Sunday, March 29, 2009

Racing a Shock Wave

SeaTac is a warren of refugees right now - people camped out everywhere going on 72 hours of hoping for a seat on a plane that can make it in between volcanic explosions. So that my houseguest made it in on his first flight was astounding, nigh miraculous. More so, because the volcano exploded twice more while he was en route - the pilot must have put some serious speed on that bird, because he arrived on the wings of an ash cloud.

As I drove under blue sky to the airport, I saw a wide bank of cloud across the inlet, hiding Mt. Susitna and the Alaska Range - only the faintest of brown tinges revealed it to be an ash cloud rolling north to blanket Skwentna and the Yentna. I pulled up to the north terminal, and found it amusing that we recognized each other instantly despite the jarring unfamiliarity of having never met in person before, and quickly tossed his bags in the back.

On the way home, the high shining snowy peaks of the Chugach range shone in sunlight - except across the inlet, where they were strangely blurred. As we got closer and closer to home, the sky to the south grew yellow-brown, the mountains hidden behind a rolling wave of volcanic ash 41,000 feet high, and the still air started to move, snow streaming away north and trees bending as the shock wave from the 3:30 explosion reached us.

As I turned down my street, I saw the wall of dust at the end, having crossed the sea, now climbing up on the land and sweeping toward me - and gritting my teeth and apologizing to my poor car, I drove headlong into it. Fortunately for the poor engine, we only had a few blocks more to go - as I parked it, I could already see tiny particles of ash falling like dribbled sand onto my windshield, running down the angled glass. The air smelled of sulfur and rock, and things that set my hair on end, sharp and dry and wrong, and I hustled my poor exhausted guest inside, finding myself instinctively locking the door behind me as if to shut out things bigger and worse outside.

This morning dawned gently gray, with leaden snow-laden clouds reflected by the dirty snow beneath and threatening to melt on the way down and drizzle running water on ice. This is not the beautiful time of the year, but it certainly is interesting! And to all you praying and hoping God speed my houseguests travels - I don't doubt your prayers helped. He really shouldn't have made it!

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