The Earliest Memory

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.

Mt. St. Helens, WA, May 18, 1980 -- Disasters ...
Mt. St. Helens, WA, May 18, 1980 — Disasters are devastating to the natural and man-made environment. FEMA provides federal aid and assistance to those who have been affected by all types of disaster. NOAA News Photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
May 18, 1980.

9 thoughts on “The Earliest Memory

  1. I remember watching the film about the eruption, which featured that ‘old man’ you mention. All I can remember was the sense of panic and helplessness the film drove home. That must have been some sight to behold.

    1. I suppose so. My mom says I was almost complacent about the whole thing. haha. But I know I’ve always loved volcanoes. To see one spewing lava is a life goal of mine.

    1. Not weird at all! Now, if you ever wanted to be one of those storm chasers, then you’d have my categorical approval as the coolest chick ever.

  2. I loved your article…well done. Good job.
    Having lived in Portland, Oregon many years before that event and about your age when it happened my response was more a sadness that I would never see nature’s almost perfectly shaped cone monument again.

  3. We were in Chehalis, WA and actually saw the second eruption from our home. We waded through inches of ash for days; saw the clogged Toutle River. You seemed to take all it in stride.

    1. Really? I don’t remember that. I think I remember being disappointed that there was no lava, though. Did Grandpa fly over it, or am I imaging that?

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