She blew her top thirty-five years ago today. Man, has it been that long since Mount St. Helen's first erupted after her long, silent slumber? St. Helen's was one of those moments...you know, when you remember exactly what you were doing when it happened. I'll never forget that day, for there was a time when I wondered if I would ever see the sun again. It was a day to remember...
It was Sunday morning, and I was at softball practice, suffering from alcohol poisoning, in the worse way. Oye! But I wasn't alone, the entire women's team had been out partying the night before. And our coach was pissed at us. Doubly pissed at me because he was my father-in-law. None of us felt like practicing, at all, and it showed. Tempers were short, bases were being overthrown, and fly balls were missed or dropped. We were not in our best form, and we were the returning champions, so expectations were high. Practice sessions on this team were taken very seriously. But on this day, we just weren't into it. We were tired, tired of the pressure of always being the best, tired of the rigorous practice schedule, and so we rebelled.
We were two hours into this practice (Sunday sessions usually lasted four hours), when we all noticed ominous black clouds approaching from the west. The entire horizon was filled. Thinking this was just another nasty spring thunderstorm, the coach grudgingly gave up and sent us home. None of us had been listening to the news that morning, so we had no idea the mountain erupted at 8:32 a.m.. It was now 11:30 a.m..
Arriving home, I immediately got in the shower. The sun was shining when I walked into the bathroom. Ten minutes later, I stepped out of the shower, and noticed the room seemed extremely dark. That's weird, I thought. I walked over to the window, pushed the curtain aside and looked out at a night time sky in complete and utter disbelief. I remember thinking, I wasn't in the shower that long...was I? I called out to my husband, and ran upstairs to the living room. He was here before I got in the shower, but he wasn't now. However, I knew where he was, at his mother's no doubt.
Still wrapped in my bath towel I walked over to the living room window and gazed outside. Something was falling from the sky, I thought it was snow. The street lights were on, casting an eerie light onto the now ghostly grey landscape. Whatever it was that was falling sparkled and twinkled under the street lights glow.
This is weird. Way too weird.
I turned on the radio, and that's when I learned about the mountain's mighty blast. For weeks she had been rumbling, steaming and causing a stir among the volcanologists and geologists alike. Nearby communities had been evacuated, uprooting hundreds of people from their homes, and their lives. Except a grouchy old man named Harry Truman, who owned a lodge on the shores of Spirit Lake, right in the shadow of St. Helen's. He vowed nothing could make him or his many cats leave his cherished home. Not even that mountain could budge him. I don't think they ever found Harry, or his lodge.
I got dressed and headed over to my in-law's home, where I spent the rest of the day playing Double Solitaire with Ma Bea, my husband's grandmother. Throughout the afternoon, she and I sat at the dining table, occasionally casting a worried glance out the nearby window. Every now and then Ma Bea would remark, "That sun ain't never comin' back, I tell ya. Someone's done gone and pissed off the man upstairs, and now we're all going to pay." At first I knew she was joking around, but has the hours dragged by, it almost seemed possible. Fortunately, around 6:00 p.m. we noticed some blue sky to the south, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.
By the next day, daylight returned, to slightly overcast skies, still filled with ash. People walked around with masks over their face. Businesses closed down, or never opened. Life, in a way, came to a halt for a few days. And that ash wreaked havoc in our town. Cars stalled and refused to start. People with asthma had to stay indoors. Farmer's crops were ruined. And dusting became a full time job. No matter how airtight your house was, the ash was everywhere. For months after the eruption, that ash permeated every aspect of our lives, and we were on the outer edge of the plume. We only had about 3 or 4 inches dumped on us, but it was enough to cause plenty of problems. Even six years later I remember seeing ash on the sides of the highway just outside of Spokane.
In the Native American community, Mount St. Helen's is called Little Sister, while Mount Rainier is known as Grandfather. Among the Native American's there is a saying. "When Little Sister speaks, Grandfather will answer."
By the numbers:
- 8,364Height in feet after 1980 eruption
123Years the volcano was inactive before 1980
660° FHigh temperature of the 1980 blast
230Square miles covered by the blast
Sources: USGS, World Book
Mount St. Helen's National Volcanic monument
USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory
Mount St. Helens National Park