During a late May (2018) trip to Tacoma, Washington, Mt. Rainier kept popping into view. Wherever it loomed into sight, all I could do was stare at it, thinking, “That’s a live volcano.” (Brain processing) A LIVE VOLCANO! The thought of living in the shadow, no matter how gobsmackingly beautiful, of an active stratovolacano gives me the fantods.
Me: How do you do it?
Everyone Living in Tamcoa: Do what?
Me: Live in the shadow of an active volcano? Don’t you think about lava and spewing and stuff?
Everyone Living in Tacoma: What? Oh, Mt. Rainier? Isn’t she pretty today?
Growing up and living most of my life in Central Texas, I’m used to flash floods. The middle of Texas is basically just one big alluvial plain, that funnels torrents of water into gullies, gulches, small creeks, bigger creeks, rivers, out of rivers, on down into the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. The Memorial Day Flood of 1981 devastated Austin, the capital city. I remember seeing pianos from Strait Music Co. along with several vehicles floating down the river. Whole Foods had a single store at that time. Employees and customers mucked out the interior. The sign out front said, “Whole Floods thanks you.” People lost their homes in that flood, their property. Their lives.
Living in Tacoma, however, means having to think about lahars. “Hmmm,” you think to yourself. “If I were a high density mish-mash of pumice, ash, and hot volcanic gas melting snow and glacier ice, while swamping around with some lava blocks traveling at up to 80 MPH, where would I go?”
Fortunately, the Dystopian State Brewery at 611 S. Baker Street offers a place, if not of refuge from the lava, at least some place to contemplate it all over a glass of Thought Police IPA.
The U.S. Geological survey rates Mt. Rainier’s “threat level” as “very high,” due more to lahars than to a pyroclastic flow. Still, a very high threat level is, well, very high. And scary. And yet we seem to do just fine living in the shadow of an active volcano or in the pathway of massive floods, trusting to fate, or maybe beer, that everything will be OK.