Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Where Was I?

Where were you when Mt. St. Helens blew? Today Oregonians are asking the question. The day is remembered by televisions specials and retold in the classrooms. Where were you?

We had only been in Oregon a couple of years. James was six and Stacey nine. Every day for the last few weeks before that event in 1980 we Oregonians were watching news reports. Washington’s lovely mountain stood regally overlooking Portland. It was part of our landscape. Now it was spitting plumes and rumbling beneath the earth.

I was at home the day it blew. Glued to the TV screen I waited along with everyone else for Mt. St. Helens to wake up from her ancient sleep. Of course, there were the non-believers, those who didn’t think the pyroclastic blast would reach them or didn’t believe the mountain would blow at all. We were believers. We had felt the earth quake and had seen the emissions increase from the mountain. What was not to believe?????

The enormous cloud billowed violently from the crater. Lightening caused by ash friction streaked throughout the cloud. Flashing light against the hellish grey. As soon as it blew, we hopped in the car and drove up into the hills overlooking the city. This cloud, this site that really can’t be explained, slammed the message right into our faces. The power of nature had awakened, and we could do nothing but watch. In those moments, I felt very small and vulnerable.

As we sat there, the kids played in the rocks where we sat pulling on grass and not aware of the surreal occurrence happening right before their eyes. I sat wondering if the ash would find its way to Portland, to our water source. We had masks at home. We knew that we were not to wipe ash from our cars since it would scratch the vehicles. We knew that you were to stay inside when the ash fell. We were as prepared as we could be.

The cloud did reach our home. I knew it was coming. We had been warned. I was at home alone with the kids. My husband was on business in California.

“I’m getting out of here as soon as possible. If the plane can land, I’ll be back in a couple of hours,” he told me as I stood on the back stoop wondering when it would arrive.

“I don’t think you will make it in. I can hear it coming,” I replied. I could hear the ash fall to the earth, sounding like rain making its way to our house. It covered the picnic table, the roof of the house, the street and filled the gutters.

Not long after the mountain had calmed from its violent journey, we took the kids and drove up the Toutle River following the road that lead to the mountain. The ash line on the trees along the river was at least fifteen feet above our heads. A house had been swept away. Only a half buried rug remained. Further up the road we saw a car packed to the roof with ash. A home was filled with ash above the windows. How amazing more had not vanished with the blast. Trees laid over stripped of limbs. All plants and wildlife vanished blackened from the burn of the angry volcano. We could not see Spirit Lake for the burned timber that covered it. It was a volcanic graveyard.

We are a part of history with our small jars of ash as souvenirs and old newspapers recalling the event saved let our children and grandchildren glimpse of what we experienced.

Where was I on May 18, 1980? I was watching God’s earth in her fury reminding me to be humble.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a couple of thousand miles away, so the event was not so dramatic for me, and I don't remember exactly where I was. But we visited Mt. St. Helens years later--maybe five years later--and I could not believe my eyes. It still looked as if a bomb had gone off, and the crater was still smoking. It was still a powerful reminder of the power of nature.