7 Quick Takes: Mount St. Helens Edition

7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

The source of these Quick Takes. On Saturday afternoon, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across this picture:

The Mount St. Helens eruption had idiots too!

I generally don’t share stuff from Occupy Democrats because while I agree with them a lot of the time and they are mostly accurate, they get really mean-spirited about things. (I will admit that my first thought when I saw the wording was that the way they worded it was a bit catty.)

However, this piqued my interest enough to fact-check it. I mean, did people *REALLY* want to do something as stupid as go near an active volcano?

— 2 —

Did it check out? Surprisingly, it actually did! I found a newspaper article talking about cabin owners being salty about the ban on people coming near the mountain. There was also this one reflecting on it 40 years later. I found a Twitter thread from Washington Emergency Management (basically the Washington National Guard) that provided a basis for the text in the Occupy Democrats picture and another one from USGS Volcanoes that provided information that backed up the text in the image with the name of a book containing eyewitness accounts of this.

This episode of the old A&E series “Minute by Minute” even has interviews with at least one person who professes anger at not being allowed into the area:

— 3 —

Fabulous webinar. This is the webinar that I watched on the night of May 18th that I *REALLY* recommend watching. They have professors from Oregon and Washington talking about volcanoes, Mount St. Helens, and the Cascade range, including the seismologist who was tracking Mount St. Helens at the time as well as the current seismologist/scientist-in-charge of the Cascades Volcano Observatory.

— 4 —

A couple of important things to take away from the webinar. Steve Malone (the seismologist tracking Mount St. Helens at the time) made some points that were worth sharing.

Parallels with today.

He also made an interesting analogy with this picture here:

Malone's analogy

Scientists tend to have a lot of models and data types and inputs that they are using to try to figure out what is going on. Civil authorities who are having to make these decisions want a yes/no answer. It’s why governors who are putting their trust in scientists and medical authorities are not able to give a specific answer as to when things will go back to “normal”… especially since we are looking at an entirely new normal now!

— 5 —

Where I am seeing a parallel. Governor Dixy Lee Ray did sign an order to keep people out of the “red” and “blue” zones around the mountain, but she allowed Weyerhauser trucks in for logging purposes because logging was a big part of the economy. Among those killed in the eruption were members of at least one logging crew. Had it not been a Sunday when the mountain erupted, more logging crews would have been in the area, and the death toll would have been much higher. There was a volcanologist named David A. Johnston who was killed in one of the pyroclastic flows, and that was a bitter pill for the person for whom he was standing in and the UW researchers monitoring the volcano. (Johnston Ridge Observatory is named after him.)

There’s also kind of a sad story about a man named Harry R. Truman who refused to leave the lodge he owned on Spirit Lake. He became a folk hero of sorts because of it, and his body was never found. They think that he was killed in a pyroclastic flow and that his lodge and his body and his cats are all buried under something like 150 feet of ash. His attitude reminds me of some of the people protesting in states to get the economy reopened. I look at them and ask myself “why???” because what they’re doing is endangering themselves, but it’s their decision to put themselves in danger.

This kind of thing is why I’m getting so salty about those who are more concerned about the economy than actual human lives. We can take steps to put the economy back together, but we can’t bring people back from the dead. I’m hearing on my local news about states that have “reopened” reporting the highest COVID-19 case count ever for that specific day while I’m watching the curve flatten out in Washington and in my own county where we’re still sheltering-in-place. It’s a balancing act for sure, and it irritates me that some people are trying to make it into a simplistic issue because their situation is merely one of inconvenience.

— 6 —

A really cool story. There’s a photographer who goes to Goodwill and finds exposed film from old cameras to develop. She ended up finding some that had pictures of the Mount St. Helens eruption. Even cooler is that the grandson of the person who owned the camera now has pictures of himself with his parents and grandmother that he didn’t know existed.

Seriously, this is a happy story.

— 7 —

Why I have this fascination. Well…

1.) Both sides of my family are geology junkies. My maternal grandfather was a geology major before he had to leave college due to illness and World War II, and my paternal grandfather enjoyed the geology classes he took as general education credits. I have a cousin who majored in Geology and did graduate work in it (digging dinosaur bones in Montana and working with Jack Horner), and my parents both grew up getting roadside geology lectures from their fathers. As a result, we’re full of amateur geologists, especially on my mom’s side. (I think my mom’s family keeps the Roadside Geology publishers in business.)

2.) My entire family is from Oregon and Washington originally. This was a big deal.

3.) My mom went into labor with my twin brother and me as Mount St. Helens erupted. We were born 24 hours later. Twin births are often complicated, and mine was no exception. My brother was almost twice my size, and my heart stopped mid-birth. I required resuscitation and spent my first week of life at Stanford Children’s Hospital, 45 minutes away from my parents in San Jose, before being transferred back to Los Gatos Community Hospital for another two weeks to get bigger. My brother came home after three days. I came home after three weeks.

My family always makes jokes about Mount St. Helens and our birth. We have newspapers from Yakima from the day of our birth talking about all the ash falling. When we were 25 years old, my dad got some ash from the volcano and sent it to my brother and me. (Mine is sitting on the bookcase next to my desk.) My parents visited the volcanic monument that year and took a picture of themselves at the Johnston Ridge Observatory. My brother and I were photoshopped into the picture (along with their cats), and it was used as the Christmas picture that year. 🙂 Because of my connection to the mountain, I tend to geek out on documentaries on it at this time of year.

And yes, I did just turn 40 years old this week. 🙂 I had a quiet day, my dad made me one of my favorite meals, and my parents got me a carrot cake. We did candles and presents with my evil twin over Facebook messenger. It wasn’t what we usually do, but it was pretty fabulous.

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.

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