Had we known when we caught a glimpse of Mount Saint Helen while driving through Portland that it was to be our only opportunity to see the full scope of the mountain, I might have taken pictures of that moment. Instead, we took pictures of the Portland skyline like a bunch of country bumpkins that had never laid eyes on a city before. I’m not 100% sure, but there may have even been a gasp or two. I think Portland took us by surprise because we weren’t expecting a skyline. In any case, we ignored the mountain.
Day 3 was set aside for one thing and one thing only – to see Mount Saint Helen’s. We were up early, excited for the day. Upon throwing open the curtains in our hotel room, the reality of the day became obvious. It was raining. And misty and foggy and just not a very pleasant day. The down side was that we would not see the mountain in all its glory. The up side was that in an attempt to see the peak, we would explore more than we might have otherwise done. My original plan was to drive up to Johnston Observatory, make some oooh sounds at the mountain, then convince my guys that we were so darn close to Seattle, let’s go see the Space Needle, all the while scheming to come up with a reason to go to the Public Market. Such was not to be.
There are a couple of things you should know about Mount Saint Helen. Maybe you already know, but we didn’t. There are two Mount Saint Helen’s within the single mountainside. There is the area outside the “blast” zone and the area within that zone. Outside the blast zone, logging has returned. New trees are planted as the mature trees are hauled away to become homes and desks and tables and chairs. Within the blast zone, the area is allowed to regenerate naturally. It is there for all as a living, breathing laboratory to study, to learn from and to observe. The one thing that we all walked away with is a renewed sense of awe in the Creator and His plan. For out of the ash of destruction, beauty emerged.
The Blast and Devastation
The Renewal of Life and Beauty
And so the adventure begins . . .
On a clear day, this would be the point where the first signs of Mount Saint Helen’s devastation would be visible. Crossing the bridge and you enter the blast zone. Outside the blast zone, logging has resumed. Within the zone, Nature is allowed to renew on her own.
While all life was immediately wiped away, in the wake of the destruction, life renewed. The first life to return to the mountain were the wild flowers. No longer shut out by the canopy of the forest, flowers flourished. Birds and ground animals also returned. The deer soon followed.
While the face of mountain was forever changed, life continued.
Coldwater Lake, just 8 miles north of Mount Saint Helen’s, was created by the 1980 eruption. While the mountain destroyed Spirit Lake at her feet, she created a new lake. Like the mountain side, the area around Coldwater Lake is bright with the color of wild flowers in bloom.
To reach Spirit Lake at the heart of the devastation, you need to be willing to take a long and rough road up the mountain. There are points in your journey when the pavement has slipped down the hillside and you wonder if you have lost your mind. Wild flowers are everywhere. It is their beauty the calls you onward.
Finally, the devastation comes into view. As you move closer to the mountain itself within the blast zone, the silent witnesses to her fury stand tall, like eerie reminders of what once was. And yet new trees have taken root, not planted by man but by nature herself as the forest slowly returns.
The path of destruction and regeneration is unmistakable. In the distance is what was once Silver Lake – a place known for fishing and boating and summer fun. It is quiet today. Lonely and quiet. Nearly 40 years later, and the lake is still full of timber struck down in the blast. Some locals believe that had the blast not interfered with the shipping lanes, not much in the way of clean up would have ever taken place. To a certain degree, dredging and clean up continues all these years later as ash sediment seeps into the Columbia River.
Taking the road less traveled up to Spirit Lake also means meandering through small hamlets that the typical tourist might not ever explore. Off the beaten trail lets you glimpse into a world different yet the same. Small towns are small towns. People that work the land are the same. Simple life is the same. A thread of commonality runs through us all.