May 18, 2010
The phone rang insistently just after 8:32 that quiet Sunday morning in Silverdale, Washington. My wife and I were getting up, planning on going to church in our quiet community. My mother was on the line, calling from Roanoke, Virginia, and quite agitated: Are you alright? Did the blast harm your home? Will you be covered by lava, by ash?
I didnt know what she was talking about. Oh, the mountain has been rumbling for weeks, I told her, trying to assuage her concerns. NO! Its erupted. Mount Saint Helens is all over the news.
I ran to the window, straining to see any evidence of the volcanos dense cloud of ash. I saw nothing. We were about 100 miles north of the mountain.
Turning on the television, we learned that the volcano had indeed erupted, with the force a nuclear bomb, and with devastating results. The top of the mountain was blown away. Volcanic ash rose violently and menacingly sixteen miles into the air. Spirit Lake was destroyed.
Washington States rich agricultural regionsEastern Washingtonwere all in the path of the ash cloud. Soon, pictures on television showed towns and villages blanketed with ash, like some weird blizzard in May. And the TV stations provided maps of the expected path of the ash cloud.
I called my mother and dad back to reassure them. They were more likely to feel the volcanos effects than we were, I told them. And by that time it passed over Virginia, it would mostly have dissipated. Thats because the prevailing winds were carrying the cloud eastward. The ash cloud would have to circle the globe before it dumped any ash on those of us who lived north and west of the destruction.
Our hearts and our prayers went out, nonetheless, to our friends in Eastern Washington. It seemed they were facing an environmental disaster of the first order. The media had been playing up the catastrophic possibilities for plant and animal life for months.
The press was not so concerned about Harry Truman, however. This curmudgeonly old cabin-dwellerno relation to the feisty President of the same name—had been adopted by Seattles TV stations as the hardy representative of the Wild West. Soon, even if Harry Truman had had second thoughts about the rumbling mountain under his feet, he would have faced embarrassment for not sticking it out.
Gov. Dixie Lee Ray, an atomic scientist, had publicly pleaded with Harry to be reasonable. She wanted to send in state troopers to yank the old man out of the path of danger. Mount Saint Helens will erupt, she said, and the results could be devastating.
For awhile, they were. Several dozen people lost their lives, including the redoubtable Harry Truman. Those blanketed towns and farms had a job digging out.
But what strikes us now, thirty years later, is not how fragile the earth is, but how resilient. Trees have come back to the blast area, especially red alder. Fish are back in Spirit Lake. Deer and elk thrive today. Heres what an official U.S. Government website says about Mount Saint Helens:
It wasnt long before scientists working in the area found surviving populations of plants and animals. This was particularly evident in areas protected by snow cover and where erosion had thinned the overlying ash deposits (along streams and in gullies that formed on hill slopes). Plants were observed sprouting from the pre-eruption soil surface and signs of activity by gophers and ants indicated that subterranean animals (living below ground) had survived beneath the volcanic ash.
The survival of plants and animals in the midst of the apparent total devastation was of special interest to the scientific community. Early studies have demonstrated that, even after a large-scale, catastrophic disturbance, recovery processes are strongly influenced by carry over of living and dead organic material from pre-disturbance ecosystems. At Mount St. Helens, ecosystem recovery was influenced not only by the survival of plants and animals, but also by the tremendous quantities of organic material that remained in the standing dead and blown down forest.
What was the most surprising discovery immediately following the eruption?
The single greatest surprise to scientists entering the blast zone shortly after the eruption was the realization that many organisms survived in, what initially appeared to be, a lifeless landscape
Washington State is not only renowned for Boeing, Microsoft, and Starbucks, the Evergreen State is justly famous for her apples, cherries, and blueberries. This rich volcanic ash proved to be a great fertilizer. The states agricultural bounty quickly bounced back.
Lets consider this when we hear predictions of gloom and doom from floods or earthquakes or even oil spills. We dont welcome these events and, where we can, we should take vigorous action to mitigate the effects of these natural disasters.
When Scripture tells us The Earth is the Lords and the fullness thereof, we need to internalize that message, caring lovingly for the great gifts He has given us, but mindful that, in the final analysis, He has the whole world in His hands. Its not in ours.