The earth rumbled as the pressure beneath built ever stronger until finally…. BOOM! An explosion of mayhem flowed down into the
houses. The villagers (unfortunate woodlice) scattered and I set about
engineering a barricade to halt the hosepipe-mud-volcano avalanche. I was
fascinated by volcanoes and as a child I dreamed of one day being a world
famous volcanologist. With no local volcanoes at hand I had to make do with a
hosepipe and my parents flower bed. Still, I was happy. village of Lego
Like many with autism, I have ‘special interests’ – intense, almost obsessive interests in often random things. I circled through Volcanoes, Tornados, Maps, Travel, Eurovision (I know… but there is a score board with lots of numbers – how autism friendly is that!!!), stamps, fungi…… For each one got obsessed, became an expert, got bored then moved to something new.
For many years I tried to moderate my hobbies and forced interests to fit my peer group, but recently I’ve come to see this more nerdy side to me as being a great asset and something to cherish. In fact I’d say the focus it gives me on subjects is one of the greatest gifts that autism brings me. In this weeks post I’d like to share with you of a time recently that two of my interests met and I got a chance to travel and visit a fascinating mountain. Come and join me on a day at the volcano….
‘Come and visit one day’ is something often said between friends over Facebook, but this time I’d decided to do just that and here I was 5000miles from home with my friend Andrea, camping in the forests of Washington State. My camping expeditions at home usually come with some sort of mishap so the bears, snakes, spiders and poison ivy were playing on my mind. Top it all off with evil, slimy, foot long banana slugs… yeughhh. ‘You’ll be alright’ said Andrea as we casually sauntered past a Tsunami escape sign and wild fire warning chart. ‘Everything here is trying to kill me’ I sighed.
Dangers aside, the natural wonders of the area shone through. The campsite nestled amongst mighty trees, draped over the dramatic foothills of the
Cascade Range. Bright lakes sat in the valleys,
reflecting the snow capped volcanic mountains.
One of these mountains was out destination, although this one was no longer a perfect cone. We were heading to Mt St Helens. This notorious mountain catastrophically erupted in May 1980, replacing over 400m of it’s height with a mile wide crater. It still stands over a kilometre taller than
highest peak. I’d read a lot about this volcano and I was excited to get the
chance to visit. Ben Nevis, Britain
As we approached the great mountain started to reveal itself from behind the surrounding hills. It’s battered and grey hulk standing in sharp contrast the verdant surroundings. The crater appearing as though it’s summit had been punched by an angry giant, crushed like a used drinks can.
An ominous sign announced our arrival to the blast zone, 12miles from the mountain. The surroundings got steadily more barren, twisted trunks jutting from the loose earth, slowly being reclaimed by new growth forest. We finally arrived at the visitor centre, just 5 miles from the gaping crater.
A Park Ranger met us and told us the story of the barren place we had found ourselves in. The eruption that had happened here was in fact triggered by a landslide of gigantic proportions. Like my mud volcano, the pressure had been building, until finally something snapped. What snapped was the entire north flank of the mountain. The whole side slid away and released the highly pressured and superheated gasses and material below. The mass of rock ploughed across the valley to where we were now stood. At this point it was carrying car sized boulders at 155mph and at a staggering 400celsius. This ‘scorch’ zone was stripped of everything down to the bedrock. Nothing survived here. Continuing on it’s journey, the turmoil rumbled over ridges and down valleys for a further 12 miles, flattening trees like matchsticks. Meanwhile to the west glacial melt water and displaced lakes had sent a torrent of hot acid mud down river to where our campsite was now sited.
In total the eruption caused over $2.8 billion in damage and took the lives of 57. An evacuation had taken place of the local communities and being a fairly remote area this could have been far worse but even so these sobering statistics still brought a new perspective to the battered landscape.
34 years later wildlife has slowly begun to move into the blast zone, bringing life back to the scorched hillsides. On cue to prove this point a small chipmunk popped his head up and stood proudly on the wall in front of us.
Back at the campsite that evening I had chance to reflect on the day’s adventure up the volcano, having seen first hand the immense power of the not so solid earth we stand on and having a new found respect for the forces that shape the earth below our feet.
Now what was that rustling outside the tent….. a bear?....... an evil banana slug?
......or just a racoon?