When you first see the consequence of the 1980 volcanic eruption of Mount Snt Helens spread out before you it is one of the most power things you can observe. It leaves you simply awe struck. Such force, such power unleashed is a deathly combination and this becomes obvious.
I remember the eruption back in 1980, I was knee deep in nappies dealing with young lively vegemiters at the time and it grazed my peripheral attention span for a few minutes back then. Even with the distractions of a million things along with the eruption being on the other side of the world I do recall being awestruck by the event. Imagining what it would be like to witness such a thing, let alone being involved in some way in the event.
I recall hearing that the cinder cloud had spread its arms around the northern hemisphere in time and I wondered how often this thing was going to blow its top. Volcanoes are not an unknown event to Aussies even though we don’t have an active volcano on our ancient continent, ours are all now dormant and mostly worn into the landscape.
We do have lava caves formed by a few of these ancient beasts and I mentioned these in a past post, but we also have strong links with New Zealand, or Kiwi land as it is better known in Aus. The land of the Maori was once considered part of Aus and indeed still is in many ways. After all… half of their people live in Aus it seems at times and so it should be.
New Zealand sits also on the Pacific Rim of Fire and is very much a volcanic island which regularly erupts and rumbles away off over ‘the trench’ reminding us that this world of our is truly alive. However Mount Snt Helens and her eruption some 30 odd years ago still touches us all today. This was why we wanted to visit her and experience what happens when the Earth burps.
Another added attraction was that in the books I write, from the series now in progress ‘The Spirit Children’ I wanted to touch the world of volcanism. I write about the world of the sacred caverns of Australia’s ancient Lore and it touches on volcanic events from an ancient perspective. Being an author, research is something I enjoy a great deal and I like to write about things I understand and may even have experienced. This brings the stories I write to life for me and the opportunity to see a volcano, one that still is breathing was irresistible.
One of the most surprising things that I discovered in our visit was that the volcanic eruption is not just a single event. With Mount Snt Helens it was a series of catastrophic events, which took some 57 lives despite any number of warnings. These lives then extinguished were those of informed and knowledgeable people mostly and it just shows how mighty a mistress natures events can be.
Each of these catastrophic events was in their own right a disaster, but coupled together they were truly something to pay attention to and something to learn a great deal from. We really know so little about the nature of our world. We really have little understanding of these things and the true power of nature even today.
It all began with rumblings, the people in the know, knew Mount Snt Helens was alive and that an eruption was imminent, but most grew impatient in waiting for the promised fireworks. We are an impatient society even more so now… it was this and our lack of understanding that cost us those 57 valuable lives.
Then one lazy afternoon when all seemed relatively quiet, the earth shook. It was a 5.1 earthquake, the movement of magma deep beneath the earths crust. This in itself was far reaching but it was also enough to shake the volcano alive. This quake shook free from the mountainside the largest landslide in recorded history. This landslide was an unstoppable force, one that claimed the first lives as the mountain seemed to collapse under its own weight. It slid into the valley below, burying lakes, rivers and people.
With the release of pressure on the magma plume the next event was that which had never been witnessed before. The air and water frozen and free, held trapped within the mountain exploded not in the upward blast everyone was expecting, but in a lateral blast which took out the side of the mountain completely. More people died and there are tragic recordings of their last words as this explosive force overtook them, sweeping across the land, down valleys and over ridges once thought at a safe distance.
This volcanic explosion flattened an ancient old growth forest for some 230 sq miles, laying ancient trees laying against the ground and snapping them like match sticks.
It was spring at the time and some animals of the wild survived this blast. They were still hibernating and others lived under the ground but man and his machines were less fortunate. The devastation was far reaching but there was more to come.
Erupting from the volcano was the ash cloud and this in turn was to not only lay a blanket across the land east of the mountain but it swept around the world in time. Ash, that could set like a cement touched many lives in the following weeks. Born of this ash and pumice, and of the heat of the magma deep beneath the surface of the Earth there was another event waiting to happen and the waiting was short.
Pyroclastic flows are something that which many of us have now heard of, this mostly because of the events that were at that time occurring in Oregon US. They are an awesome and a devastating thing. The debris, the extreme heat and the speed with which they move in a dense rolling cloud are nothing short of devastating. Evidence of their power can be seen in the path they sweep along and at the Forestry Museum near Snt Helens can be found a car which was caught up in this devastation. The reality of it is simply gobsmacking.
Given all this devastation and the string of events people, scientists and researchers alike were awe struck and dumbfounded but what followed yet again was perhaps the most far reaching of the devastation experienced. The heat, the explosions and the power of the mountain in its burp melted the snow cap and ice. The mud flows known as lahars swept down the mountain following the paths of rivers and forging new paths where the way had been scoured. It is a consequence that is still being dealt with today and you can still easily see the deep drifts of mud that swept away bridges and buried houses in its path.
These lahars moved like wet cement and buried lives in a final twist of the mountains might. A visit to Mount Snt Helens information centre is a wonderful thing and there you can come to understand the might of the mountain and the hidden power beneath the earth.
Most of the worlds active volcanoes are under the ocean and we don’t understand fully their power, we don’t commonly witness their strength but just occasionally we see the power of the earth beneath our feet come alive.
Tribal legend tells us that the Mount Snt Helens is the spirit of an ugly witch who over times can change into a beautiful maiden mountain and then in an instant become the ugly witch again… we should listen to such things. Over the past 4,000 years, the life of mans ‘civilization’ she has erupted several times and still we did not learn. The ancient tribal people in their legends told us of these things, she was known as Fire Mountain and still we did not listen. This is why I write tales of ancient Lore from Australia within the tales of ‘The Dreaming Series’ for they bring to us many truths… perhaps we will learn.
There are several rumbling volcanos along the Cascade Mountain range, which sit unsettled alongside the Pacific Coast of a young North America, yes… the country is alive and mother earth breaths occasionally. Sometimes she even burps.
Read the full travelogue of Jans adventures in the e-book ‘The Rockies and the Greater NW USA’ now available at Amazon for just $US1.99