Saturday, May 10, 2014

A lesson in respect

The earth grumbled and occasionally moved. Having only been in Oregon for a year and a half, we
didn't know what an earthquake felt like. In fact, it just felt as if a big dog had just walked across the room. We didn't have a dog, so evidently it was something else. The earth was talking to us. They had been told to leave the mountain. Old man Truman sat in his home refusing to move. He shouldn't have been surprised that the beautiful mountain was getting impatient. He knew it well. The scientists told him. The old mountain told him. But still Truman and others refused to leave their homes.

The Northwest is a paradise of nature in all her beauty and untamed wildness. When we first came here, we drove down the Columbia River Gorge. It was there I had my first glimpse of Mt. Hood. We dashed from the car. My heart was filled with awe at the site of this gorgeous mountain. A bit further down the way a lovely cone rose up from the earth. Mt. St. Helens was the princess of the mountain range quietly gracing Portland with her beauty.

No one knew exactly when it would blow or what the result would be. Not until 8:32, a Sunday morning, on May 18, 1980. The earth shook and the mountain's voice was heard. We drove the 8.1 miles to Portland along the hills until we came to spot overlooking the city. James was 6 and Stacey 8. We were the first to find this clearing in the trees. Excited and a little scared, we sat watching this incredible sight. A mountain raging, spewing an enormous mushroom cloud into the sky. Lightning flashed in the grey mass. One couldn't help but think of the animals, people, earth that were tossed into this melee. I was terrified and awestruck at the same time.

Nearly 150 square miles of forest were gone, trees blown over or left dead standing as sentinels over the massive grave. The eruption lasted 9 hours. A landscape was changed forever. 57 people were killed; 250 homes were destroyed; 57 bridges and 15 miles of railway were gone; 185 miles of highway erased. The debris avalanche triggered an earthquake of 5.1.

We had an ash dusting or two. We were asked not to drive unless necessary and not to breathe in the ash that created a dense fog. My husband was in California when the dusting hit the west side. I stood at my back door watching for the ash storm but heard it before it arrived. The sound of particles falling from the sky.

The anniversary of the eruption is at hand. The mountain has been quietly rebuilding. I learned a great about this old earth in those days. I have learned a great deal about nature since living here. I live in an area preserved in its natural state. I live where we fight to protect what we have and keep it for future generations. But I learned that nature, this earth, has her own voice. We cannot assume that life will go on as usual. Old man Truman made that mistake. We cannot assume that our natural resources are sustainable without the help of we who use them.

We drove up to the Toutle River where 13,000 feet of the mountain blasted everything in it's way. The blast line on the trees was at least 20 feet above our heads. The homes that remained were filled to the roof with ash. Cars and bridge girders were twisted like pretzels buried in the mass. The earth had had her say. Trees for as far as you could see were stripped of bark and limbs laid in rows like toothpicks. It was a landscape of grey. Beautiful Spirit Lake was full of the same looking more like a lake of trees, floating in a dead landscape.

Yes, I learned a lot on May 18th. A lesson in respect for Mother Earth. 

No comments: