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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mount Saint Helens, 31 years ago today

I didn't live in the Pacific Northwest when Mt St Helens erupted. My wife did. She was camping with her family at Dry Falls when the eruption happened. They heard the initial explosion, and assumed it was ordnance testing at the Yakima Firing Range. Later that afternoon they were driving back toward Seattle when the ash-fall started. Civil Defense broadcasts on the car radio were giving instructions but not information as to the cause of the ash-fall; being 1980 and the height of the Cold War, she reasonably wondered if what they were experiencing was radioactive fallout from a nuclear attack on the Puget Sound region.

Later, my wife's father, an editor for the Seattle Times, was one of the two first people inside the caldera after the blast.

I on the other hand was living in North Carolina, and all we experienced were really amazing sunsets.

After I moved from the Carolinas to Seattle (courtesy of the US Navy) I went to St Helens, a decade after the eruption. I was most struck by the millions of fallen trees, spreading for miles around the volcano. And the fact that, at that time, still nothing was growing in the ground which had been scorched by the blast.

Life is slowly returning to the slopes of St Helens, but it will be centuries before the young cedars, firs and hemlocks reach the maturity of the forests which once blanketed the mountainside.

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