View of a lifetime

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On the morning of May 18, 1980, I was enjoying coffee on the patio of my home in the Wind River valley, just about 18 miles directly south of “The Mountain.” A beautiful sunny day was predicted by the TV weatherman. Shortly, the sky turned black and my husband (God rest his soul) said, “Boy, that weatherman sure didn’t predict this storm a comin’,” and as soon as he got the words from his mouth, he realized that something was happening. Our windows had shook weeks before when the first blow-hole had erupted. He picked up our phone and called the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office. The officer said, “Something has happened at the mountain, but we really don’t know the extent of it.”

Having worked for the Forest Service all his life, he knew quite well how the process worked, so his next words, to me, were: “Grab your coat and get in the truck so we can get up there to see this show, before the ‘G.D.’ Forest Service shuts down all the roads.”

We left in haste and scurried up Bear Mountain road, climbing to a height on a north-facing logging road, where we looked down into the valley of Spirit Lake. From that vantage point, we could hear the thundering roar of the mountain and saw the bolts of lightning caused by the storm it created. The huge mountain of black debris was raising and dropping “house sized” boulders to the ground as it moved to the northeast.

There we were. We had left in such haste that we forgot a camera, but that picture will remain in my mind, forever.

Since we resided in the “blue zone,” we were issued passes so that we could go to and from our home, as we were alerted that we may have to evacuate on a moment’s notice if the conditions changed. We were very fortunate to be directly south of the mountain, as the prevailing winds are east or west; thus we received just a slight dusting of heavy ash.