And so it came to be that spring returned to the mountain. Decades of desolation slowly thawed, and the volcano’s wasteland became verdant and lush.
What had been the top of a mountain fell into the valley and became a treeless plain. In turn it was carved by water and the footsteps of animals and speckled with grass and young alders.
Time heals even the Earth’s wounds, if only in the millisecond that has passed in the grand scale of geologic time.
As the sun shone on Mount St. Helens Monday morning, it was clear the place wasn’t done changing — that there was still so much to learn. And thousands of visitors from around the world showed up for the 35th anniversary of the May 1980 eruption to do just that.
Busloads of children — one volunteer offered that more than 400 children came to the observatory Monday — gathered around a ranger at Johnston Ridge Observatory to hear the story of the eruption.
“It was a beautiful day, somewhat like today, 35 years ago,” Grady Boswell said. “This eruption, part of our state’s history, shattered expectations of what volcanoes can do.”
Many of the gathered students’ parents likely weren’t alive when a lateral blast followed a landslide and ash swept across the nation and the planet.
They certainly all lived through the great rebound, though.
Sirantos Fotopoulos was only 4 years old when the volcano blew, though his first time face-to-face with Mount St. Helens was not until 1994.
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“There’s a lot more growth since I attended last time,” he said.
Fotopoulos had come down from Bellingham for the anniversary Monday, having visited the mountain once before in 1994 for a three-day class expedition guided by a renowned volcanologist. He was allowed access to areas off limits to the public since pre-eruption days, when lodges, camps and cabins dotted the shores of Spirit Lake. All that now lies several hundred feet below the surface of the lake today.
“It’s a mesmerizing, just majestic view,” he said.
A couple from Manchester, England, would agree with him as they shot the mountain from the observatory’s crowded promenade.
“We didn’t even know it was the anniversary,” said Mike Wealleans, who enjoyed his 50th birthday over the weekend, making way from San Francisco to Seattle. “It just so happened.”
Steve Bergerson was spending his sixth season volunteering with the Mount St. Helens Institute on Monday, helping visitors take photos and dishing the dirt on the volcano’s history.
He said he met a couple from Finland, and another from Perth, Australia, over the weekend, part of a good showing by visitors from far and wide.
“I tell people the mountain went off in the wrong direction — everyone’s face is in the shade taking pictures,” Bergerson said.