29 years later

 Mt. St. Helens blew on a Sunday.  Lynn and I had gone to the Crest Theater to watch “Camelot” in 3rd or 4th run; the Crest was $2 in those days.  It was one of those “do you remember where you were?” moments, much like the assassination of JFK.  President Carter flew over the devastation and said it reminded him of the pictures we had seen from the moon.

Only an evil mother makes you wear a dork hat!
Only an evil mother makes you wear a dork hat!

It was decided to allow MSH to regenerate without human intervention to the greatest extent possible; it is a an open air laboratory for viewing processes on an intensely macro scale.  

I was asked to chaperone the 8th grade trip to MSH yesterday.  It has been a Tyee tradition for over 10 years and this was enjoyed all the more so because its continuation is in jeopardy due to lack of funding.

The weather was perfect.  Not too hot and very clear.  Ms. B, the teacher, said she could not remember having seen both Mt. St Helens *and* Mt. Adams on the same day; clouds generally obscured one or the other.

There were 3 parts to the trip

  1. Coldwater Lake, where the students were asked to give thought to the challenges of the mission of the monument, to let nature take its course in the regeneration of the area, balanced against the demands of the public.  Not quite so many easy answers as you might think, and the students were usually firmly divided down the middle on issues as, the teacher pointed out, is the population at large.
  2. Hummock Trail.  A Hummock is a piece of the summit which was blown off during the eruption, landing as far as 7 miles away.  They landed and then were promptly covered with ash; in many ways they resemble icebergs with only about 15% of the surface showing. 
    According to the teacher, geologists have pieced together where all the hummock parts belonged on the summit prior to the explosion.  My comment would be obviously some people have far too much time on their hands.  There were probably also grants involved. 
    The hummocks have changed the landscape merely by their presence, but where they formed pockets, have also captured water and the regrowth has been speeded enormously.  There are over 150 new lakes and puddles in the valley floor and when you walk by one, the alder forest which will have sprung up, drops the temperature by about 20 degrees.
  3. The Johnston Ridge Observatory – spectacular views inside the crater, the new Spirit Lake, the pumice field and the most comprehensive educational displays.  The film is interesting and irritating at the same time (please do not “fly” me down the moutain at the same speed as the blast, it makes me queasy), with a delightful twist at the end.
Judge the scale - forest rangers to the left of the star
Judge the scale - forest rangers to the left of the star

I found myself trying to convey to the students, many of whose parents were in middle school when the mountain blew, what the blast left the landscape looking like and the impact it had globally; it wasn’t just a nifty geologic hiccup.  The teacher summed up my thoughts, although I don’t know it conveyed them to the students when she said, “When you bring your grandchildren here, the hummocks will just be small hills in a plain.  They will be covered with and altered by foliage and erosion.  Your grandchildren will look at you and not really understand the magnitude of it all.”

If you’d like to see Hope’s pictures, I have posted them on my facebook.  You do not need to have a facebook account to view them.


4 thoughts on “29 years later

    1. Because we went to Lame Jr. High. If you look him up in a reference book, you’ll find that Hugo Lame was a pioneer in the field of fingernail dirt.


  1. I was in Seattle when Mt. St. Helens blew. The ash was everywhere. I remember the weather afterwards. It was so gloomy and it rained and rained for ages.
    When I was at nursing school in Portland, my dorm room window framed the beautiful Mt. St. Helens , so I have always loved the mountain.
    My bother in law is always going on that Mt. Baker is next. I sure hope not. That will be a bigger disaster.


    1. I showed a house in Orting over the weekend. Beautiful view of Mt. Rainier, up close and personal. They also have Lahar warning devices all over the town. If Rainier goes, the land value in Orting will be covered in 30 feet of ash and mud.


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