Story #31: A sense of awe and respect

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By Roland Ruby

I was 7 at the time of the eruption of the Mount St. Helens, and our family lived in a farmhouse at the top of a hill in Ridgefield, along Interstate 5 south of Woodland. From our house on a clear day, we could see Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood and Mount Adams. Even on cloudy days, we would be treated to a view of the first two.

As was my ritual, I got up early on Sunday morning to watch the local children’s programming from a Portland station. I had become accustomed to seeing puffs of ash, steam and volcanic gasses from the mountain. My sisters and I were even rattled by an earthquake shortly before the eruption. I heard a rumble, which I thought sounded like thunder from a distance.

As I was sitting down to watch TV, I the emergency broadcast signal came across. The newscaster was announcing that Mount St. Helens has erupted with tremendous force. I ran to our kitchen where the window above the sink looked out to the east.

We could see the mountain, and I was shocked. The upper portion seemed to have disappeared into a stream of ash and gasses. I could see faint lights flashing through the clouds. Having jumped up on to the counter next to the sink to get a better view, I shouted for my parents. When there was little response, I jumped down to knock on their bedroom door, right off the kitchen. My dad, whose only day off from his job was Sunday, opened the door and asked me what had me yelling like that. I was so excited that I am unsure to this day if I made any sense. My mother must have understood because she walked to the kitchen window and looked out and gasped.

This was within the first minute of my hearing the emergency broadcast signal. In the next two minutes, our phone rang, and my mother picked it up. It was the owner of the property on which we lived and a close family friend, who happened to raise cattle on this land. He asked if we could please go out and herd up the cattle and bring them in. The house was awake by now, and we all got dressed to go out and bring in these cows.

We got to the back of the property and found all the cows clustered together under two or three groups of trees. It seemed to us that they knew what to do better than we did. We got them all back to the barn. We spent the rest of the day looking out our windows, going outside for the occasional picture and watching the news.

Over the summer, we had great views of the later eruptions from our home. At times we went swimming in Woodland, and we could see clouds jetting up from the mountain. Half the people at the lake would be heading to their cars and speeding south on Interstate 5.

Also, because of the ash fall, our hay harvest was ruined. We had to repeatedly sharpen the blades to the hay cutters and lawn mowers. Every time we did yard work or gardening, we wore the surgical masks my mother that brought home.

The next year, my family and friends drove up to the Toutle Lake area to see the damaged caused by the lahar (mudflow) flooding from the mountain. Ever since, I have had a sense of awe and respect for the mountain.

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