Most people call it Winter. Here in Walla Walla, we call it The Fog. We live in a topographic bowl, huddled against the Blue Mountains to the east, the Horse Heaven Hills to the south, and the Palouse to the north. As with most things that are over-protected, this works to our disadvantage. Cold air sinks. It ponds in Walla Walla, where there is really no exit from the basin. Meteorologists speak of The Inversion. We have other names.
This morning was the first time this fall that I’ve found The Fog lurking outside my bedroom window. Our fog comes not on little cat feet, but more like a cat burglar, testing its entry points silently at night, checking to see if there are any valuables in sight, and robbing you of your morning sun. The Fog does provide some advantages. You focus on things that are close. You see details because you really can’t see much else. You hear sounds because they offer the best access to the world beyond about 100 feet. It is an entirely different sort of existence, and one that is valid and valuable in its own right.
Ultimately, today, it will clear. Already the sun has won the battle. If I look straight up, there is blue sky. To the east, a welcome golden glow warms the sky. These are visions I’ll have to remember as the fog thickens in the coming months. Today, it’s like a Fog Drill. Remember to look up. Remember the sun is there. Remember that some day, despite congressional inaction, April will come, which here is not the cruelest month, but the Month When The Sun Returns.
It’s a good life-lesson for all those days when I feel slightly overwhelmed, when the responsibilities, memories, and fears that rim my life trap too much stagnant air, too many heavy emotions. Look up. April will come.
Of course, there’s another, more immediate, way out of the fog. This is why so many people in Walla Walla have taken up skiing. Mountaintops rise from The Fog like little islands of normality in a sea of gloom. For the price of a two hour drive, and the inconvenience of applying chains to your car, you can escape the chilly oppressive grayness and bask in a carefree, sunny landscape where glistening white offers respite from murky gray. Up is good. Of course, sooner of later, you’ve got to come down.
So, we have to remember that The Season of Fog is just that, a season. The sun will come back. By July, we’ll be wishing for a little of fog’s humid coolness. But today, The Season of Fog has arrived. Here in Walla Walla, we are hoping it’s a short one.
In Walla Walla, it’s sprinkling just enough to make a horse’s back wet. The Federal Government shutdown has closed the areas I’d planned to take Snip on a long ride tomorrow, and the GSA photo contest just cratered because the new corporate sponsor closed its doors and laid off all its employees yesterday morning–of course with no prior notice to them. So it’s time for some cheery good news. And I have some!
First, gasoline prices are down.
Second, and even better, coffee prices have dropped, and with the best coffee crop on record, and the growing practice of shipping beans in great big containers, rather than teeny burlap sacks, the downward price spiral is likely to continue. (Perhaps some day, we will fill the supertankers with coffee beans rather than oil!)
But best of all, we don’t have to lie awake at night worrying about Yellowstone blowing up and burying Kansas beneath a gazillion feet of volcanic ash.
Now, maybe you have other things that keep you awake late into the night. But as a geologist, I know that Yellowstone supervolcano erupted 1.85 million, 1.2 million, and 640,000 years ago. Do the math. Any minute now, she could blow. (At least, with the National Parks closed now, there would be no tourist fatalities.) (Perhaps this is what the Republicans were thinking of when they closed down the government. That, and ditching the IRS, but that’s another story.)
So, imagine my relief to learn this morning that New Research (Yes, funded by the now-comatose National Science Foundation) reveals that Yellowstone is unlikely to erupt anytime soon.
According to a new analyses by the Univ of Oregon’s Ilya N. Bindeman, and grad student Dana Drew, Yellowstone is reaching, or has reached, the end of its eruptive cycle. (The story is complicated, involving hafnium isotopes and tiny, recycled zircons, and uses Picabo volcano, Yellowstone’s 10.6 – 6 million year-old, older sibling,buried beneath basalts near Twin Falls–as a model.) The bottom line: these huge supervolcanoes generate their lavas and explosive ash by melting the lower crust. Yellowstone has pretty much used up all this material, and it is unlikely to erupt again.
What Bindeman and colleagues DO suggest is that the Yellowstone hotspot will likely next erupt in Montana. But not for a million years or so. We can all rest easily now. (Unless you live in Butte.)
And come to think of it, since Yellowstone is reaching the end of its useful cycle, perhaps the National Park Service should sell the property while its real estate values are high. One more way to cut the deficit. We have a million years to reinvest in the next Yellowstone National Park.