Mount St. Helens


The other evening, I was eavesdropping on the science program Partner was watching in the bedroom. “The biggest volcanic eruption in North America in a hundred years,” the narrator said. “It was once a perfect cone-shaped volcano.”



Ah. Yes. I know the one.



I grew up with Mount St. Helens almost always on the horizon. Our house was on the wrong side of the hill from it, but you didn’t have to go far to get a pretty spectacular view of it. For most of my school years, it sat right outside my classroom window. St. Helens was perfect. It was always snow-capped (in the 1960s and 1970s it seldom lost much snow, even in the summer), and it had the most perfectly graceful shape.



The Native Americans (so I’m told) had a story about St. Helens and the other big volcanic peaks in the area. St. Helens was the daughter of Mount Rainier; she was fought over by two suitors, Mount Adams and Mount Hood. The fight was violent enough to destroy the Bridge of the Gods that spanned the Columbia River. (Evidently Mount Adams won, because Adams and St. Helens are right next to each other now, with Hood glaring at them from across the river.)



St. Helens was mostly invisible in the winter, hidden by clouds. In summer it was like a nice big scoop of ice cream on the horizon. It was refreshing to look at, and strangely demure.



And then one morning in 1980 Mount St. Helens went WHOOMP.



I’d been living in Rhode Island for a couple of years by that time, but I was in touch with my family. To be fair, everyone out there had lots of warning. My mother had told me that the whole mountain was swelling up; you could plainly see the huge lump in the side of the mountain from Interstate 5, thirty miles away. And if my mother could see it, it had to be pretty evident to everyone.



The authorities tried to evacuate the area. They really didn’t foresee the real problem, though: huge floods and mudflows which swamped the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers, washing people away.



We never dreamed it’d blow up.



Now, thirty years later, when I visit my old hometown, I look northeast and see a sulky misshapen blue-white lump, half-hidden in mist, with a big bite taken out of one side.



The things we remember from childhood are all taken away from us, one by one.



Gautama was right: all things pass away.



About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

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