

A USGS geologist maps the margin of the active lava flow in an open field west of the town of Pāhoa on Oct. 26, 2014. Image and caption courtesy USGS.

I mean, that is so ridiculously epically awesome – except for the people of Pāhoa: I’m so sorry Kilauea ate your town.

And now Ima go watch my favorite lava lake video of all time.

It’s Also Geek Pride Day. I’m Geeking Out On…

…This amazing Mount St. Helens Lidar image.

Image is a LIDAR view of Mount St. Helens. With all the trees stripped away, the various volcanic deposits and stream incisions are wonderfully clear.

Mount St. Helens lidar
by Vivian R. Queija/USGS.

Oh, people! Those flows! If you look closely (which is far easier if you download the pdf file), you’ll notice the drastic difference in texture between the young, pyroclastics-rich north and the older south side with its stubby flows. Oh so delicious!

I never would’ve appreciated Lidar before moving to the Pacific Northwest. Up here, having a technology that can look past trees is priceless. This is so neato! And yes, I literally drooled when I saw the full file available for download.

What are you geeking out on?

How I Wish I’d Known It Was Erupting At the Time…

Of course, if I’d know Mount St. Helens was actually erupting at the time, I’d probably have never gone. Volcano phobia, doncha know. I did haz one. But I thought all the eruptions were over, so I went up the mountain with my old friend Victoria, and didn’t realize until long afterward that we’d been there during an eruption. Sometimes, they’re that quiet!

I bring it up now because I just fetched my Mount St. Helens photos off the external hard drive in preparation for sorting out what I’ll need for the book I’m working on. I couldn’t resist flipping through the photos from that May 13, 2007 trip, and ran across the one Victoria took of me with my favorite volcano in the background. Alas, we only had my horrible old digital camera, so the pictures aren’t spectacular, but this one turned out well enough for me to crop to a nicety. [Read more…]

Silver Lake’s Adorable Baby Duckies

Y’know, if it wasn’t for the occasional devastating eruption and house-eating lahar, I think I’d actually love living down by Silver Lake. B and I took a walk there near sunset on our last trip, and in the slanting reddish-gold rays of the lowering sun, it was about the most peaceful and beautiful place on Earth. I could spend hours just sitting on a boardwalk and watching the wildlife, from the insects to the birds and beyond.

I think the lake hosts the fastest ducklings on the planet, too. A mother and her group of babies passed us by at one point, swimming under the bridge, and they moved quicker than I’ve ever seen ducks go. One of them rocketed past its siblings so fast that B dubbed it Zipper. Here’s all I could catch of it on camera. [Read more…]

Mystery Flora/Cryptopod Doubleheader: Beetles’ Favorite Fuzzy Flower

I love Silver Lake. It is full of marshy wetland goodness. I wish I knew it in all seasons, but even though I don’t, I can already tell you that one of my favorite months is May. That’s when the yellow iris burst out all over the place, and the yellow water lilies are also blooming, and then there are other, tiny, fuzzy white flowers that look like stars.

Image shows a sprig of white flowers growing up from the water, together with sedges and broadleaf marsh plants.

Mystery Flora I

They’re really good at reflecting sunlight, too, which makes them difficult for my camera to deal with. But we did our best. [Read more…]

Maddow’s Mount St. Helens Metaphor for the Iraq War

A lot of you pointed me toward Rachel Maddow’s segment wherein she compares the aftermath of the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens with the aftermath of the Iraq War. Even if you hate politics and are sick to death of all mention of the war, watch the beginning. She did a marvelous job narrating the eruption. I tend to avoid talking heads on teevee, but Maddow is an artist as well as a kick-ass-take-names-and-pwn-them-all pundit, so she’s more than a bit of all right.

I love the way she begins the piece:

It started as a magnitude 5.1 earthquake, and a large earthquake is almost never a good thing. But when it happens one mile beneath a huge, active volcano, it can be the start of something that feels a little bit like the end of the world.

And really, it did. All of us who watched that ash cloud consume the sky and swallow the day, whether in person or on our television screens, felt that. There are few things more ominous than an eruption cloud.

Now, some of you speculated that she was getting her facts from my posts, but I can assure you she didn’t. [Read more…]

It’s the 35th Anniversary of the Big Ba-Boom: Mount St. Helens and the May 18th Eruption

Thirty-five years ago, mini-me watched in awe as Mount St. Helens blew up on our television. A short time later, our neighbors came back with samples of ash and awed stories of the disaster zone. Vulcanologists had gotten an unprecedented opportunity to study a volcano’s eruption cycle from awakening to paroxysmal eruption, but lost some of their own in the process. Many people perished in the eruption, but without dedicated geologists informing everyone of the hazards and insisting on exclusion zones, it could have been so many more. And the many survivors’ tales are utterly gripping.

For thirty-five years, we’ve used Mount St. Helens as a laboratory. It’s taught us endless lessons on how volcanoes erupt, what those eruptions do to the countryside, and how the environment recovers afterward. We’ve learned a lot about the warning signs of impending eruptions. We’ve learned how to recognize debris avalanche and lateral blast deposits. And we’ve marveled at the beauty of a wounded young mountain building itself back up from the inside.

On this day, remember the geologists who gave their lives while studying this volcano.

On this day, remember those who didn’t make it back home from the mountain.

