By Don White
It was a massive explosion that was felt for miles around, flattening thousands of acres of trees like toothpicks, forever changing the looks of the beautiful peak that many of us called the “ice cream mountain.”
Mount St. Helens looked so peaceful, so idyllic with it’s rounded snow-covered top, like a heaping scoop of vanilla ice cream reigning so royally above a lush green carpet of Ponderosa Pines. On a clear day Spirit Lake, resting below the mountain, was as blue as the sky above and held a mirror image of Mount St. Helens within the frame of it’s grassy banks.
My family often traveled nearby to pick huckleberries, filling our buckets and coffee cans with all the juicy purplish marbles that we could refrain from eating on the spot. In the distance the beautiful mountain smiled at us, welcoming us to that piece of heaven. We never would have guessed that deep beneath the surface there were movements and friction stirring that would violently erupt, taking the lives of nearly sixty people and untold wildlife.
1980 was the year my Grandpa Ray died from lung cancer. Sitting in his tiny home near the Columbia River, oxygen tubes beneath his nose and a hospice nurse knitting across the room, many of our last conversations were about the rumblings and puffs of smoke that came from St. Helens, warnings of what would soon occur just forty miles north.
As students attending Columbia Christian College in Portland, Oregon, we could often see the white puffs in the distance, a welcome distraction from our Spring quarter studies. No one knew when the big event would occur, but the mountain kept warning us as the weeks wore on.
On Sunday, May 18, 1980, at 8:30 in the morning, my mother and sister were drinking their coffee when a frightening rumble moved throughout the house. The large picture windows in our living room wobbled in and out, rippling like cellophane in a breeze. They knew immediately what it was.
Five cubic miles of earth spewed into the sky, mainly to the East. My wife and her family lived in Eastern Washington where countless people were horrified at the sight of a boiling black blanket of smoke creeping across the sky, blocking out the sun, raining down pebbles and ash. People ran to their cars to find loved ones. They huddled in their homes or fearfully stayed in stores and workplaces, unsure if it was safe to go out.
Cars and trucks stalled out on every road and highway as volcanic ash choked the engines of all running vehicles, even emergency vehicles. Drivers and passengers sat helpless, praying and panicking, wondering if this was the end.
Decades later the land around Mount St. Helens is green again. A crater nearly two miles wide is all that is left of the once beautifully snowcapped mountain that had resembled an ice cream cone.
Forever buried beneath the layers of volcanic ash is Harry Truman. Not the president, but a feisty old local who refused to heed the warnings, fully believing that he and his many cats were safe from harm. He would stare at his beautiful mountain outside his window, calculating how the blast would impact the area, if it ever occurred at all, and he decided everything would be fine. No one, no geologist or forest ranger, no sheriff, friend or family member, could convince him otherwise.
There are now more serious rumblings in Southern California, and days ago the coastal nation of Chile was hit with a major earthquake (8.2 on the Richter scale), with huge aftershocks and tsunami waves.
Nature’s roars and rumblings couldn’t be more perfectly timed for a current movie blockbuster. The film Noah is playing to packed houses across the nation, proving that there is something about the unpredictable force of nature that draws us. Perhaps it’s because, despite all our technological advances, we long to be reminded that this world is bigger than us. There is a power we cannot tame nor fully understand.
We are but tiny creatures living in a big world that has plans of its own, dictated by the One who began it all so long ago. It’s a beautiful, yet terrifying place we live in. But it’s not our permanent home. I recall the words of a church hymn I learned as a boy: “This world is not my home. I’m just a-passin’ through.”
Just as Judy Garland sings in The Wizard of Oz about that place “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” we also sense a place that is far beyond what we can see and feel, beyond the here and now. The beauty of this world gives life meaning, but the roars and rumblings of this world remind us that we cannot stay here, that we should all prepare for that final move to our permanent home.
For those of you who have the urge to write, when have you been reminded that this world is far bigger than you? What stories can you tell about how this world reminds you that another one awaits?