Mountaintop Removal

First it got flattened, then they put buildings in the way.

I thought about li’l Bobby Jindal, potential VP pick, this morning when I realized that it was 32 years ago today that I personally benefited from “something called volcano monitoring.”  For a year or more, Mt. St. Helens, our other mountain, had been bloated and gassy, lately alarmingly so.  Armies of those big gummint whatchamacallits Jindal so blithely dismissed had been predicting, with remarkable accuracy, each eruption, including the big one.  The most endangered areas were evacuated in time, and given the size of the eruption, few lives were lost.  As you can imagine, no Job Creators lifted any of their French-cuffed and manicured fingers to help.

I was working Sunday brunch at the cocktailhag riverfront restaurant that day, and my section was the fanciest one, the bubble, which was in a sunken corner of the dining room with view on two sides and one of those gaudy 1970′s atrium roofs, on the part of the ceiling that wasn’t mirrored.  It was a typical May weekend in Portland; cold, rainy, and windy at times, and though most people knew the mountain had just erupted, nobody had seen it for months so it seemed further away than it turned out to be.

Then the bubble went dark.  I suppose I noticed it when I glanced up and saw the light strips in the windowpanes glowing like they did at night, but because we were very busy I dismissed it as an acid flashback and kept clearing plates and pouring coffee and champagne.  Soon the customers started to comment, since they were the ones with the spare time to look out the windows, and I finally looked outside. The rain had steadily diminished to barely a mist and everything was covered in gray; the cars in the parking lot, the trees, the pavement, even the red roof of the train station across the river, covered in an ash that even on a dark day had an otherworldly silver blue color.

The delicious strangeness and apparent lack of serious damage of the whole thing would begin to collide with reality before brunch was quite over. The T-Bird, as we affectionately called it, wasn’t just a restaurant; it was a full service hotel, bar, and coffee shop, with the armies of employees that entails, and many reinforcements had been brought in for Disaster Readiness.  By the time I bothered to look outside, there were already a couple of guys hosing off cars, which seemed wise enough to me, given that the customers were getting even drunker than usual and would undoubtedly need see-through windshields to get home, at least.

The power-washers on the roof, however, turned out to be a less inspired idea.  Just about the time everyone had gotten used to the darkened bubble, and turned their attention to more important things like Bloody Marys and Ramos Fizzes, the water started pouring in.  Unlike in your typical monsoon, when a little trickle might slither down a windowpane and leave me idly wondering whether the disco lights might short out, this was steady and increasing streams.  At my best table, a woman put up her umbrella.

By the time my shift ended, the rain had returned and as I walked home, the color had come back, at least to the tops of things.  The streets and sidewalks were still a weird gray, coated in a substance halfway between flour and sand to depths of an eighth inch or more.  That evening we would hear that ash and debris flows had knocked out Interstate 5 where it crossed the Toutle River, diverting traffic to back roads between Portland and Seattle for months.

In Portland, the gutters that weren’t ripped off by the weight of the ash sprouted greenery that summer; as the subsequent recovery of the eruption area has shown, volcanic ash is a surprisingly effective growing medium.   The forests that were thought to be wiped out for a century are rapidly regenerating, just as the weeds did all those years ago, when I jokingly called them “roof gardens.”  At my house, unfortunately, no such laxity was tolerated, and especially after school ended and my mom was home full time, I was put to work scooping and rinsing away the ubiquitous sludge to avoid the potentially costly basement floodings and gutter collapses that were depressingly common the next year.

Today, Mt. St. Helens, which was never as glamorously pointy as the closer Mt. Hood, has lost more than a thousand feet of height and more closely resembles a celestial helipad than the scoop of ice cream my Grandfather likened it to, but it does serve as a tiresomely redundant reminder that clueless righties like Jindal, and for that matter, Romney, couldn’t find their asses with both hands and a flashlight.  If the government doesn’t bother with “volcano monitoring,” who will?  We have volcanoes, you know.


  1. Annice says:

    They will hire a private sector to do it….. just like everything else….

  2. cocktailhag says:

    I’m sure Halliburton will be ready and willing.

  3. michlib says:

    And just like SCJ Sam Alito, neo-conpoops are blissfully ignorant of the concept of social insurance – or worse, do know, and want to stomp out any that they see, thereby accelerating the risk shift from us ( collectively ) to you ( individually ). To the righties, all states or individuals should have sufficient reserves – ON HAND – to pay for any of the calamaties that may present themselves. Easy for the .001% to pull off. The rest of us – not so kuch.

    • cocktailhag says:

      The good news is that the natural disasters of late seem to be concentrated in teabagger territory, many of them helped along by that ol’ climate that isn’t really changing. Of course, the weeks-later volcano that went off and made Jindal look like an ass occurred in Sarah Palin’s Alaska, and was God’s own doing.
      I’m generally an atheist, but…..

      • michlib says:

        It just gets tiresome hearing these idiots blather ad nauseum how the victims of happenstance are to blame, but when it happens in Wasilla, or Branson, or Orlando – you know – the ” real ‘ ‘merica, well now it’s different, and they need our help. Gubmint help fo me, not for thee.

      • michlib says:

        It’s not so much that they read Atlas Shrugged. It’s that they stopped reading afterwards.

    • cocktailhag says:

      For the same reason bank robbers rob banks; it’s where the money is. They’ll spend pennies on the dollar for all they plan to take in tax breaks, deregulation, etc.

  4. Ché Pasa says:

    Hard to believe it’s been that long since the Mt. St. Helens Thing; why it seems like it was Only Yesterday. (Of course, to me the Kennedy Assassination — the first one; well, the second one, too — still seems like Only Yesterday).

    Thankfully there was plenty of warning for the Eruption, and you could take it all in with Hag-like aplomb.

    The notion that we the People don’t need warning and such — unless we can pay for it through private channels — has been, erm, tested repeatedly lately and been found somewhat wanting I’d say.

    Of course as for the warnings unheeded… sometimes many of us feel a bit like Cassandra, I guess.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Yeah, I remember the hermit up at Spirit Lake that got vaporized; although I don’t think Lars Larson was on the radio then, he must have been listening to something comparable.
      Time flies whether you’re having fun or not….

  5. loretta says:

    O/T but I can’t seem to find your articles over at Firedoglake. Could you give me a link? TIA