Monday, May 18, 2015
Remembering the Eruption of Mt St Helens
When we lived on the East Coast, my best "cocktail story" was always my personal account of watching Mt St Helens blow its top as a young child. East Coasters, most of whom have never had active volcanos in their backyard, were fascinated by the details and aftermath of the eruption.
My mom, my dad, my younger siblings and I watched the mountain erupt from the field at Cherry Park Elementary, just a block from our home. I was four years old at the time. And while I had no idea how very rare it was to personally witness the self-destruction of a mountain, I could feel the significance and intensity of the day in my little bones.
We swam in gray, dirty ash for days….weeks maybe. We had to wear surgeon's masks when we went outside. It was dark, gloomy, end-of-world-like outside. There were huge piles of ash in our backyard for years following the eruption. I buried my first pet, Beaver the Hamster, in a tomb of aluminum foil and volcanic ash. My dad raked the ash into our backyard garden and the vegetables seemed to super-size themselves. My mom scolded us for tracking it into the house.
It was a defining event in an otherwise typical childhood.
Throughout the reminder of my childhood, St Helens loomed in our periphery to the north. The mountain, once a perfectly swirled soft-serve top, was now flat. As if Mother Nature herself had taken a hearty lick off of that ice cream cone. I worried constantly about the mountain that stood proud and majestic and so so very large just east of us. It took less than an hour to reach the timberline of Mt Hood from our house. What would happen if Hood blew? Would our backyard be full of hot lava instead of ash?
The summer after my freshman year in college, I climbed Mt St Helens with my dad, my best friend Angie, and a few of my dad's coworkers. It was a full day's climb. When we reached the top, we sat and ate a sack lunch at the rim of the crater and then peered into the deep abyss of steam and doom a few times before heading back down the mountain. Terrifying. And wonderful.
This past Spring Break, I headed back to explore the mountain with my kids. I had not been in the area since that climb. Thirty-five years of post-eruption regrowth and renewal had made the mountainside glorious to behold. We explored Ape Caves. We hiked Lava Canyon with good friends while a feather-light snow fell. At night, in our cozy little yurt at Seaquest State Park, I tried to explain the impact of the eruption on my young life to my kids. And I suddenly had a vision of myself at a very advanced age. My great grandchildren coming to my nursing home to interview me for their school reports, unable to comprehend that their great grandmother could have possibly witnessed an event from so long ago, the eruption of Mt St Helens in May of 1980.
Posted by Jen at 9:57 PM