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It was quiet for 140 years. Then, in March, the mountain began to rumble: earthquakes, bursts of steam, blue flame, ash clouds that sparked 2-mile bolts of lightning. All spring, the volcano seethed, spewed and shuddered, magma bubbling up its throat and pushing the north flank out 5 feet a day.
Spokane Public Radio will begin broadcasting The Spokesman Review's Summer Stories series on Monday. This year, the series has been curated to honor the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens.
It was a Sunday morning in May, and Ben had just left Angela’s dilapidated Seattle apartment building in good spirits. After a year of flirting, yearning and maneuvering (and with the aid of some Jack Daniels added to the espresso they sipped while playing chess at Last Exit on Brooklyn the night before), he’d finally gotten Angela to invite him home.
Paw Paw said it was just hippies on the mountain got smote. And fornicators. “Nary a Christian among them,” he said. “What about my Grandpa Murphy’s camp,” I said. “Closed,” Paw-Paw said. “And they was Catholic anyway – not Christian.” “Catholic is Christian,” my mother said. “And it’s not just hippies up there.”
When Mom fell in love with the man of ash, we tried, at first, to be happy for her. We vacuumed, we mopped, we sang. We swept up the ashes without complaint. Even then the thin film of him settled beneath our fingernails or whirled up at us from a plumped cushion, catching in our eyelashes.
Hank went down to the dock before dawn. Dirty spring snow lingered along the cobble path that led from cabin to lakeshore. The mist hung so thick that he heard the canoe before he saw it, the rhythmic clunk of aluminum on wood.
Clara was 15, but when Miriam looked at her, she could see her as a baby still. She’d been a fat baby, and Miriam had complained endlessly about what it felt like to carry her.
Anyone working in the Pacific Northwest wine industry at the time will remember where they were and what they were doing when ash from Mount St. Helens began to fall 40 years ago on May 18.
Forty years ago on May 18, 1980, at 8:32 a.m., Mount St. Helens erupted.
Monday marked the 40th anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens. I was mowing my yard that day before a really big (or so I thought) thunderstorm moved in. My geologist husband missed the career high point. He was in New York City and was not happy to miss it. All I had was an old Instamatic camera with half a roll of film to record it. For those of you who didn’t get to experience this event, just imagine everything covered with a heavy, gray talcumlike powder. This rock powder contained a lot of abrasive silica. It got into everything and wore down engine and machinery parts very quickly. The city street crews had to mix it with damp sawdust to be able to scoop it off the street before it plugged storm drains and turned to something that resembled concrete. Wheat farmers in the Palouse got yields of over 100 bushels an acre that summer but they had to sharpen their combine blades after each trip around the field.
Dizzy Gillespie spent three and a half days in Spokane after Mount St. Helens forced the cancellation of a concert. It was hardly an uneventful stay for the legendary jazz trumpeter.
The entire horizon was filled with the eruption and everything was a shade of gray. No color. No beautiful forests or lovely lakes. No backwoods roads or logging camps. Total destruction from the mountain blowing the top 1,300 feet off and throwing out 3.7 billion cubic yards of debris at temperatures above 600 degrees.
As ash from the eruption of Mount St. Helens 290 miles away darkened the sky above Spokane and began to fall onto the streets, businesses and homes below, nobody knew how dangerous it was. Not even the people in government tasked with coordinating a response.
In the days after the eruption of Mount St. Helens, Spokane’s newspapers and residents entered uncharted territory.
Mount St. Helens is considered one of easiest Cascade volcanoes to summit and requires little technical knowledge. However, there is a better way. Skiing up using specially designed “skins” on the bottoms of your skis to grip the snow. Once on top you can ski down, avoiding a long slow slog downhill.
Science writer Eric Wagner’s latest book “After the Blast” revisits the events leading up to and following the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Tomorrow will mark the 40-year-anniversary of that historic event.
The Andersons headed to Wilbur on May 17, 1980. They ended up racing a cloud of volcanic ash to get home.
Since mid-March, Spokane historian and former Spokesman-Review staff writer Jim Kershner has revisited the history of the Mount St. Helens eruption. Here is a compilation of his columns.
It came as Father said it would come, a shroud over the sun, a night in the day, a black pall upon the earthly coffin of the wicked. At the campground, the Forest Service man came and asked for $16.
Veteran country-bluegrass band Asleep at the Wheel rolled into Spokane minutes before Mount St. Helens erupted. That saying about how the show must go on? It went on.