Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Volcano Girl

Twenty-five years ago, at 8:32 AM PDT on May 18, 1980, a 5.1 earthquake caused the north face of Mt. St. Helens to crumble in the largest landslide in recorded history. As a result of this landslide, the pressure that had built up inside the volcano caused a lateral blast of volcanic gases, steam, ash and rocks that flattened hundreds of square miles of timber, destroying virtually anything in its path.

These images were captured by a camper about 10 miles to the northeast of the mountain.

It spewed ash tens of miles into the sky, turning a bright, sunny day into night, and causing all sorts of problems. As far away as Montana, the ash fell. State government in MT closed for a couple of days. And they barely got a dusting. While the ash that fell in eastern WA measured in the 2" range, northern Idaho actually bore a significant brunt of the ashfall, with some areas receiving up to 5". I was just finishing my first year of teaching there.

Volcano Girl and I were on our way to Spokane, WA, to see jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in concert. We had heard that the volcano had erupted, but didn't think anything of it. I could write dozens of pages of stories from that day. The short story--by the time that we realized that the snow-like flakes that were falling wasn't snow, and that virtually EVERYTHING was cancelled, it was too late to turn around. The nice highway patrolman told us that we'd never make it home before the visibility was zero, and that we should go on into Spokane, and find a place to stay. I think we got the last room in town. VG and I had never even dated before this, and now we're checked into a motel with a single bed. We drove around to find the essentials--toothbrush, maybe a t-shirt for her, something to eat/drink. Unfortunately, it was a ghost town. Everything was locked up, ash was piling up, and she was a little scared. We finally found a place open, got our stuff, and went back to the room to watch everything on TV. And she called home. It took about an hour to get a line. I talked to her dad, who told me not to worry about getting her home right away if it was going to be dangerous to drive. I'm not sure, but I think I heard the distinct sound of a shotgun in the background. I contacted my superintendent to tell him I was stuck in Spokane and wouldn't be in to teach the next morning. He replied that school was cancelled for the week. Excellent!

This series of pictures show the mountain from about 5 miles away, NNW. It is near the site of the Johnson Ridge Observatory that opened about 8 years ago. If you want to see more about it, go here for facts and information, or go check the live volcanocam site linked in my favorites. ---->

I behaved myself that fateful night. But I fell in love. Hard. VG was my first true love. We lasted a couple of years, then grew apart. But we have remained friends since then. As well as the rest of her family. The whole week remains vivid in my mind. Every detail, every picture, every emotion. I note the passage of time by the date of May 18th. The first of my sisters was married on May 18th (VG came to that wedding too). Two of my former students were married on that day. Another former student had her first child on that day. It's become a mystical day. It's the day I really first fell in love.
iTunes: Brandy, Looking Glass

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