Mt. St. Helens Day
Today is the 27th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
For those few people in the direct path of the collapsing mountain, it was a disastrous, unimaginably gigantic mudslide that filled riverbeds and caused lakes to slosh up over their banks like bathwater.
For many more people it was a great big cloud of dust. Here in Seattle, the eruption didn’t have much direct effect, but in Spokane, where I was living in 1980, it was a surreal experience. I was a kid at the time, and was out in the back yard when I noticed a really strange storm cloud. It was like a line of darkness that stretched from one side of the horizon to the other and was slowly sliding closed over the entire sky.
Then the ash started to fall like snow, and it snowed dust and ash for hours, blocking out the sun and coating everything with a thin layer of gray crud that made the world look like a moonscape.
Spokane is 300 miles/480 km from Mt. St. Helens. Towns closer to the mountain, like Moses Lake, in central Washington, were covered in an ankle-deep layer of ash that you could still see years later, first everywhere, then in gullies and steambeds, and finally in isolated pockets and gray layers under the new soil.
I visited Mt. St. Helens many years after the eruption, and the landscape below the treeline there looked like a tastefully designed garden, with flowering bushes and shrubs, bleached logs scattered over the rocky ground, boulders artfully placed here and there, and no large trees of any kind for miles and miles.
The mountain has been active on and off since the eruption, sometimes sending out clouds of steam, and, for a short time in 2004, glowing red through cracks in its surface. To see what it’s up to at the moment, visit the VolcanoCam.
Eruption photo: Austin Post
Ash cloud photo: Associated Press