Tag Archives: Mount St. Helens

Kilauea produces thrills and fright

Most of those of us who live in the 48 contiguous United States of America don’t have to worry about the forces of nature that are putting the folks of Hawaii in such peril at the moment.

Kilauea is erupting on the island of Hawaii. It’s showing no sign of letting up. It’s covering streets and highways with lava. I haven’t heard of any loss of life. The volcano has become — for years, apparently — part of people’s daily existence. It is getting worse.

My heart goes out to those in harm’s way.

I have been reading some material in the New York Times and other publications about comparisons between what is happening in Hawaii and what could happen along other volcanic mountain chains in the United States.

I was particularly struck by the speculation surrounding the Cascade Range, which traverses north and south from British Columbia, through Washington, Oregon and into California.

Of all the things one never expects to see in their lifetime, a volcanic eruption was one of them. That all changed for me in the spring of 1980, when Mount St. Helens, a peak that once stood about 9,700 above sea level in southwest Washington, exploded in spectacular fashion. The volcanic explosion occurred on May 18, 1980, killing about 70 individuals. It was the story of the decade for those of us living in the Pacific Northwest.

I was living in the city of my birth, Portland, Ore., about 50 miles south of the peak, which now stands at about 8,400 feet, given that so much of its peak was blown apart by the titanic blast.

Mount St. Helens’s eruption produced a vast crop of armchair vulcanologists who became “experts” based on what they heard, read and possibly felt in their bones about what might happen to any of the other volcanic peaks along the Cascade Range.

Mount Hood stands like a sentinel to the east of Portland. It’s a glorious peak that stands 11,250 feet along the horizon. Will it blow apart? That’s been the subject of some discussion since Mount St. Helens blew apart. If it does, I’ll tell you it will create serious damage along its southern face, which was shaped by its latest eruption, which occurred, oh, a long time ago. The mountain is considered “dormant,” as it seeps gas out of the caldera near its summit.

So, it is with some interest that many of us are watching the drama unfold in Hawaii. We’ve lived through it, too.

Full-time blogging is just so much fun

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This is the latest in an occasional series of blog posts commenting on upcoming retirement.

I feel compelled to give you an update on the status of this blog.

I call it High Plains Blogger because that’s where I live: on the High Plains of the Texas Panhandle; the Llano Estacado; or what I call — with great affection, of course — the Texas Tundra.

I created it in 2012 after leaving a career in daily print journalism. The end of that career came rather quickly. It wasn’t how I envisioned a nearly 37-year career would end. I’ve told folks for years now that all I wanted was a going-away party, with a sheet cake and frosting that had a message wishing well and thanking me for a job well done.

It didn’t happen that way … but what the hey, that’s life, man.

I created this blog and was able to transfer a lot of the blogging I’d done at the Amarillo Globe-News into High Plains Blogger’s archives.

My traffic of late has shown tremendous growth. Indeed, over the lifetime of High Plains Blogger my daily “hits” — which include page views and something called “unique visitors” — has increased about five-fold.

http://highplainsblogger.com/

It’s not where I want it just yet, but it’s creeping its way toward a more acceptable level. I don’t have an end point. I haven’t said, “When it gets to a certain level, I think I’ll cap it right there.” Oh, no. You can’t have too many readers, too many followers, too many people willing to offer comment.

My intention is to keep self-promoting whenever I feel it is appropriate. Today seems like an appropriate time to call attention to this blog.

Full-time blogging is far more fun than I ever imagined it would be. Yes, I enjoyed writing for The Man. I did it for nearly four decades. I enjoyed some success. I had a hiccup or two along the way.

All told, it was a career made more fun by the people I have encountered along the way and some of the amazing things I was able to do: Flying over an erupting volcano in March 1980 on a picture-taking mission was one of them; landing on the deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier in 1993, the USS Carl Vinson, and then being catapulted off the deck is another.

Blogging, though, is a new career I intend to pursue for as long as I can as I enter full-time retirement. You see, this full-time blogging pursuit is something that co-exists quite nicely with full-time retirement. Neither title — blogger and retiree — is mutually exclusive.

So, with that, I say “thank you” to those who read this blog regularly and to those who have offered comment. Yes, I even want to thank the critics. You know who you are. I try my best not to take it personally, as long as the criticism doesn’t call me nasty names.

Let’s enjoy the ride for as long as we can.

Some things you think you'd never see

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When I was growing up, if anyone ever thought to ask me if there was something I’d like to witness but would never get the chance, I might have said “a volcanic eruption.”

