Story #5: Like a still picture, too large

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By Les Atlas

On the morning of May 19, the day after the eruption, I was with a friend in the cafeteria at the lodge at Yosemite National Park. I found a seat by the window so I could have my breakfast while looking out at the valley walls.

But as I was just about to sit down, I saw someone holding a newspaper with a large headline and a picture of the eruption. I was transfixed. I hoped that the loss of life was minimal and that people were not too adversely affected. But I also knew that I needed to see the volcano erupting.

I was a graduate student, and I often traveled to conferences. So I worked to arrange to attend a meeting in Seattle. About a week later, I was in a car with friends, driving north on Interstate 5. By the time we got to southern Washington, there were cars parked at every overpass, with people looking east. So we also went up to an overpass and looked. St. Helens was still erupting.

Somehow I thought that I’d see the ash moving up from the crater. But it was motionless, and the eruption looked unreal, like a still picture. It seemed too large. I then had a sense of its power. I could see how much of the mountain was missing.

After my meeting in Seattle, I continued to work toward my Ph.D. As I finished, I had to decide where I’d take a faculty position. The University of Washington was at the top of my list, and I accepted its offer. I am still there, as a professor of electrical and computer engineering. So I guess I can say that the eruption was the reason that I ended up living in Seattle and am still here.

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