Remembering Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. HelensTwenty-five years ago today, the most beautiful mountain in the Cascade range exploded with massive fury, blowing its top and dumping tons of ash across the Northwest.

Share with us your memories of Mt. St. Helens. What do you remember most?


  • JJ Ark (unverified)

    My birthday is May 17th. The night before, we had had a big birthday party at our student housing apartment in West Eugene. I was 9 years old.

    Blearily, I woke up a bit early, and turned on the TV. Not paying much attention, it kinda droned on in the background. My father walked in wearing his robe, and started bagging up all the left-over wrapping paper, when his head snapped to attention in the direction of the tube. Suddenly, he dropped everything, and was watching with more deliberate intensity than I had ever seen in him.

    There was a mountain spewing smoke. I didn't quite understand the proximity of the mountain, having never been to Portland, and only flying into SeaTac once. In the dark. But my father was genuinely concerned, so I attached significant gravity to the situation.

    The next thing I knew, we were at Bi-Mart buying games, toys and masks. My parents figured to keep us indoors for as long as the ash was falling. It was raining, and I remember the debris in the raindrops, and the smears it was leaving on my yellow raincoat.

    Ultimately, very little ash fell in the Eugene area, and most of it came down in raindrops (the kind we saw 2 weeks ago here in the Portland area). But my parents were ready, and I got to play Operation, checkers and old maid for several days.

    That is the end of the story, but as a side note, when I went to play little league baseball that summer, we chose the name "LavaBusters" for our team. Not quite sure what that means, and I think we lost every single game, but dangit, we had a cool name!

  • David English (unverified)

    Nice Story JJ! I was 9 years old and living in Medford when Mt. St. Helens errupted in 1980. I don't remember where I was, but do remember going to a store and buying some Mt. St. Helens ash sometime later. Hmm...I wonder what happened to that. It probably got thrown away at some point.

    As I have stated in another thread, I'm currently living in Jinju South Korea. The university I work at has two other people from the Northwest, one from Portland and the other one from Spokane. Last night I asked the one from Portland, "Hey, What happened 25 years ago today?" Well it took him a minute and I had to say May 18th, 1980 and he finally got it. That's ok he was probably born right about that time so, it's not that big a deal to him.

    A side note: The Ape Caves up at Mt. St. Helens are awesome to go exploring in.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    I was going to post a column about this, but as I see it's already up for discussion, here I go here. Guess that's what happens when you are on vacation.

    On May 18th, 1980 I gave a presentation to the Vermont Hills United Methodist Church about the Cordero Youth Services programs that I had just been hired to direct. Cordero was started by Vermont Hills. I heard about the eruption on the radio on the way to the church.

    It was a major flash back moment for me. I had worked at the Toutle River Boy's Ranch as an intern counselor from June to December 1973. I grew to know the Toutle River Valley all the way up to Spirit Lake. I took some of the boy's hiking on the sides of the mountain. It was always to me an odd/different place. Up on the mountain, unlike other Cascades mountains I had been on, it seemed that there were few if any birds. It was very quiet, and oddly so.

    But my main memory of that area was of Harry Truman, the operator of the Spirit Lake Lodge/Resort. I first encountered him when doing a garbage run one Saturday. The Boy's Ranch had a contract to pick up the garage in the Weyerhauser cans up and down the road. Weyerhauser provided garbage cans up and down that highway as a public service. Each Saturday a staff member and a couple of the boy's from the ranch would go up in a truck collecting the garage. At the end of the road, and after several hours of work, we arrived at the Lodge. We went into his little store to buy a snack. He was just plain awful to us. If I recall, we were greeted with a, "what the hell are you doing in my store!". When told we were there to buy some snacks, he said, "well get to it and get out!" If we had any other choice up there, we would have just left, but the nearest store was all the way back in Toutle, and he knew it.

    This type of treatment happened week after week. I asked my co-workers about Harry. One fellow was born locally, and had stories to tell about Harry's early days running rum across the Canadian border, and having an illegal bar in the Lodge basement, where underage drinkers were more than welcome. I never knew if these stories were true or not, but having encountered Harry, I kinda thought so.

    Towards the end of the summer, there was a special occasion where several of the boy's had earned a reward, and we went up to rent a fishing boat from Harry and go out on the Lake. Again, he was verbally abusive, and we almost didn't get the boat. I had to restrain the boy's from taking revenge on Harry's boat.

    After hunting season, with the snows coming, I finally stopped the weekly garage run. I didn't really think much of Harry for years until there he was on TV, talking bravely (stupidly) of not evacuating the Lodge, a "going down with the ship" attitude. He was even taken to a local school to talk with the school children. TV remade him into sort of a folk hero. I knew better that he was a crusty, evil, horrible old man - at least that was how he treated me and the boys.

    Then the mountain blew up. I wondered about the "wrath of god", and "what goes around ...".

    Lately Harry has been back in my thoughts. I have wondered how people vote against their own self interests. Then I think of Harry and how he treated customers. Maybe some people just think they are due certain things. I have wondered about how the press remakes people (both positive and negative), and I think of Harry with the children in that classroom.

    Harry was an awful person, but there are lessons there about endurance, stubborness, and karma.

    Today, on the 25th anniversary of Harry's death, as the Senate debates the end of our Republic's checks and balances, I wonder about karma.

  • (Show?)

    I barely remember St. Helens' eruption. I remember the commotion and the fact that we had to stay indoors - and my mother trying to figure out how she was going to get that ash off of her Camaro without ruining the paint job, but the event itself is a blur. I was 5.

    What I do remember was a year or so later, when they'd opened the roads again, that my family and I took a little trip up the mountain. It was Summer, I guess, because the snow had all melted. The Toutle River was still flowing a brownish-gray mud. The north side of the mountain was just flat. Nothing left standing but a mangled car that some teenagers had been stupid enough to be drinking and driving in that day (seriously - beer cans in the back). They had put chainlink fence around it to preserve it. And of course, some remnants of Harry Truman's home and his live-by-the-mountain/die-by-the-mountain mentality. There might've even been an historical marker up already. But what stood out most in my mind and what has stayed with me for the past 24 years was that in all of that destruction - all of the desolation - that everywhere you looked, if you were paying attention, you could see life coming back to the mountain. Little sprigs of green here and there. Occasionally a small flower. Small animals returning home. Mostly squirrels and chipmunks. I was young - 6 or so - but it's a powerful lesson to learn that something that destructive doesn't mean the end of anything, really, in the grand scheme of things. Life goes on and what doesn't go on, starts over.

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