I grew up in Portland, Ore., about 50 or so miles west of a chain of volcanic peaks along the Cascade Range. Most of the peaks were considered to be in various stages of dormancy. Some of them are extinct. They’ll never erupt again.

One of them, though, just northeast of our city, was considered “most likely” to erupt. Who would have thought we’d actually witness it.

Thirty-five years ago, on May 18, 1980, good ol’ Mount St. Helens blew apart in a cataclysmic blast no one likely ever thought they’d witness.

It was a Sunday. It was overcast in Portland that morning, so we didn’t actually witness the ash cloud blown 50,000 feet into the air over Washington state. Aerial photographers took plenty of pictures, though. It was a huge day in the lives of those of us who grew up looking eastward along the Cascades.

Portland’s signature actually is Mount Hood, the highest peak in Oregon. To the north of Mount Hood is Mount St. Helens.

Prior to the blast, Mount St. Helens cut an impressive and pristine figure against the sky. It looked almost geometrically perfect. Some folks called it the “Mount Fuji of the Americas,” as it bore some vague resemblance to Japan’s famous — and perfectly shaped — peak.

The cataclysm took care of Mount St. Helens’s appearance. It blew about 1,500 feet of dirt and rock off the top of the mountain, scattering it as part of that pyroclastic flow of hot gas and ash that ripped through the Douglas fir forest, filling Spirit Lake with fallen timber.

The mountain had been rumbling for a couple of months prior to the blast. I had the thrill of a lifetime when I flew over the summit in a private aircraft to take pictures of the crater’s early beginning. One of my colleagues at the paper where I worked drove that day in March to interview individuals who were monitoring the mountain’s activity for the U.S. Geological Service.

My colleague, Dave Peters, caught up with a young geologist named David Johnston, visited with him about what he was witnessing as the mountain started rumbling. Dave returned and filed a fascinating feature about Johnston and others he met that day.

Johnston would die in the blast a few weeks later as he was perched on a ridge that would be renamed in his memory. As the once-gorgeous peak blew apart, Johnston yelled into his radio to the USGS headquarters: Vancouver, Vancouver … this is it!

And then, just like that, he was gone.

That amazing day is etched in the memories of those of us who were aware of the volcanoes that dotted our skyline to our east.

I doubt any of us ever thought we’d witness what we saw on that Sunday morning 35 years ago.

Who knew?

When a pristine peak blew its top

Admit it. You’ve thought at least once in your life that there are things in this world you thought you’d never see, certainly not up close.

I’ve had a few of those thoughts in my life. But if you live long enough and are fortunate travel and see a few places around the world, you get to check many of those things off your “bucket list.”

I never thought I’d ever witness a volcano explode, even though I grew up in a part of the country — the Pacific Northwest — that features a range of mountains, the Cascades, that includes a string of dormant and extinct volcanos stretching from British Columbia to northern California.

On May 18, 1980, that all changed.

Mount St. Helens, a once-pristine peak that sits about 60 or so miles northeast of my hometown of Portland, Ore., erupted in a massive cloud of gas, ash, rock and magma. The prevailing wind took the massive cloud northeast over the Yakima Valley, Spokane, the Idaho Panhandle and over much of Montana.

The world had been following this story for months prior to the explosive moment. The U.S. Geological Service had sent a team of scientists to study the earthquakes that had been rumbling under the peak since February 1980. Washington Gov. Dixie Lee Ray had issued warnings to residents around the base of the peak to get out. Most of them did.

One who didn’t leave was a crusty old fellow named Harry Truman. “I ain’t goin’,” he’d say, or words to that effect. He and his cats stayed put and were buried under several hundred feet of volcanic mud.

It was a Sunday morning when the mountain blew. We didn’t see it actually explode from our house in Portland, as it was overcast that day … imagine that, eh? But it erupted and blew roughly 1,500 feet off the summit of what used to be a nearly perfect cone-shaped peak, one of several that dominates the horizon north and east of Portland.

We would see subsequent eruptions later that summer. One, in July, sent an ash cloud actually higher into the air that the May 18, 1980 cataclysmic blast. The mountain has experienced minor eruptive episodes in the years since and I believe the USGS still classifies St. Helens as an active volcano.

Arguably the most memorable quote of that remarkable moment came from a USGS scientist, who, when the mountain blew was perched on a ridge across Spirit Lake. David Johnston had been monitoring the mountain for weeks, reading seismic equipment and feeding data back to his headquarters in nearby Vancouver, Wash., just across the Columbia River from Portland.

Then the blast occurred, prompting Johnston to exclaim: “Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!”

Then, in an instant, David Johnston was vaporized.

The rest of us remember the event well.

Mount St. Helens pictures stir scary memory

The story attached to this blog has brought back some chilling memories of my own relating to Mount St. Helens.

I’ll share them here.

http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2013/12/mount_st_helens_new_photos_eme.html#incart_m-rpt-2

The story tells of pictures that the late Reid Blackburn took in April 1980, a month before the mountain blew apart. He was a staff photographer for the Vancouver (Wash.) Columbian. Blackburn died May 18, 1980 when the north side of the volcano exploded.

I’ve got my own Mount St. Helens story that I don’t tell too often.

It involves an acquaintance I made when I was working for the now-defunct Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier just south of Portland.

I wrote a feature story about a young man who, along with his father, refurbished old airplanes. He took me on a flight aboard a bi-plane he had fixed up. We were airborne for maybe 30 minutes. We landed and then I asked him for a favor. Media were reporting that Mount St. Helens was about to erupt and would he take to the mountain in the event of an eruption — or some activity that lent itself to pictures?

He agreed.

In late March (I think it was the 27th) the wires began reporting that earthquakes had started rumbling through the mountain and that smallish craters were forming around the summit. I called my “new best friend.” He was available. I drove quickly to his place in the country, and climbed aboard a single-engine, two-seat Cessna. We took off and headed straight north.

The flight lasted about 45 minutes. We got to the summit, I had gotten my camera out and we buzzed the summit repeatedly, watching the craters forming; ice would fall into the newly formed fissures.

Back and forth we flew. I guess we were in the air over the mountain for maybe 20 minutes. I snapped dozens of pictures.

We flew back to his landing strip just south of Oregon City.

A point of information: We had no radio aboard. Thus, we were not advised that the Federal Aviation Administration had declared the airspace several miles around the summit to be off-limits.

The statue of limitations now allows me to confess to breaking federal aviation law that day.

Happily, no one ratted us out. My pal never got into trouble. I got some memorable pictures, which we published in the next day’s paper. And I will keep those memories with me forever.

***

One post script: I told my dad about what we had done and he gave me a royal butt-chewing.

Then we laughed.

Semi-retirement beginning to sink in

Note: This is the first of an occasional series of blog posts discussing the onset of retirement.

I’m beginning to like being semi-retired.

It was nearly a year ago that my life was turned upside-down. I walked away from a career I had enjoyed beyond my wildest imagination. My journalism career had exposed me to some of the most interesting experiences possible. Not many folks can say they’ve attended presidential nominating conventions, interviewed a future president of the United States, a sitting vice president of the U.S., made a tailhook landing on nuclear-powered aircraft carrier (and been catapulted off the flight deck), covered stories in nearly a dozen countries around the world, exposed corruption in government, commented on a whole array of public policy issues or flown over an erupting volcano.

A management “reorganization” scheme this past summer forced me to make a decision I wasn’t prepared to make, which was to resign my job rather than seek a lesser-paying job at the company where I worked — with no guarantee I’d get even that.

My boss told me I no longer would be able to pursue my craft, which I had done for nearly four decades at three newspapers in two states. So I called it quits.

I’ve been working part-time ever since. And now my wife and I are relishing the role of semi-retired citizens. We recently purchased two vehicles: a 3/4-ton pickup and a 29-foot fifth wheel to pull behind it.

We’ve taken the fifth wheel out for a three-night “camping trip” across town, at an RV park — where we got acquainted with our new vehicle. We learned how the plumbing works, we’re getting quite good now at hooking and unhooking the fifth wheel to and from the pickup. Driving the assembly is a piece of cake.

We’re anxious to take our vehicle out for a real trip, which we’ll do in due course.

I’ve learned that we’re entering an exciting new world of discovery.

Our brand new granddaughter is growing up before our eyes, even though she lives with our son, daughter-in-law and her two big brothers a six-hour drive away. Our retirement travel plans include the kids, all of them. We’ll arrive at that point eventually.

For now, we’re both feeling better in our semi-retirement skin all the time.

I’m working three part-time jobs and enjoying all of them immensely. I’m betting we’re going to really enjoy full-time retirement even more when that day arrives.

We’re in no particular hurry for it to get here. As my late mother used to admonish my sisters and me when we were kids: Do not wish your life away.

Not going to do it, Mom. Life is pretty darn good as it is — right now.