Thirty-five years ago – May 18, 1980 – Mt. St. Helens, in southwest Washington, erupted. Fifty-seven people died and property damage totaled billions of dollars. The mountain was suddenly thirteen hundred feet shorter than before. Previously, 9,677 feet tall, its elevation now stands 8,364 feet. Prior to erupting, the mountain had been the subject of daily news reports for months. Every puff of steam or movement at the peak was reported. A daily Mt. St. Helens story became a news staple.
An eighty-three year old curmudgeon named Harry Truman – not the former president – became a minor celebrity. Mr. Truman lived alone on the mountain. He was regularly featured in the local news for his colorful statements that he was not leaving, that he and his cats were safe in their home a mile away from any eruption.
I was living on the northern Oregon coast at the time. That Sunday afternoon, I drove to the Tri-Cities and spent the night in Pasco to be fresh and ready to make sales calls Monday morning. As I traveled east along the Oregon side of the Columbia River I watched the thick, dark plume ash on the north side of the river keeping pace with me. In the morning I awoke to a layer of ash covering everything.
A year later we moved from the coast to Portland. We moved into a house whose gutters were still full of ash. But for Nature, the eruption was but a minor blip and she goes about the business of regenerating the surrounding forest.