Thursday, May 18, 2017

TBT: Volcano Day

Ever since 1980, this has been a significant day for pretty much anyone who was living in the Pacific Northwest on May 18, 1980.  

That was the day, after much well documented anticipation,  Mt. St. Helens finally blew its stack, spreading ash---and tons of it---all over the region. 

With that ash and the uncertainties associated with it, our world went still. For days afterward, we looked out our windows at white fog, which contributed to an uncomfortable humidity and caused visibility to remain at a minimum. 

For the most part, we did not venture outside our home, except to feed animals. 

We felt isolated.  This natural catastrophe occurred long before cell phones and Internet. So, our landlines, radios and our TVs kept us somewhat connected to the outside world.  

For most, the outside world during those days included folks living in homes in the neighborhood where, for a time, we dared not even venture. 

Cabin fever reigned supreme.  At our house, the kids were 2 and 3 years old, so their pent-up energy only added to the frustration of remaining within those walls. 

This morning, I found a blog entry from a few years ago, which brought back many memories of the day from our perspective at our former home on Great Northern Road next to the local airport.  

This reflects just one perspective among the hundreds of thousands of folks who will never forget the eruption of Mt. St. Helens and have their own unique tales to tell. 

Hope you enjoy. 

From Slight Detour, 2010:  And, speaking of memorable days, it seems as if everyone is conjuring up the vivid volcanic recollections of this weekend in 1980 (cuz Mt. St. Helens did erupt on a Sunday morning, even if it was May 18).

It was a beautiful Sunday.  The annual air show drew huge crowds to the airport just east of our home.  The air show also drew a rather large crowd to our home.  Some folks just pulled in and asked if they could park at our place and watch.  

We were happy to have them and directed them to the barnyard where they could set up their lawnchairs and have the best seats in the area to watch the vintage planes fly in and perform their aerial maneuvers.

That particular Sunday had also been scheduled as the Monticola yearbook's staff  year-end picnic.  So, my staff came to the house, and we enjoyed an afternoon barbecue as well as the air show.

We had heard of the volcano's explosion earlier in the day but remained unconcerned.  After all, there was enough activity going on in our little neck of the woods several hundred miles away.  Later in the afternoon, the sky to the south started turning dark purple.  

Bill thought it was a storm coming.  I suggested the volcano.  He pooh-poohed my suggestion.  His attitude changed within minutes as something started irritating his contacts that he wore at the time.  The picnic was wrapping up with the idea that if it was a storm, kids had better get home.

A few minutes later, folks were moving a lot faster.  It was official.  The ash was falling from the sky, and everyone wanted to get home.  As conditions grew worse,  my teaching friend Pam Eimers wanted to go home but did not want to be alone.  

Her boyfriend was due in sometime later, so she stayed with us until hearing from Jim. She was sure to call us and let us know that she had arrived home (about two miles away) safely.

Soon, it became apparent that we would all be isolated in our homes for an undetermined period of time.  At least, we had lots of leftovers from the picnic to munch on.  The kids were 3 and 2 at the time.

Humidity came along with the ash.  Visibility extended maybe ten feet in any direction. Silence ruled the outside air waves.  There was no sign of the sky or any other natural features beyond our farm. The world around us turned strangely still.

The television and the telephone dominated our hours and the next few days.  Not much else to do cuz nobody drove their cars and most everyone wanted to stay close to home.   We went outside only to feed the animals with hope that they would survive this mysterious phenomenon in our lives. 

It was eerie, to say the least. 

Ultimately, that year, Mt. St. Helens proved to be a friend to many, especially those involved in education.  With more ash explosions over the next few weeks, the usual routine went nonexistent.  The school year ended earlier than planned.  Students and teachers rejoiced.

That year continued to be strange weatherwise.  We all survived the unknown, and if a volcano were to blow and send us a little ash these days, our attitudes would be much different from 1980.  With a volcanic eruption and its aftermath under our belts, the event now would be a nuisance, not a spooky, mysterious phenomenon.  

Memories I'll take from Mt. St. Helens:  a dirty house.  After all, why clean it if nobody's coming to visit?  A resident who tried to claim disaster funds cuz her cows were pooping gray manure.  The welcome sound and sight of an airplane flying over approximately four days into the ash.  

I saw the plane fly over through a tiny opening in the ash cloud that had kept us housebound for so long.  It was a sign that maybe this weird time was drawing to a close.

My cousin Doug, a photographer,  did well, thanks to Mt. St. Helens erupting.  When the cloud came over his house in Ephrata,  he snapped several shots, including one of the contrast between his blooming crepe myrtle tree and the dark sky overhead.  

The photo graced the cover of National Geographic a few months later. 

Cover photo by  Doug Miller, Ephrata, WA. 

I'm sure our kids' memories of  the time were pretty limited, but Bill collected two viles of ash for them to keep as reminders.  

And, last summer Bill and Annie climbed Mt. St. Helens and stood on top to look into the crater left by that initial explosion and several that have occurred since.  

Yup, this is a big weekend for memories.  And, with many, we don't need a camera because the events are so etched in our minds.  Still, the pictures are kinda nice.

And, Annie, 29 years after Mt. St. Helens erupted,  produced her first book, a photographic collection of a hike up the mountain with her dad.  To say the least, Bill cherishes that gift.  

Wherever you are, may your Sunday be filled with pleasant, unforgettable memories.   And, no volcanos!

Thirty-seven years later, our kids are well into their careers, parents are retired and living in Selle away from airports.

Unlike 1980, we now enjoy instant communications with pretty much anyone in the whole wide world. It's fun to imagine how individual circumstances and information would have been different had the mountain blown up in the world we know today.  

Heck, Facebook would probably overdose within seconds. 

Probably more important than anything for those of us North Idaho folks who've suffered cabin fever off and on for months rather than just a few days, the morning air outside on this May 18  is crystal clear, and I can see blue sky headed our way. 

Happy Thursday.  And, Happy 70th to my friend Jeanne, who will always have a unique birthday memory.  

No comments: