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On the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens

posted by Jason Kottke   May 18, 2017

Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens

37 years ago today, on May 18, 1980, Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted in a blast that killed 57 people and covered a huge swath of the western US with ash and destruction. Alan Taylor, who grew up nearby and vividly remembers the eruption, shared some photos of the eruption and its aftermath at In Focus.

I was 6 when Mount St. Helens erupted and it was probably my first concrete memory of the wider world from childhood. For days and days, it was all anyone talked about at school. The next summer (or it may have been 1982), my parents, my little sister, and I embarked on a car trip west towards the Pacific from Wisconsin, which I later learned was a last hurrah family vacation before my parents divorced. We motored in a beast of a station wagon resembling The Griswold Family Truckster, and stopped at the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, Wall Drug, Rapid City, Yellowstone, and finally Seattle, where the only memory I have is of seeing the Space Needle briefly.

But the highlight of the trip was going to see Mount St. Helens. The landscape looked very much like in the second photo above, trees flattened over an ashy lunar landscape. It’s still one of the weirdest, most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. We collected a couple of jars of ash to take home, along with some pumice stone.

Back at school in the fall, I managed a brief respite from my crippling unpopularity by showing off the ash jars and demonstrating how the pumice floated in water. A rock floating in water! But then the holes in the pumice filled with water, it slowly sank, and with it my new-found popularity. I imagine that pumice and those jars are still somewhere at my dad’s house, in a pile of something somewhere…it would be great to see them again.