Story #35: The ash piling up like snow

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By Jayne Farquharson Stallons

Sunday morning, May 18, 1980, found me, a senior in high school, attending church in Toppenish, as usual. The earth was rumbling, and we’d been on earthquake-volcano watch, but there was nothing significant enough yet to deter our normal activities.

All that changed, however, when in the middle of our service, the back door to the sanctuary opened, and the fire chief walked purposefully up the aisle to the pulpit, where he leaned over and conferred with the pastor, who then stepped aside and let the chief speak. We were told that Mount St. Helens had erupted and that there was no idea what was going to happen next, so he advised us to head home and shelter in place.

When we walked outside, the sky was getting more ominously dark. At one point, the streetlamps came on, and then the thick ash in the air obscured them. Living nearby, I walked home with my family and watched the ash pile up like snow.

Once home, we watched national coverage of the eruption, which made it sound like we were all perishing. We were advised to use the phone only for emergencies. The lines were understandably taxed, so our family in the Midwest thought we had been blown off the earth until several days later when we could connect.

Living in a farming community, we were concerned about how the four inches or so of ash would affect the crops, especially the blooming fruit trees. Ultimately, I understood that it did not negatively impact any crop and, in fact, might have provided nutrients to the soil.

The clouds of ash billowed behind our cars as we drove our farm roads. Some thought that the friction from the ash could damage our engines, but I never saw that happening. The clouds did impact our ability to see other cars and the road, so we drove pretty slowly all that summer, until fall winds and rain caused the ash to dampen stay more earthbound.

I remember saving jars of the ash, but have no idea where they ended up after I left for college.

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