Monday, May 18, 2020

Forty years ago today

Mt St Helens blowing its top
I didn't live in Washington State when Mt St Helens erupted, forty years ago today. I was at work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, with no thought that I might move to the Pacific Northwest in my future. That was a long time ago, and even thinking about retirement wasn't in my mind. I hadn't even started skydiving (that happened in 1990, ten years later.) But I sure remember the event.

We didn't have instantaneous news at that time, before cell phones became smart. We did have little wireless phones back then, but we used them for (gasp!) telephone calls. Somehow, though, the word got around the office about the eruption, and at home that evening we all learned that it was not only a major eruption, but due to the largest landslide in recorded history, the mountain lost 1,300 feet of its elevation.
Within three minutes of the volcanic eruption, the lateral blast, which traveled at more than 300 miles per hour, scorched 230 square miles of forest. More than 900,000 tons of ash was cleaned up from areas around Washington. (CNN)
Today in a Zoom class sponsored by the Y, the instructors asked everyone where they were that day. Of course, if you were younger than forty, you could not answer the question, but since this was a senior class, it was fascinating to hear what people who lived around here remember from that time. I was one of the few non-natives, it turns out.

Yesterday I stayed up longer than usual to finish the latest book on my Kindle, Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic. I learned a ton from the book and went to the author's website (David Quammen) and found that he has written fifteen books so far and is still going strong. He discusses various diseases throughout time that have jumped from animal hosts into humans (called zoonosis). Although this one is scary, I was truly frightened to learn about some other viruses that didn't become pandemics, thank heavens, because they were way more lethal than this one. Quammen offers a few nuggets to help us understand how today's coronavirus pandemic came about (Orion Magazine).

  1. Prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best.
  2. Zoonotic spillovers will keep coming, as long as we drag wild animals to us and split them open.
  3. A tropical forest, with its vast diversity of visible creatures and microbes, is like a beautiful old barn: knock it over with a bulldozer and viruses will rise in the air like dust.
  4. Leave bats, in particular, the hell alone. 
On that cheery note, I have to say I was truly fascinated by the book and what I learned from it. I will continue to wash my hands and follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask for the foreseeable future. I hope you will, too.


  1. Love those nuggets - which all strike me as common sense. Except that it ISN'T common.
    Stay well, stay safe.

  2. That is some good insight. I have said, for some time now, that these viruses are stirred up by our going places where we shouldn't. Stay home. Stay close to home. Keep your germs close and don't spread them all over the globe.

  3. This planet of yours still holds many mysteries. I will choose not to worry about getting a virus from an animal. That will be someone else's job. I will work at not spreading the ones we already know about.
    My post today was about Mount St Helens. Many of us are remembering that event today.

  4. I think we'll learn a lot from this virus for years to come. Scientists seem to have been caught flat footed with this virus.

  5. I do remember that event, the deaths and the warnings not heeded. Also remember pictures of the ash coverings on homes.
    I checked my library and I am still #3 hold on that book. Looking forward to it.

  6. I chuckled at the comment about bats. It’s what I’ve been thinking for a while now.

  7. If you live in Hawaii, you are accustomed to volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, etc. It becomes almost mundane.

  8. There was ash all over, I recall the News showing cars and it was like a blizzard but with ash. Scary for sure.

    Yes we wear masks but hardly ever leave the safety of home. It is great the weather is better so we can go outside and not freeze:)

  9. I remember the pictures on the news. Ash falling down like snow and covering everything. Looked horrendous!

    Yes, I'm wearing a mask and hand washing and staying put. :)

  10. I've already figured I will continue many of the safety/health guidelines.

    Forty years ago I was at work. It was beautiful yet frightening to watch on news. The dust & smoke in Colorado from it I remember also! (And I have glass earrings of Mount St. HELEN'S

  11. I can’t believe it’s been 40 years! I just remember how unbelievable it all seemed. As or masks, yes, we’ll definitely be doing social distances and wearing masks. Hawaii has been quite compliant through it all and our numbers have been kept low which is reassuring. Once tourists come in, it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.


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