The Calm Before The Storm
June 18, ’80
In the morning, waking up to the effects of a few too many “lemonades,” I
crawled out of my tent to find what appeared to be snow on the ground.
It didn’t take long before I realized the “snow” was ash from an erupting
Mt. St. Helens. The first Mt. St. Helens eruption, the really big one,
took place a month ago. The waitress who handed me my coffee
said, “The guy on the radio called this one a `belch.’” “That must
have been some belch,” I said back to her. The mountain was better than
eighty miles away. The townsfolk in Lincoln City appeared to have
gotten over the shock of the erupting volcano because they were making
jokes about the new eruption. The waitress admitted that the ash was a
nuisance, but she also said, “It’s a great novelty idem. Why don’t you
send some to your friends back home?” She even pointed out the gift
shop across the street that sold little bags of the stuff, plastic
bags with a seal authenticating the ash as Mt. St. Helen’s. Before I
left town I did just that. I sent the ash to Mike and Val, my old
roommates, and to the three custodians that I worked with back at CMU.
That task accomplished, I got on my bike and headed north.
It wasn’t bad at first. The already overcast sky made it hard to see
the ash floating down. After I stopped at McDonald’s and had a
ninety-nine cent breakfast, things got worse though. I found myself biking
directly into a head wind, and on my bike radio the weatherman
predicted 35-45 mile per hour winds by late afternoon. I don’t think I
experienced anything worse than 25-30 mile per hour winds—what a
break! Anyway, when the winds started to blow, the bright white sky
grew darker. The clouds were not darkening the sky, the ash was. I was
actually leaving bicycle tire tracks behind me. As it grew worse, the
green from the trees disappeared. And then it became difficult to
see period. What I took to be low hanging clouds turned out to be
concentrated ash falling to earth. Every once in a while a
round-silhouetted sun could be seen barely. It was an eerie sight,
weird and very disturbing too. I hope I never see the sun look like that again.