Archive for May, 2011

Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980I may not be able to remember my own mother’s birthday, but I cannot forget that today is the 31st anniversary of Mount St. Helens’ greatest eruption in recorded history, May 18, 1980. Back then I was just a kid in Lacey, Washington, living through a remarkable spring of small but continual volcanic activity. Minor earthquakes reminded us every month that something really big was on its way. Small eruptions whetted our appetite. And every few days we would trek up to the top of the neighborhood hill to stare at the clouds. Every cloud we saw was from a volcanic eruption. We knew it.

Then things got serious. My oldest brother returned from an aborted fishing trip in a station wagon that was completely covered with three inches of volcanic ash. We scooped the ash into plastic bags to save for the future, and waited for an ash cloud to float our way.

We were ready when it came with our surgical masks and an eager sense of doom. For about 45 minutes the bright afternoon sky turned dark gray and ash flitted down like prehistoric dandruff. More bags emerged to gather evidence.

Then it was gone. Bright skies returned and we were left with our dingy masks and a memory of the day world history had graced us with recognition. It did not seem like much, but at least we had our bags of ash. By the end of 1980, we had hundreds of them.

But there was a glut on the market. Anyone driving from Seattle to Portland  in the 1980s passed thousands of tons of volcanic ash piled up along the rivers.

Many years later I went looking for the bags of ash, but they were all gone. I accused my mother of discarding them. She denied it. Maybe I should have remembered her birthday.


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