Friday, May 18, 2007

Reminiscence of Mount St. Helens

I'll never forget May 18th, 1980. The day Mt. St. Helens blew her top.

I was living in Spokane, WA. Some friends and I had been visiting Idaho (about 30 miles away). We were driving back to Spokane. There's a spot where you get to the top of a mountain pass and start heading down into the valley.

We saw a huge, very dark cloud filling the sky.

"Looks like a thunderstorm."

"I bet it's Mount St. Helens."

"That can't be. It's more than 300 miles away. The eruption was only two hours ago."

[ Please see ]

We drove into the city. By now the ash was falling from the sky. We figured we needed to park soon so we didn't suck ash into the engine.

At a friend's house near Gonzaga University we ran from the car to the house. In that short time, our hair got enough ash to feel like we'd been rolling on the beach. The ash was unbelievably fine. Like baking flour.

Once the cloud was over the city, it quickly became darker. Darker than night: there were no stars. The street lights came on the the birds went to sleep.

Watching the ash fall was almost like watching it snow. Something (silica? glass?) in the ash sparkled in the street lights.

Darkness at noon.

When the sun came out again, I walked home. Almost no one was out.

The next day, I got up to walk to work. There was about 3/4 inch of fine ash on the sidewalks, and the streets, and the trees, and the houses. Everything was covered. Totally grey.

No cars. No tire tracks on the streets. I only passed two people in five blocks.

Every now and then I'd spot a trail where a bug flapped its wings but couldn't fly, so it made a winding, irregular trail in the ash.

So what happens if all the bugs die? After all, the ash was heavier and deeper as you went west. Only 100 west it was like beach sand instead of flour. And if all the bugs die, what happens to the birds?

I couldn't decide whether it was like walking on the moon or the aftermath of a nuclear disaster.

The event was so enormous that I couldn't comprehend what I was in the middle of.

Through it all, I never took a picture. What an idiotic thing. I didn't take a single photograph.

But I'll never forget the pictures in my mind. The enormous cloud. Ash falling like snow. The bleak, abandoned landscape.

I don't know that there's anything to be learned from such an adventure. Some things just touch you and stay with you forever. I still have a little jar of ash. Once a year I take it out and remember that day.

If you have to live through a natural disaster, make it one where few lives are lost and all the memories fill you with awe.


  1. Anonymous9:19 AM

    I didn't know you lived in Spokane. I also have vivid memories from the ashy day. I was in the Seattle area and I remember all of the media focus on the guy that wouldn't evacuate from his home on the mountain. Months later while at a horse camp in Eastern WA, I remember we had to still wear masks as there were still problems with ash.

  2. Karl,

    that was an interesting read. I live on east coast but mt. st. helens is just interesting. thanks



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