Apr 15, 2016

In the Foothills of Mt. Doom

Last week I met some guy on a dog walk who casually mentioned the date of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in conversation: May 18, 1980. A few days later I was driving down I-5 to Portland, on the way to look at a sailboat for sale in Oregon City. My companion was a used boat expert,  I invited him along to take a look at the Craigslist find. He was living in Portland in 1980, and vividly recalled the eruption and how he and his family were turned back at the Toutle River as they were driving home, and had to stay overnight in a hotel, the Riverview Inn, I believe.

The boat we went to check out was photographed in front of Mt. Hood, another dangerous volcanic cinder cone. This one is fairly infamous in popular fiction: Mt. Hood lodge played the Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

After 4 hours of driving we arrived in Oregon City. And then a few miles due east to rolling countryside and the trailer home of the seller. He was an elderly gent who walked with a cane, who’s most remarkable physical feature was his flowing white beard. This began to make a bit of sense when he told us that we were surrounded by Christmas tree farms. The hillsides were covered with orderly rows of little Noble and Douglas Firs.

The boat was sitting in a backyard of several acres, next to the pen full of llamas and alpacas. The owner mentioned how once llamas sold for $60,000 apiece, but now you can hardly give them away.

He also talked about the helicopter harvesting of the Xmas trees. How every year the helicopters would hover overhead all day long, while “little Mexicans” would lasso the bundles of trees and the helicopters would pick them up and drop them into trucks, and then on to global destinations - this was a big business. “Little” as in little elves.

The boat we came to inspect was a wreck. Hardly the “good condition” claimed on Craigslist. It was built in 1980, same year as the eruption. The gelcoat was a faded golden yellow, and it’s name was “Stardust”. A good name for Santa’s sleigh.

It was as if there was a terrible curse on the place. Santa’s castle was reduced to a double wide, his sleigh had been transformed into a derelict sailboat, his reindeer into llamas and his elves into migrant workers.

Today, I’m finishing The Book of the Dead, by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, and the climax is set on the slopes of the volcano of Stromboli off the coast of Sicily. The monks called it the Doorway to Hell, in a rather literal translation of Sheol.

How Dianetics. And Lord of the Rings. And Star Wars.

This is the 777th post.
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