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Monday, May 18, 2020

"This mountain don't dare blow up on old Harry!"

Those were the words of one Harry Truman (no relation to that Harry S Truman) in the days prior to the eruption.  Truman had a lodge on the side of Spirit Lake, in the shadow of Mount St. Helens.  He lived there with twenty-some cats, and I guess being almost ninety years of age he was just too stubborn to listen to geologists who were screaming at him to get out of the area.  That giant building bulge on the north slope of the mountain didn't seem to impress.

A few days later, an earthquake triggered the lateral blast on the north flank.  The entire top of the mountain and the north slope were blown away.  Harry Truman and his cats are now somewhere 300 feet beneath ash and rock that eventually formed a new Spirit Lake.  In all the eruption killed 57 people, including volcanologist David Johnston.  His camp was directly in front of the blast area.  Johnston's final frantic words over his radio: "Vancouver!  Vancouver!  This is it!"

That was forty years ago today, May 18th 1980.

Back in 2012 I got to visit Mount St. Helens.  Standing at the Johnston Observatory (built on the site where the gifted young geologist had made his camp), looking across the still-blasted wasteland and into the crater, thinking about how much taller St. Helens used to be...

It was utterly humbling.  The photos I had seen could not compare to seeing the thing up close.  And St. Helens is still considered active.  Every so often a plume of steam or ash rises out of the crater.  Another eruption someday is still altogether possible.  Just as eruptions are possible on nearby Mount Hood and other peaks in that part of the Cascades.

We propose nothing in the sight of nature.  That is what came to mind as I looked into the maw of what is still deemed to  be a fairly medium-size volcano.  Pinatubo's eruption in 1991 was much worse and sent global temperatures dropping.  Krakatoa did much the same and in fact, its eruption was heard from thousands of miles away.

And on that Sunday morning in May the world indeed beheld that mountain dared blow up on old Harry.


Si said...

Ranier or Hood will probably be the next to erupt. Ranier would make St. Helens look puny when it blows.

MeganC said...

I lived in Washington when I was about your age, when Mt. St. Helens erupted. I remember the ash being everywhere, the pumice dust on the windshield of my father's car. He was able to clean the car fairly well but the windshield had to be replaced, it had been so scratched. And I will never forget the sound. We lived 40 miles away from the mountain. I saw it as a very little girl and can still remember how much taller it once was.