Saturday, August 11, 2007

Washington Road Trip - Day 2

Awaken and flip on the tube. More breaching White Sharks. Shark Week needs to diversify.
Over breakfast at the local greasy spoon the consequences of having absolutely no trip plan begin to sink in. San Francisco is too far, a run along the border too time consuming. Mount St. Helens smiles up from the map.
I have vivid memories of running around in the falling ash of the eruption as a child. Even all the way up in Vancouver, it came down like grey snow. That same ash would reach the east coast three days later, and eventually circle the globe. A big eruption, in other words.

The initial blast released 24 megatons of thermal energy, a concussive wave that flattened 230 square miles of Washington state. The forest literally just lay down. The landslide of released material that immediately followed was the largest in human history, moving at speeds of up to 150 mph at temperatures up to 660 degrees F. The secondary flows that continued to pour out of the mountain hours later were hotter still; 1,300 degrees F (hot enough to sterilize the soil for 6 square miles.)
In the end: 57 people, 7,000 big game animals and12 million salmon killed, massive infra-structural damage to local communities, and a mountain 1,314 feet shorter than it used to be. Worth a look.
The drive up to the monument is beautiful, but something about the Weyerhaeuser forests that line each side of the road rubs me the wrong way. It takes me a while to hit on what it is. The trees are all perfectly symmetrical, like computer renderings of trees, or better yet, lego trees. See for yourself:

After staring at them for an hour or so, I begin to suspect that I've become trapped in some kind of virtual earth computer program. A quick stop at a Weyerhaeuser 'learning center' doesn't do much to alleviate the feeling. CB tries his hand at a virtual forest management test (a little screen with a forest that you plant and then harvest.) "Harvest Now?" the screen asks. "No" says CB again and again, eventually growing an enormous jungle, losing millions of virtual dollars and dragging his virtual logging community into financial ruin.
On the way out there are tiny little Weyerhaeuser pamphlets available, printed on earthy brown paper and filled with delicate zen ink drawings of birds, trees and chainsaws.
The road to the mountain eventually dead ends at an enormous parking lot, one end of which gives onto a concrete path which leads up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, a huge viewing platform swarming with tourists. And looming beyond that, looking placid and spent in the summer air, is the mountain itself.

An extremely high-energy guide gives a lengthy talk with the aid of large laminated photographs he has brought from the observatory on a wheeled cart. Me and CB knock heads jockying for position to photograph the photographs.
In the parking lot I purchase a hot dog from a vendor, then watch it grow cold as CB photographs it in my hand, trying out various angles one after the other, saying "hold still, hold still." More than a few curious looks are thrown our way.
Back down the road and on to some bookstores. Coffee is drunk repeatedly over the course of the day, leading to long, circular discussions about everything imaginable, mostly art and girls.
Into Portland to check out Powell's Books, easily the largest bookstore I've ever seen. Unbelievable selection of art books. After much deliberation I decide on a single purchase (all my budget can allow.) CB vacuums up a floor or two. Then its on to another Motel 6 for the night.