Arrow-right Camera


Some old ash is looking for a good home

Thu., May 5, 2005

The 25th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens is just 13 days away.

In celebration, Steve Springer has decided to pop the cork on his private reserve.

Well, lift the galvanized lid, anyway.

Springer’s treasure is stored in a garbage can in the garage behind his modest South Hill Spokane home.

He invited me there Wednesday morning for an unveiling.

I’ve known Springer for years. He’s a terrific electric bass player and a fixture at Spokane’s Hoffman Music, where he’s sold music gear for almost 17 years.

Inside his garage Springer raised the lid. Voila! I leaned forward and took a gander at a can filled with an unmistakable gray powder.

Unmistakable to anyone living within the fallout zone on May 18, 1980, that is.

I poked a finger into the cloud-soft substance. Yep. Mount St. Helens ash, all right.

Springer chuckled.

“This was picked up the very next day, so it’s May 19, 1980, ash. That’s what went into the can.”

Creating an ash stash was not Springer’s intent when he gathered it. He just wanted to rid his long cement driveway of the grit.

Many people were scared and wary of the faux snow that sifted to earth, coating everything it touched.

“It was like someone took a big black blanket and pulled it over the sky,” said Springer, 52, of the ash fall. “Just the eeriest thing you’ve ever seen.”

I was working in Coeur d’Alene at the time. My family and friends gathered inside our home to eat Sunday dinner and hoist a few brews as the world turned weird.

There were so many concerns in those post-eruption early days. Only the foolhardy dared venture outside without first covering their faces with scarves or those curved, white filter-paper masks.

Scooping ash into a garbage can proved to be a tougher chore than Springer figured. Airy and light in small amounts, the ash had a collective weight that added up surprisingly fast.

By the time Springer set his snow shovel down, the can felt as heavy as a Buick.

It was all he could do to wrestle it into a corner of the garage. And there it stayed among the socket wrenches, nuts and screws and petroleum products.

Recent talk about the 25th anniversary got Springer thinking once again about his virgin volcano ash.

Now he’s pondering what to do with it.

Like any proud American, Springer would love to make a few bucks.

But how?

Should he sell it in bulk or by the ounce? Should he auction it off via eBay?

I’m the last guy to offer advice on volcanic business ventures.

A few days after the mountain belched, I talked a pal into joining me in a scheme.

The plan was to market ash to the geologically deprived through national magazine ads. My friend, alas, wound up doing most of the collecting.

I found him scraping off a tennis court one hot day. He had this bright bandana tied around his face. He looked like he was going to hold up a train.

I nearly doubled over laughing. I dubbed him The Ash Bandit.

I still don’t think he’s completely forgiven me.

Sadly, we were not the only capitalists pursuing this dream. The world was soon littered with so many ash marketers we didn’t try. I eventually paid a ragged guy in a battered pickup to haul our bags of ash away.

But it does make me wonder.

How many others are out there hoarding?

Contact me if you’ve got ash. Tell me how much you are holding and what you intend to do with it.

Of course, your supply will have to be pretty damn pure to compete with Springer. “It hasn’t been touched by rain or mildew for 25 years,” he said. “It’s perfect.”


Click here to comment on this story »