On May 18, 1980, a mountain called Mount St. Helens blew up. While hardly known outside the US, it was an event that dominated news headlines for weeks, all around the world. A volcano eruption is one of those events we all know happen, read about, but never witness. It is not something that typically happens in our lifetime either, so no surprise really that THIS event captured the imagination of people around the globe.
So it was with me, I was living in the Netherlands at the time. Holland is a small country with hardly any “empty space” at all and I remember I found it hard to really comprehend the massive scale of the Mount St. Helens eruption. Think about it, if this volcano had been in the center of the Netherlands, most of that small country would have been obliterated. I remember the event and being in awe at the catastrophe and marveled at the photos and stories of eye-witnesses that started to emerge in the weeks after the event itself.
Fast forward to 2016, thirty six years later and imagine the feelings of anticipation that went through me when heading out to see this mountain. It stirred up those, now long forgotten, feelings of wonder and amazement, along with new emotions that went something like . . “WOW, I am actually going to see this place”, “what will it look like now” and the occasional thought along the lines of . . “what if it blows up again?”.
So . . . seeing this mountain was quite an event, almost spiritual as it really reminds us humans of how small and insignificant we are within the grand scheme of things. One simply CANNOT be impressed by what you see, marvel at the sheer size of the area and feel a deep respect for that universe and be humbled by it all.
Getting up-close to the areas that blew up is amazing, so much larger than I had imagined when trying to visualize it way back then. Even today, thirty six years after the event itself, the scars are still very visible. One of the most noticable signs of the enormous “blast” of the eruption is the unimaginable number of trees lying on the mountain sides. Whole forests were simply blown over, matures trees snapping in two like they were no bigger than a match-stick. Take a close look at this photo. You can see fallen trees covering the entire mountain side, all pointing in the same direction, clearly showing the direction of the blast. In the top left, you can also see trees still standing, obviously protected by the mountain, but still dead.
Yet Mother Earth is healing itself as you can see below.
New growth is everywhere. There is new grass, new wildflowers and masses of new trees, even new lakes and rivers and the mountain itself is quite different. The new trees are quite large, but when looking at them, you cannot help but sense there is something not quite right. There is “something” different about the forested mountainsides. Initially, that feeling is at a sub-conscious level, then it hits you, there is an unusual “uniformity” about the trees. They are all the same height, as if all planted on the same day, yet they are not planted in rows, the growth is quite random. And that is probably exactly what happened – they were not “planted” by human hands but did all start growing around the same time. This “uniformity” is somewhat unsettling at first, until you realize this is Nature simply reclaiming the mountain sides that were taken away by the eruption. A sense of wonder sets in and a deep sense of respect for how wonderful nature really is.
We were staying in a place called Randle, which is located almost exactly half-way between Mt Rainier and Mount St. Helens. We strategically picked that location so it would be a brief drive to both locations. Then we heard that Hwy 99, which takes you to Windy Ridge, was closed due to a land-slide.
As a result, we needed to drive some 110 miles to the other side of the mountain, using Hwy 504, to get to the Johnston Ridge Observatory the route from which we took these photos. As a result, we never got to see Spirit Lake, a lake heavily affected by the blast.