left field foul line

This walk probably rates as one of the most enjoyable I’ve done in all my years exploring the Cascades, so mesmerized did I find myself at the northern reach of Loowit’s blast zone. Being the hopeless shutterbug that I am, in the middle of the day I found myself passing views and features of terrain which I longed for (at least) marginally better light to photograph and so I made the decision to pace myself, stretch my wandering, and “catch things on the way back”.  Usually I’ll bed down in a meadow for a long nap on a journey like this, for the purposes of restoration and letting the sun get down in the sky. This was a unique day of exploring, there was a solemnity about the walk: An abundance of life has returned to the blast zone yet the aftermath of the powerful eruption stands out in stark relief after all these years and that heaviness with regard to the fifty-seven lives lost, remains. On the walk I also found myself pondering just how much the state of mind about this mountain must have changed after May 1980. Before it erupted, Loowit was arguably one of the most beautiful stratovolcanoes in the world. Certainly, I never knew her in that way for I was a kindergartener back in the Rust Belt on that fateful day. On the other hand, a good friend of mine grew up in a little town south of the mountain and she watched it erupt from the bleachers of a little league field (Loowit was behind left field). Ash covered her family’s yard for more than a year!

September 2010 - Helens (175)Looking at pictures from this walk has gotten me to thinking more about the other volcanoes up and down the Cascade Range, imagining them less as static, unchanging features of the landscape. It would be so strange to look out the window tomorrow morning and see that a thousand feet of Mt. Rainier’s top had been completely obliterated. “The Mountain”, as Rainier (or, Tahoma) is often hushingly referred to by locals (though I’ve always had trouble accepting what I found a rather corny, disappointingly generic nickname), has an indelible psychological influence on everyone who admires it from Seattle. What would happen to the collective psyche of the entire city if part of it just vanished?

This image is a little on the redundant side but it seemed worth sharing for a fuller appreciation of the ripped-open north side of Loowit. The slowly-building dome inside the crater is hazy from windblown ash. These trees gave me the uneasy feeling of being in the cross-hairs of that unimaginable pyroclastic force. I suppose it’s a little one-sided of me to share just these monochrome landscapes from the end of summer, when so much of the snow has melted from the mountain. After all, some years even Mt. Rainier can appear shockingly brown and bare after several months of warm weather.

5 thoughts on “left field foul line

  1. Took me way too long to look up Loowit, I’d only known Mt St Helens. The trees = cross-hairs is vivid, but a pretty unsettling thought to have pop in your head!
    Having any of these monumental peaks, like Ranier, Matterhorn, Fuji, etc. that symbolize permanence/stability/old gods/etc. like “solid as the Rock of Gibraltar,” I agree, it would be a huge psychological impact for them to vanish. I taught English for a while in Chile, and lived near an active volcano, Villarica, not really a big one, but it killed some people in the ’70’s, and every had to evacuate in 2015 for a while. I’d look at it all the time, especially at night, you could see the glow, and it kind of defined the town in my mind anyway.
    I like this B&W photo, it still looks very raw around there, with all the dead trees lying down below.

    • It would have been considerate of me to explain Loowit but I have this habit of just putting the real names out there without a stir (though if we’re going to be picky, Loowit is anglicized and there are a couple other ones that work just as well but don’t roll off the tongue as nicely) to be a contrarian for justice. I really liked the essay you wrote about Villarica last year (or maybe it was the year before?).

  2. The framing of that photo lends it a haunting intimacy, like looking out a window at something both beautiful and devastated. I remember the day it blew, my sister and I were blowing around up in the Olympics, and came out of the woods just that afternoon. The whole of western Washington was astir with the news. It was such a powerful display of the force of nature, not something we always consider here in wonderland. To this day, watching films of that eruption still gives me goose bumps.

    • At that point were you living in Port Orchard? What was it like in the days that followed? Did you end up with any significant ashfall at your house? I’m aware that ash accumulated in multiple states quite far away (even drifting around the world in the upper atmosphere) but with the vagaries of wind and weather I’m kind of curious what it was like in places much closer, like around the Sound. Just finished an excellent historical account of local people and events leading up to the eruption that has seemingly left me with more questions……

      • TF we were living in South Tacoma at the time. We had just a smattering of ash at our place, and most of PS I believe was light since most drifted East of us. I do remember seeing one of the secondary eruptions, a huge plume of ash, from a restaurant in Tacoma with large windows. Everyone got out of their seats to watch it. There was a kind of hush but a buzz among everyone. Surreal. We also decided to camp over by Bumping Lake several weeks later, and boy, there was a sheet of ash several inches thick everywhere, like gray snow. You could see every animal that had come through, it coated every bit of vegetation, and it was thick dust to breath in when the car tires kicked it up. Very nasty. I think we were very young and a little crazy to have been out in the woods then. Plus very new to the Northwest, less than a year here from the East Coast. I don’t think anyone had any idea of the magnitude of what would happen in the weeks leading up to it, although the mountain gave lots of warning signs. Human nature I guess.

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