June 1, 2014

May 18, 2014 was the 34th Anniversary of the Mount St. Helens eruption. We didn’t realize this when we drove up to the mountain on May 17. It was just a drive into the countryside to take a closer look at what the mountain was like now. I grew up in an area where Mount St. Helens was always in sight. When I was a kid the first thing I saw in the morning when I opened the door and headed for the school bus stop was Mount St. Helens. Big and bright and powerful looking, always with a warm side visible where the snow seemed to never fall, my dad frequently said, “Some day that mountain’s going to blow.” And though he didn’t live to see this happen, one of my sisters experienced the clouds of ash from the eruption that floated across Washington and Oregon.

The Mount St. Helens area is a couple hours drive from my sister’s house. It’s a wonderful ride with small communities in the valleys, but the area gets very wild the higher you travel into the Cascade Mountain range. It’s a lovely drive and the mountain kind of plays peek-a-boo with the visitors as it appears and disappears behind the trees and foot hills as you travel along the winding road leading to the lookout spots.

The eruption didn’t spew lava like the Hawaiian volcanos. Instead there was an explosion that blew more than half of the mountain into the air and across the landscape. The eruption set in motion a massive landslide that filled the Toutle River valley with a rolling 150 foot wall of mud, rock fragments and huge intact pieces of the mountain, highly charged gasses and super heated steam. Nothing survived the massive flow and the thick cloud of ash. Almost 150,000 acres of private, state and federal forests were devastated. Human life was lost too; loggers, a family camping, a scientist and a newspaper reporter. One long time resident in a nearby forest refused to evacuate and his body was never found.

Giant trees were blown to the ground by the impact of the explosion as though they were toothpicks.

A massive salvage and reforestation effort went into effect as soon as it was safe to go into the area. This has helped to rejuvenate the forest and to assist in the recovery of wildlife habitat and streams. A large area has now been declared Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument and is off limits to anyone but forest rangers, scientists and ecologists who keep a close watch on the recovery of the area.

It is quite magnificent when viewed up close and it boggles the mind to think about how powerful that blast must have been to blow more than half of the mountain into the air. A slow growing glacier is forming in a back section of the crater where the sun never shines and the snow never melts.

It is evident that the area is in recovery. Red alder trees flourish on the nutrient-poor landslide of ash deposits. Bacteria on the alder roots produce nitrogen fertilizer that enriches the soil. The windblown seeds from surviving and replanted Douglas-fir, noble fir, and other trees are taking root, assisting in the eventual return of the evergreen forests. The elk that graze on private and state lands also help in the recovery process. They ingest seeds and as they travel into the Mt. St Helens Monument area they deposit these seed in ‘nuggets’ of fertilizer.

Several days later I took an evening flight back to NYC, and as we flew over the Cascade mountain range I couldn’t believe my luck. From my window seat I got a full view of Mount St. Helens in the foreground, and to the north, Mt. Rainier. The sun was setting in the western horizon. It was really quite spellbinding and I watched until the mountains were no longer visible as the night sky seemed to swallow the landscape below.



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  1. Susan Kelso on June 1, 2014 at 8:46 pm

    Great story, great visit and of course great pictures. You really captured the mountain in these shots and I love the one from the plane. Also, we had a great visit!

    • Pushing Time on June 1, 2014 at 8:55 pm

      Susan thanks for leaving a comment. Yes, it was a great visit!! Hopefully we can do it again soon.

  2. Sharon Johnson on June 1, 2014 at 9:03 pm

    You captured this perfectly. I also love the night picture from the plane.
    Having lived within viewing area of the eruption it is a memory forever branded in my mind.
    That ash was really messy but we had one of the best gardens the next year.

    • Pushing Time on June 1, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      Thank you Sharon for leaving a comment!! I know everyone who lived through that time has an interesting tale to tell. Interesting about the garden!

  3. Lonnie Driver on June 1, 2014 at 10:31 pm

    Thank you for telling it so well… I can picture it in my mind as I read along.. the Pictures are wonderful! You do it all so well!!!

    • Pushing Time on June 2, 2014 at 8:04 am

      So glad to have you to visit with Lonnie. Makes me smile to read you comments.

  4. Carol Welch on June 1, 2014 at 10:32 pm

    What beautiful photos! I too lived where I could see the mountain from our house in Pioneer. I loved looking at it and was inspired to attempt to draw it when I was a kid.

    • Pushing Time on June 2, 2014 at 8:06 am

      It is an amazing mountain and the area is totally awesome. I could stop looking at it. And every time we turned around another curve, the view was spectacular.

  5. Marsha R. West on June 2, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Lovely post, Margaret. Gosh, I can’t believe it was 34 years ago! Super pictures, and reminds us compared to nature how small a spec we are in creation. I’ll FB & Tweet.

    • Pushing Time on June 2, 2014 at 11:03 am

      Yes, Marsha, we are specs in this grand universe. Glad to see you stopped by for a visit!!

  6. KATHRYN JANE on June 2, 2014 at 10:31 am

    What a lovely post! You’ve captured the essence of the mountain and the event.

    Although the mountain is about a five hour drive from my home in the Vancouver area (Canada) … I was outdoors at the time of the eruption, and actually heard the blast… we were all shocked to stillness, looking around and going, what the heck was that?!

    thanks for a great post.

    • Pushing Time on June 2, 2014 at 11:05 am

      Kathryn, it is amazing how many people experienced this event, even as far away as Canada. Thanks you for stopping by and leaving a comment.

  7. Toddi/Claudia on June 2, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Marge, as always, you did a magnificent job with the photos and story line. Travel logging is your forte! I was with you and Susan on the trip to Mt St Helen’s, and I am spell bound with your blog. For such a sunless day, your photos came out perfectly.

    • Pushing Time on June 2, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      Toddi, it was such a peaceful day with you and Susan! I’m glad you like my photos, but I had to photo shop a few to get them just right. It was a sunless day, like you said, but the light was so bright with reflected glare that the colors got washed out. That’s the fun of the digital camera. Forgiving, if you work it right.

  8. Irene Marcuse on June 2, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for the update, Marge ~ I lived in New Mexico in 1980 when Mt. St. Helens erupted ~ several days later, the ash cloud made it that far south and west, and hung over Rowe Mesa for a day or two. Really impressive!

    • Pushing Time on June 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Yes, Irene, I’ve heard from other people that the ash really made it quite a way from the mountain. I was in NY in 1980.

  9. thelma straw on June 2, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Wonderful photography. Thelma Straw in Manhattan

    • Pushing Time on June 2, 2014 at 2:30 pm

      Thanks Thelma!!

  10. Jeri on June 3, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Fantastic post! You told the entire story in beautiful words and photos. My only objection is now I WANT TO GO THERE – yet another item on my bucket list. Your photos showed the power of nature to destroy AND rejuvenate. I was fascinated by the trees among the “tooth pick” remains. The story about your father brought it all to life. And the final photo from the plane – a “shrunken” mountain competing with the towering Mt. Rainier – holds a message for all of use mere mortals.

    Thank you!

    • Pushing Time on June 3, 2014 at 11:18 am

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment!! Yes, it is a sight to see. And the glacier forming in that crevice is for real, and something the Rangers taking care of that area are quite proud to be a part of. The entire area is like a giant experiment. We were there in the middle of the day so the elk were all located in a cooler tree filled area of the park, but I understand that this area is loaded with wildlife.

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