Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mount St. Helens

Today’s adventure was a drive from Seattle to Portland, stopping along the way at Mount St. Helens. I was only a child when Mount St. Helens blew in 1980, but I remember it happening, as well as how excited I was when someone gave me a vial of volcanic ash from the mountain. So it was great to see the majestic peak decades later, when the growth has reappeared and it is only the before and after photos in the visitor’s center that really capture the horror and magnitude.

We took I-5 south from Seattle. I expected a dull, wide grey freeway. But the scenery was surprisingly beautiful, often lined with trees, with views of farmland, cows, forested hills and mountains. True to what John told us, the traffic moved slowly, going 65 miles per hour, even in the fast lane. We saw several bumper stickers of people with unique characters, such as “I don’t have an attitude problem, you’re just an asshole.” Or “It’s your hell – burn in it,” from a Wiccan driver with a young boy in a carseat.

When we reached Mount St. Helens, about two hours from Seattle, we stopped in the nearby town of Castle Rock. We thought we might find something to eat there. But instead we found a sad, dilapidated little community. We later found out that several of the houses there were carried away by the river flush with volcanic debris. One woman described seeing her house picked up by the river, carried upright, then crushed as it went under a bridge and came out the other side in pieces. It makes me wonder what keeps people there. One young woman told me, “It’s because we love this place.”

The visitor’s center showed a short film about the volcano as well as a helpful display. Nearby was a one mile trail along a lake created by the eruption and we walked that, enjoying beautiful views of the snowy peak across the water.

We then drove up toward the volcano, receiving increasingly beautiful views as we became closer. Much of the land is owned by either the National Park or by Weyehauser logging company. Entire hillsides had been stripped of trees and Weyerhauser replanted them with Douglas and noble firs, resulting in whole swathes of green trees of exactly the same size. At the viewpoints, we looked down at rivers with banks still coated with grey volcanic silt. We could only go up so far because the road was closed partway up due to snow. It would be nice to return in summer and climb the mountain itself. But we enjoyed the beautiful drive.

In the evening we arrived in Portland, where we are staying with an old and dear friend, Lisa. She and her husband live in a small, cozy house. The walls are painted mustard, rust, green and brown comfortingly warm and bright at the same time. We chatted about life in Portland, a city they have “fallen in love with,” to such an extent they would not leave to pursue professional opportunities elsewhere.

They told us about the strong bicycle culture, about the incredible recreational activities nearby, about the affordability and the niceness of the local people. The downsides seem to be below average schools (they described this as a result of the low tax, low government services culture) and not a lot of higher education opportunities. They themselves lead a quality of life that I admire and envy. They are home every day by five, grow vegetables in their garden, eat farm fresh eggs, use all natural products, and eat very healthy foods. They have a balance and evidence a contentment with life that I think is ideal.

Tomorrow we’ll explore this place for ourselves.

1 comment:

Lainey Wright said...

awww it is nice to read another's perspective on our sweet and measly little lives here in good ol' portland:) -It is pleasing to read that it appears "ideal" and "balanced" to an outsider...and I am glad to read that you enjoyed the quiet time in our shacky house:)- makes me happy...