St. Helens erupts childhood memories

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By Erika Weisensee
Milwaukie mom,

This week marked the 30th anniversary of a major event in the Pacific Northwest—an epic natural disaster that made Mt. St. Helens known the world over. For me, the eruption of May 18th, 1980, stands out as the first news event in my memory. I was four years old but would turn five the very next day. I grew up in Clatskanie and as you drive east on Highway 30, in the hills between Clatskanie and Rainier, a clear day offers a stunning view of Mt. St. Helens. I remember that view pre-eruption—the mountain’s majestic peak. Ever since then, the view of that gaping crater is a constant reminder of nature’s power.

Thirty years ago, my parents and grandparents—the entire world in fact— were buzzing about the mountain. The TV was turned to the news. We wore masks on our faces for a few days to avoid breathing in ash. Eventually, my brother and sister and I made up games related to the event. We played “hot lava”—traversing the living room furniture with the shared goal of not touching the floor, the “hot lava.”

Fifty-seven people lost their lives in the May 18th eruption. The environmental effects were devastating. Trees, mud, ash and debris clogged Spirit Lake and the Toutle River. Yet, today the legacy of that day is, in part, a story of rebirth. The May 2010 edition of National Geographic tells the story of the area’s gradual renewal, from a disaster zone thirty years ago to a thriving ecosystem today. You can see that rebirth with your own eyes by making a day trip to the mountain’s numerous visitor centers. For more information, visit www.mountsthelens.com.

### Erika Weisensee, a writer and native Oregonian, lives in Milwaukie and teaches journalism and communication courses at the University of Portland.