May 18th, 1980

Thirty years ago,  I was a 10 year old boy spending the night in a trailer after my family was forced to evacuate our home near the Cowlitz River. Mt. St. Helens had erupted in the morning and we had quickly grabbed a few belongings and headed for higher ground. I barely slept that night- terrified- worried about my house, my friends, and my neighborhood.

Luckily- house, friends, and family were all safe. But the landscape had changed dramatically. The river where I had played, fished, and swam was now a mud filled trench- almost unrecognizable. The campgrounds where I had spent the night, hiked, and played were now buried under meters of ooze. In the course of just a few hours, an entire region was erased.

In 1988, as a senior in high school, I conducted a water quality study comparing the water of the Cowlitz River above and below the Toutle River.

In 1995, I climbed the mountain. I sat on the edge of the crater and stared into the source of that destructive power. I tried to channel that 10 year old boy inside me- and I wondered what it would have been like to be so close on that Sunday morning in May.

I returned in 2008 and was amazed at how the landscape had recovered in such a short (geological) time period.

So on this 30th anniversary of May 18th, 1980 I sit comfortably with my laptop typing this blog post. I look out my bedroom window at the ominous shape of Mt. Rainier in the background and I wonder when we will have another volcanic eruption in the Pacific Northwest. And will I continue to be lucky.

Here are some links to resources on Mt. St. Helens and a video clip of the CBS news broadcast from May 18, 1980.


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