In our last edition of ITPOD live-blogging, we watched the north flank of Mount St. Helens bulge ominously. In this edition, we'll watch people try very hard to go about their business despite the signs that the volcano isn't going to go quietly back to sleep. We'll be covering Chapter 5: You're Perfectly Safe Here, Aren't You? and Chapter 6: Totally Clear, No Activity. These are the last chapters before the spectacular May 18, 1980 eruption.

Chapter 5: You're Perfectly Safe Here, Aren't You?

Note to writers: unless you're writing a book about advanced logging techniques, not many of your readers are going to be hip to loggers' lingo. The beginning of Chapter 5 starts with a flurry of logging jargon, and I have no idea what the terms mean. I can look them up, but it’s pulled me out of the story unnecessarily.

That said, there's good info. I've learned that the snow melted off early that year, allowing people to use logging roads to circumvent roadblocks and get much closer to the volcano than they should. Also, I have learned not to ask loggers to forecast the severity of an eruption. They live to minimize the danger.


Capitalism in a nutshell:

Camp Baker logging superintendent Dick Nesbit: We're gonna set up a piece of equipment that'll block the road for 2 weeks.

USGS volcanologist Harry Glicken: Dude, not cool. That volcano's erupting. You'll block my escape route!

Nesbitt: Whatevs. It’s our road and we gotta log.

He seriously put logs above a human life. They're right in the path of a potentially lethal volcano, and he's not only got people going into the danger zone, he's willing to prevent a USGS employee from escaping if it explodes. All for bloody logs. We need to develop an economic system that's more sensible.


So, as we ease into Labor Day weekend here in the United States†, it's appropriate that we've arrived at the part of ITPOD where we learn that, if it wasn't for unions, the hills around Mount St. Helens would have been crawling with loggers that Sunday, dozens or hundreds of whom would have died. But union loggers didn't work weekends. It was only the non-union ones who were caught in the blast, and thankfully there were not many of those.

If you have a union, give it an extra thank you.


USGS geologist Milinda Brugman surveys St.Helens on the 16th of May. The north flank is now growing by 4 1/3 feet per day. To put this in perspective, geologists think that things moving more than a couple of inches per year are sprinting. That's a terrifying rate of growth. If a volcano near you starts swelling at that rate, drop everything and bravely run away. Well, unless you're paid to keep an eye on it.


Oh, my gosh, poor Harry Truman. He finally wanted out if the volcano blew big. A helicopter pilot being paid by National Geographic promised to come fetch him and Columbian photographer Reid Blackburn. But the eruption killed them both almost instantly. So sad.


Dear politicians, thing more important than a luncheon, graduation ceremonies, and getting off at 5pm: signing the order that will extend the exclusion zones around a potentially lethal volcano that could explode at any second. Priorities. Get them straight.


I adore Daily News reporter Donna duBeth. She's got sense:

Fellow reporter Rick Seifert: Hey, Donna, you wanna go cover Spirit Lake tomorrow.?

DuBeth: LOL nope. The mountain's a monster.

Seifert: ZOMG don't exaggerate. Besides, nobody knows what'll happen.

DuBeth: It'll be terrible. BYEE!! *drives off to Seattle*


Dave Johnston told his occasional girlfriend Chris Carlson that, "If I die young, I hope it's in an eruption." In less than 48 hours, his hope will be fulfilled. The fact that this is the way he wanted to go if he didn't live to a ripe old age doesn't really make me feel better, but it’s something, I suppose. At least he was doing what he loved.


So on Saturday, May 17th, a bunch of property owners who'd been evacuated from the red zone around Mount St. Helens threw a fit until law enforcement relented and escorted them in to visit their property. The officials knew that the mountain could blow at any second. The civilians refused to believe it. They all yapped about their rights and they knew the mountain and wah.

So, look. I know it's frustrating when an emergency forces you out, and you're pretty much homeless, and can't earn your living like you did before. It's horrible. And it really sucks when it seems like it's for nothing. But folks, your life matters more. And while you may have the right to gamble with your own life, you don't have the right to risk others. So please, be a responsible adult, accept that you're not the expert on whether the landscape might murder you, and ride out the uncertainty. Without being a whiny jerk, preferably.

If you live within range of a volcano, you've got to accept the risks. Don't like it? Go live somewhere safer.


Dave Johnston and Harry Glicken's close-to-last conversation gives me chills. Dave told Harry he's arranged someone else to cover Coldwater II when he gets back from California. Harry jokes it's just as well, since no one would remember a lowly grad student, but if Johnston dies up here, they might just name the spot for him.

They did.


Johnston wouldn’t let colleagues stay the night (Saturday, May 17th) with him. He knew a landslide and blast could hit the ridge. He saved their lives.

Image shows a bearded Dave Johnston sitting in a camp chair with his feet up, smiling at the camera. A forest stands behind him.

David Johnston at Coldwater II on May 17th, 1980. Image courtesy Harry Glicken/USGS.

Chapter 6: Totally Clear, No Activity

Last chapter before the big ba-boom.

USGS geologist Robert Decker in an interview with the Honolulu Advertiser: The signs are unusual. I don’t usually gamble, but if I did, I'd bet on a small eruption.

Mount St. Helens: Snake eyes.


This is so disconcerting, watching people going about their morning (Sunday, May 18th), enjoying the clear weather and great views of the volcano, and while they're oblivious to the future, I know that in a few minutes, some will be dead, others fleeing for their lives, and the peaceful forest turned into a maelstrom of superheated gasses and roaring clouds of ash and rock.

I just want to stop them. Turn them back to safety. Orchestrate an unlikely series of events that will have them all out of danger. It is horrible to know what's coming and be helpless to stop it.


Everyone's in place. It is 8:32am. In about 30 seconds, the world will shatter.

This is always the hardest part. I don’t mind the geological drama - in fact, I love it. It's the human tragedies that are so hard to bear.

We'll start with the eruption next post. For now, a moment of silence.

Photo of my copy of Richard Waitt's In the Path of Destruction, which has a black and white photo of Mount St. Helens erupting.

If you're dying for all the details, and want to help support my blogging career, you can purchase your very own copy of In the Path of Destruction right here.


† Yep, this was originally written that long ago.