Last Monday, as Paul and I were driving through the Cascades and heading towards Seattle, we noticed a large, ominous mountain looming in the distance.
“Is that Mount Ranier?” I asked. “Wow.”
“It looks like a volcano,” Paul said.
“You know, I bet it is a volcano.”
We turned and looked at each other, our eyes widening. Then Paul grabbed his smart phone and flung it towards me. “Quick. Google Mount Ranier.”
“Oh dear,” I said, scrolling down the wikipedia page.
“What? What does it say?”
“Mount Ranier is a massive stratovolcano, located 54 miles southeast of Seattle,” I read. “It’s 14,411 feet high and considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world…Because of its large amount of glacial ice, Mt. Ranier could potentially produce massive lahars that would threaten the whole Puyallup River valley.” I glanced at Paul, whose knuckles were turning white on the steering wheel. “I wonder what lahars are. Should I look that up?”
“Keep reading,” he told me.
I ignored him and googled lahars, which turned out to be scary volcanic mud flows. Then I went back to the Mt. Ranier article and read out loud about the recent eruption in the mid-1800’s, and the volcanic action that had been noted as late as 1894.
“Oh my god,” Paul said, laughing crazily. “Why are we moving here?”
“I can’t believe we didn’t realize it was a volcano,” I said. “How did we not realize that?” I went back to the smart phone. “Although it’s an active volcano, as of 2010 there was no evidence of an imminent eruption.” I turned to Paul. “So that’s good. We’ll probably be fine.”
“Type in Mt. Ranier, Seattle, danger,” Paul instructed.
“OK,” I said, as we drove closer to Seattle, and, possibly, to our doom.
Paul and I visited Seattle in May to look for an apartment and never once noticed Mt. Ranier’s eerily close presence. I realize now that was because the volcano is only visible in clear weather, and Seattle is usually swathed in a blanket of gray clouds.
In the week and a half since Paul and I have been living here, however, the weather has been sunny and cloudless, giving us a clear view of the mountain, which looms large behind the skyscrapers of downtown. We’ve taken to calling it “the volcano.”
“Where my volcano at?” I asked the other day as Paul and I stepped outside. “I need to keep my eye on him.”
“I think he’s a nice volcano,” Paul said.
“If we keep him happy,” I countered. Paul and I had already discussed creating a volcano shrine for the apartment and making weekly sacrifices in order to keep us safe during the time we live in Seattle.
“Hellooo, Cano,” I said in a sing-song voice, using one of my new pet names for Mt. Ranier, “where are you?” We walked up hill from our apartment building, and suddenly there he was, a ghostly behemoth, all blue and snowy white in the distance.
“There he is,” I said. “He’s always watching us.”
Before we moved to Seattle, I studied google maps, noting happily that the library and several yoga studios were a mile or less away from our apartment. What I didn’t realize is that they are a mile away up insanely steep hills I’m going to have to get used to climbing. Before we moved to Seattle, I had of course read about the rain, but I didn’t realize how ironically dry the air is and how I need to use massive amounts of lotion to keep my skin from peeling.
I knew about Mt. Ranier (that it was a tall mountain), but I didn’t know all his secrets.
Reading and researching about a place can only tell you so much. After a point, experience is the only way to really understand. That’s what makes moving so scary and fun. There are always going to be surprises. Like volcanoes that emerge from a sea of clouds, or a shiny blue-black bird, the likes of which you’ve never seen, who perches each morning in the tree outside your window, when you’re trying to get back into the habit of writing again.
I think, despite everything, we’re going to like it here.
This is what you get when you google “Mt. Ranier, Seattle, danger”: