When I woke this morning I read a blog post from my friend Arlene in the Philippines reporting the beginning of a massive eruption of the Taal Volcano, about fifty miles from her home. The volcano had not erupted since 1977, and it is posing a danger not only to those living near by, but also to a wide area on all sides. The government has called it an Alert 4, which suggests an imminent explosion.
On May 18, 1980 we were heading home from church when the radio alerted me to an eruption of the usually serene Mt. St. Helens, 47 miles from our home. At least 130 years had passed since its previous major activity. This time many more people lived near the mountain and many towns were built along the river below. I drove to a ridge above our home and stood, with a crowd pictured above, to watch the astonishing sight. It turned out I could see it from the neighbor’s porch when we drove home even though we were at river level. Soon ash began to fall all around us. This heavy ash resembled tiny pebbles more than light ash. It filled gutters, covered cars, and made breathing challenging for a while.
In floods you can usually find higher ground. In blizzards you can usually hunker down even without power. Tornadoes find us in the cellar. Heavy winds keep us away from windows. But volcanoes don’t give you any options. You can’t know when and for how long the eruptions will last. Like earthquakes, they remind you that we are at nature’s mercy much more than we like to think.
My love goes out to Arlene, her family and her country. And, by the way, you will never intrigue me with the offer of “volcano tourism.” I’ve seen enough.