On May 18, 1980, after two months of earthquakes and steam blasts, Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, USA, erupted at 8:32 on a Sunday morning. The eruption spewed ash 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere. The eruption went on for nine hours and reduced the height of the mountain by 1400 ft. (426.72 m) The ash was deposited in over eleven states as well as parts of Canada. I was 156 miles (approx. 251 km) north of the mountain. Since it was the weekend, I was sleeping in and knew nothing of the eruption until much later. In my area, all we got was a light layer of ash on our cars. The mountain exploded laterally so Eastern Washington got the worst of it.
But this isn’t an article about the eruption, the lives it took, or the damage it did. I’ve blogged during other Mays but have never felt inspired to write about the eruption. It seemed that everybody already knew about what happened or if they didn’t would learn about it every year in the days leading up to the anniversary.
What inspired this post was a comment by someone on social media about Harry R. Truman who lived with St. Helens for 52 years during which time he owned and ran the Mt. St. Helens Lodge. When it became apparent that the volcano would erupt local officials tried to evacuate Harry. The old man refused to leave. He was one of the more than fifty people the eruption killed. The woman on social media called Harry a science denier. So, I have to defend Harry. He was a rascal and an independent old coot but even though I never knew him, I have no doubt that he never questioned that the volcano would erupt. The huge bulge in its north side would have been a major clue even if the earthquakes and steam eruptions hadn’t been.
Even though I’m only speculating, I can understand why Harry refused to leave his beloved mountain. He was 84 years old, twice divorced, and once widowed. He had only one child. He’d lead an unconventional, independent life. He was a WW 1 veteran having served in France. On the way to Europe, his troopship was sunk by a U boat. Later in life, he was a bootlegger, a poacher, and a thief who stole gravel from the Forest Service and fished on Native American land with a bogus license. He was never caught in any of these acts. Before moving to the mountain he ran a service station. Though he may have been a rogue, I seriously doubt that he was a fool.
I can’t blame Harry for not wanting to leave this gorgeous area or live to see the devastation he must have known the eruption would cause to the splendid place where he’d spent more than half his life there.
At his age what would Harry have done and where would he have gone if he left his home? Give up his cantankerous independence? Go to a nursing home? Become a burden on his only child? Sit around and rock, waiting to die? The mountain was his life. Better to make a spectacular exit than to give up the only life he’d known for fifty-two years.
I hope Harry was sitting on the porch of his lodge, drinking his favorite cocktail, whisky and Coke when the mountain blew.