Over Easy: Scientists Re-Visit Mount St. Helens
A group of 75 scientists led by Alan Levander of Rice University in Houston visited Mount St. Helens this week, to create seismic waves by controlled explosions, that will enable them to study the mountain with a new method that is akin to an “ultrasound and a CAT scan” of the volcano’s “internal plumbing.”
Mount St. Helens erupted at 8:32 AM PDT on May 18, 1980 killing 57 people and destroying 250 homes. A second eruption occurred 34 years ago yesterday, on July 22, 1980.
If there were such a thing as reincarnation for a day, May 18, 1980, as a witness to the Mount St. Helens eruption from the Portland area would certainly be an interesting choice. I happened to be home from college for a few days, where several people gathered on our family deck, to watch and take pictures. It was morning but it was dark. Amateur photographs from that distance were difficult to obtain with any resolution, because of the amount of ash that filled the atmosphere.
Although Forest Service and USGS scientists expected Mount St Helens to erupt, based on a spike in seismic activity at the end of March that year, prompting authorities to warn residents to evacuate, no one knew exactly when the mountain would blow. Some skeptical area residents refused to leave, including 83-year-old Spirit Lake Lodge owner Harry Randall Truman, who perished on May 18, during the eruption.
The scientists had been incredibly accurate in their predictions at that time, as it turns out, even if no one really took them seriously, and even if roadside attraction souvenir stands were instantly popular. The predicted eruption that actually happened prompted a common query and reply among residents observing from afar, that went something like, “What’s happened?” followed by, “The mountain just blew up.” No one really expected the first eruption; likewise the second eruption took people completely by surprise.
On the television news we saw police cars lining the roads near Mount St. Helens during the volcanic event, and they all had the hoods of their cars up- officers had to try and cover the automobile engines, to prevent the ash from inflicting permanent damage. People in the area covered their faces with t-shirts. It looked like a black snowstorm. Deer and wildlife ran, and birds tried to find a wire to sit on. For a while, it was hard to conceive of the idea that we would have a world again. The event was very upsetting to nature.
It is good to know that scientists today continue to monitor activity and assess potential risk to human life, by using new methods to look at Mount St. Helens and other peaks in the volcanically active Cascade Range. Active mountains in the Cascade Range include Mounts: Rainier, Baker, St. Helens, Adams, Hood, Three Sisters, McLoughlin, and Mount Shasta.
Mount St. Helens’s pre-historic human residents were a collection of tribes. Each had a unique language and name for the mountain, as well a legend known as “Keeper of the Fire.” Although there are many versions of many legends, a prominent one that relates to Mount St. Helens is the story of the Bridge of the Gods, and the creation of the Columbia Gorge.
Author Chuck Williams writes:
In most versions, Mount Hood and Mount Adams, sons of the Great Spirit, fought over a beautiful female mountain. The brothers shook the earth, blocked the sunlight, threw fire at each other, burned the forests, drove off the animals and covered the plants needed by people with ash. The fight cracked the Cascade Range, forming a canyon and a tunnel which emptied the huge lake east of the mountains. The Great Spirit returned and was furious. He left the Bridge of the Gods, the stone arch over the Columbia River, as a monument to peace and placed an elderly, weathered female mountain, Loo-wit, at the bridge as a peacemaker- and as a reminder to the brothers of how transient youthful beauty is. Loo-wit was the keeper of the fire, which had been stolen from atop Wy-east (Mount Hood) by Coyote the Trickster.
Bibliographic reference for Keeper of the Fire legend:
Mount St. Helens A Changing Landscape
text by Chuck Williams
Introduction by Ray Atkeson
1980: Graphic Arts center Publishing Company PO Box 10306 Portland, Oregon 97210 ISBN 0-912856-63-7
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