And on this day, thank scientists for effective volcano monitoring.

For those who want to read further about Mount St. Helens and her cataclysmic eruption, you can follow my series here. [Read more…]

Greetings from Bothell: A Fraught Final Day, but the Waterfalls are Lovely!

Despite everything (well, a few things) conspiring against us, we are home safe from our trip. Alas, Ape Cave and other attractions on the south side of Mount St. Helens were not to be. The weather worsened to the point where the clouds were tickling the tops of even the lower hills, which meant we’d be in rain and fog the whole way if we attempted to make it up the mountain. So we headed for the Columbia River Gorge, which B has never seen. That’s a place that can be done in foul weather. It’s still pretty, see?

Image looks over the Columbia River and its enormous gorge. The Vista House, a round building, is visible atop a jutting tower of basalt in the near distance. The sky is heavy with clouds, which are cutting off the tops of the higher hills.

The Columbia River Gorge from the Portland State Women’s Forum Scenic Viewpoint aka Chanticleer Point.

Fun fact: that building you see there, the one like a little dot atop that tall basalt point, would’ve been underwater during the Missoula Floods. Wowza.

Even on a rainy off-season Saturday, the place was packed. It seemed like everyone in the Pacific Northwest was visiting. I did manage to catch a shot of the Vista House on Crown Point without a bunch of people, because they were all either inside or on the other side of the balcony for a few seconds.

Image shows a hexagonal building with two tiers. Narrow stained glass windows nearly as tall as each storey make it impossible to see the nine trillion people inside.

Vista House

This is the first time I’ve ever been to Crown Point when that building was open, so B and I zipped inside, took the stairs, and enjoyed the view from the balcony. I’ll show you it in a future post. It’s pretty similar to the previous view, only Vista House isn’t in it.

We couldn’t stop at Latourell Falls because there were no parking spaces left, but we got one at Wahkeena Falls, which I’ve never actually visited. You can ogle them from the viewpoint below, and then, if you wish, hike up a little ways and view the upper tier. We wished, so we did, and here I am with them.

Image shows me standing beside a basalt cliff on the right, with the falls falling to the left.

Moi at Wahkeena Falls.

You can actually hike the short distance to Multnomah Falls from there, and B and I planned to, but he slipped on slippery rocks just after this picture was taken, and went down hard. Fortunately, nothing’s broken, and all he got were a few scrapes, bruises, and a lot of mud, but it was enough to nix any more hiking for the day. We went to Multnomah Falls so he could clean up at their facilities, and then we did take a quick look at the falls, which are spectacular.

Image shows the two tall, thin tiers of Multnomah Falls plunging over basalt. There's a stone arch bridge between the tiers.

Multnomah Falls.

There were far too many people in the way to get a good shot, though. You can see the tops of their heads if you look at the bottom.

We headed up onto the bridge, as B was recovered enough for a little light walking. I was able to get a challenge picture for you! Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to find the umbrella in this photo:

Image shows the terrace below Upper Multnomah Falls, and the creek wending its way along. To the right, the sheer cliffs of basalt rise, topped with lush greenery. To the left is a screen of trees, and the walkways filled with people. A sad, lost umbrella is somewhere in this picture...

A little lost umbrella is somewhere in this photo.

I’ll show you it tomorrow, as long as I’m not comatose. So tired…

We got a few more from the bridge, then headed home. We almost didn’t make it, because near Chehalis, some asshole in a very loud car decided she wanted to be in our lane, where we were, going 70 miles an hour on the freeway. She came out of nowhere, accelerating hard, and nearly took the front off my car. I had to brake hard to give her enough room, and for a few seconds, it looked like we were all going into the jersey barriers. We’re lucky the cars crowded around us didn’t hit or get hit by either of us. She sped off, not even having glanced our way, and then zipped over into the slow lanes after a mile or so and dawdled. I have no idea why she was in such a hurry for that short distance, and why I was invisible to her, but since we now had a chance to safely catch her up and get a license plate, we followed her when she exited. B snapped this picture, which I now share for public shaming purposes. If you live in southwestern Washington and know who this car belongs to, please inform her that she almost caused a multi-car wreck with possible fatalities, and she may wish to take a defensive driving course.

Image shows a dark blue Lincoln of some sort with dual exaust and a spoiler. WA license #ATN6376.

The asshole who nearly wrecked us.

We didn’t call the police only because she didn’t seem to be driving drunk. Perhaps her friend had alerted her to her near-massacre, because she drove quite sensibly afterward. Still.

So that was more excitement than we wanted out of today, and not at all the good kind. But the rest of the trip went smoothly, and we have a ton of excellent material for you. The kitties at both houses are alive, well, and thrilled to see us. Misha actually ate nearly all of the treats and dry food I put out and seems to have gained a few ounces, so I’m very happy with that. She howled and howled until I gave her some tuna, and is now curled up beside me, being totes adorbs. She will help me get pictures organized and stuff written up. We’ve got the 35th anniversary of the May 18th eruption on Monday, so I need to get you guys something nice for the occasion. In the meantime, if you’re looking for the series to date, here ’tis. A reader tells me the links at SciAm are completely borked, so please read it here whilst that gets resolved.

I am now going to go relax with my kitty. Have a wonderful rest of your weekend, my darlings!