Thirty-two years ago, in the northwestern US state of Washington, the previously dormant volcano Mt. St Helens erupted. For me, it is an early memory that has been reduced to a vague recollections and second-hand accounts. What survives are images, like faded sepia-colored slides in my mind. I remember understanding that something very large was happening, something that reached beyond the scope of my pre-adolescent perspective. Maybe this was the first time I began to think of the world as a large place. I looked at maps to trace the ash clouds, which reached up to 15 miles into the atmosphere, and were carried in trace amounts around the world. The shock waves from the eruption were recorded in New York state. After a scale 5.1 earthquake, over 20 square miles of earth broke of the mountain, creating the largest landslide in recorded history.
Most of the actual events I don’t remember: the evacuations, the Columbia River blocked with thousands of trees blown over from the blast, the old man who refused to evacuate from his cabin next to the mountain, playing in the ash that fell from the darkened sky. Most of the what I know now comes from the collected knowledge of news stories, documentary footage, and stories.
The clearest memory I have is similar to the photos below, although from a greater distance. We stopped the car to see a symmetrical cone with a streaming column of ash and smoke rising into the sky, and it left a permanent impression. And it marked the beginning of a life-long interest in natural disasters.
- Mount St. Helens: NASA Releases Time-Lapse Video Before and After Destruction (inquisitr.com)
- Mount St. Helens Blows Its Top (May 18-23, 1980) (thestarryeye.typepad.com)
- May 18, 1980 | Mount St. Helens Volcano Erupts (learning.blogs.nytimes.com)