National Geographic : 2000 May
for telling stories eloquent with adjectival profanity. In a troopship in World War I he'd survived a torpedoing off Ireland. He was an aircraft mechanic in France, a bootlegger in California during Prohibition. In the weeks before May 18 I'd come to know Harry, and on my recent return trip I looked up his brother-in-law, D. O. (Buck) Whiting of Kelso. "Edna used to tell Harry he'd become a legend, and Harry would make a joke of it," Buck told me. "Edna died in 1978, and Harry lost interest in keeping the lodge going. Then the first eruptions started in March 1980, and when he said he wouldn't leave his lodge, everybody wanted to talk to him. He enjoyed all the interviews and cameras and helicopters coming to his door. After he died, people wrote songs and books about him, and a Hollywood crew came in and put him in a movie. And we remembered what Edna said." As time passes, others who died keeping vig il on the volcano are becoming part of legend. At an observation site eight miles northwest of the crater, Reid Blackburn, a 27-year-old photographer from the Vancouver Columbian, fired off four frames as the destructive wall of gases and ash rushed toward him. Heat ruined his film, and the car in which he took shelter could not save him. His wife, Fay, takes pride in a scholarship fund in Reid's name, which by now has helped 18 aspiring photojournalists. David Johnston was manning a U.S. Geo logical Survey (USGS) post five miles north west of the mountain. Though only 30 years old, he had become expert on explosive com posite volcanoes, particularly those in Alaska. David knew the risks, but he was excited at the chance to learn more. It was he who sent the Spilling from the crater, Loowit Falls reshapes the north slope of the volcano. "You'd expect a hardrock canyon to be thousands, even hundreds of thousands of years old," says Peter Frenzen, monument scientist. "But this was cut in less than a decade." Fresh snow melt ing in the crater quenches his thirst; accumulations in an area of constant shade are gradually forming a glacier. radio message to the world at 8:32 on Sunday morning, May 18: "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it." Trailer, vehicle, and gear were blasted off the ridge, and David was never found. He is remembered in the naming of the ridgetop and the visitor center, located close to where he was when he sent that last message, as well as the David A. Johnston Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington. ~ WENT TO THE OBSERVATORY to talk to Dan Miller, a geologist who had been scheduled to join his friend David John ston at the monitoring site that fateful morning. Providentially, the need to repair a camera delayed Dan's arrival just long enough to spare his life. Now he heads the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP), a small team of experts on volcanoes who are ready to leave on a few hours' notice for any place in the world threatened by an imminent eruption. I shared memories with Dan of 1980's unsettling events, and he told me about his work. "Mount St. Helens has taught us a lot about how composite volcanoes work," Dan said. "These lessons enable us to forecast the likelihood of an eruption with increasing accuracy. Once our monitoring instruments are installed, we get instant readings by radio. Computers correlate our field data on earth quakes, deformation, and gas emissions. They can indicate magma moving upward inside the mountain. When our graphs of these compo nents produce three upward curves that more or less coincide, the alarm bells go off. With VDAP we can share our experience here with threatened areas, saving lives and property."