We heard it go, even from 250 miles away..May 18th, 1980

Nature can definitely be cruel. When Mt. St. Helens, (“Louwala-Clough” “smoking mountain” to the indigenous people) erupted on May 18th, 1980, seconds after 8:32 a.m. PDT, apparently in response to a magnitude 5.1 earthquake about 1 mile beneath the volcano’s bulged, unstable north flank, 57 people, nearly 7,000 big game animals (deer, elk and bear) as well as all birds, most small mammals, and 12 million Chinook and Coho salmon fingerlings were subject to the destructive potential of a volcano. As a kid, with my whole family, from approx. 250 miles east of St. Helen’s, heard the initial blast, later saw the ash plume, and experienced the ash layer later. I really think everyone who was living in Oregon or Washington at the time can recall exactly the moment it happened, where & what they were doing. It had been an everyday ‘thing’ for residents for quite a while. It’s not everyday your neighbor state to the north has daily volcano updates & warnings. But that’s just what it was, & everyday we wondered ‘is it going to blow today?’, or at least I did as a kid.Screenshot_8  (photo is visible imagery of the Pacific Northwest showing the massive eruption of Mount St. Helens, center of yellow dot was home….)

The mountain, part of the North American segment of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, was dormant from its last period of activity in the 1840s & ’50s until March 15, 1980. On March 27, after thunderous explosion, Mount St. Helens began to spew ash and steam, the first significant eruption in the
conterminous United States since that of Lassen Peak, California.
Visible eruptive activity ceased temporarily in late April and early May. Small steam-blast eruptions resumed on May 7, continued intermittently for the next several days, and ceased again by May 16. The eventual collapse of the bulge on the north flank triggered the chain of catastrophic events that took place in May of 1980. The blast was widely heard hundreds of miles away in the Pacific Northwest, including parts of British Columbia, Montana, Idaho, and northern California. Yet, in many areas closer to Mount St. Helens–for example, Portland, Oregon, only 50 miles away–the blast was not heard*. I remember hearing an ominous ‘boom’ (for lack of a better term) while doing the dreaded weekend chores in the gardens with my folks, and they both remarking ‘..think it was St. Helens?’, in an off-hand sort of way. And since at that time my parents were the ‘cruel forward thinkers’ they were, we only had access to the TV for a couple of hours after dinner, so visual updates were out of the question. But Mom, the cool cat she is, always had a radio playing while we worked in the garden, and soon the news of the eruption was relayed to us. Within the hour, above an area of the property we called ‘the bluff’, the plume was visible, and I, at 14, was blown away. A volcano had just erupted! Not on some island in the tropic, or in a nation an ocean away, but a mountain I had seen with my own eyes, not in a picture, but in real life, about 250 miles from where I lived! The only thing that tempered my excitement was the knowledge that there were people on the mountain and near the blast that would not survive, some out of their devotion to study first hand the happenings, others by accident or failure to heed warnings, and of course Mr. Harry R. Truman, living near the mountain for 54 years and deciding not to evacuate before the impending eruption even after repeated pleas by local authorities, telling people: “If the mountain goes, I’m going with it.” He was the owner/caretaker of Mount St.Helens Lodge at the south end of Spirit Lake, in the danger zone at the time of the eruption. Of the 57 victims, only 4 were known to be inside the restricted areas previously set up by federal & local government.20100331-145003-pic-661992092_t725

The first visuals of the area where incredibly scary, and they only got scarier with time. The ash column (eventually 9 miles high), pyroclastic flows, steam-blast explosions, mudflows, and just the level of destruction left a lasting impression on me, and always will. But, the planet we live on has amazing recuperative abilities equal in scope, though not as immediate. Michael Casey said in a piece* for CBS News: “Vast areas once dominated by towering trees were now open to sunlight, giving a whole host of plants, insects, birds and small mammals a chance set up shop.” The big animals have started to return: “Elk, too, arrived to take advantage in [the] explosion of new plant growth, increasing to record numbers.” Casey interviewed Charlie Crisafulli, an ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station, for the article, and his last words are good words, considering what happened 35 years ago: “Restoration efforts weren’t really need[ed] because life is enormously competent and well practiced at reinsinuating itself into disturbed areas,” he said. “Our expectation should be that life is incredibly tenacious.”

*http://mountsthelens.com/index.html ~ http://www.cbsnews.com/news/35-years-after-mt-st-helens-eruption-nature-returns/

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