“How about a picnic supper at the Crest? We can’t really see the sunset, but we can see our favorite ice-cream-cone mountain as well as Mt. Hood. We’ll take the camera and shoot some pictures of the sunset, reflected on their snowy peaks.” Kevin loved preserving mountains on film.
We had our picnic with sunset splashed mountain views on that warm evening of May 17, 1980, preserving on film that beautiful rounded mountain peak and her neighbor, our beloved Mt. Hood.
“Honey, the eleven o’clock news is on,” I called out to Kevin.
“Okay, I’ve just set up the radio to pick up the conversations from Coldwater Ridge. We’ll know if anything significant happens on the mountain.” We settled in to watch the news especially any updates on our neighboring volcano, Mt. St. Helens.
As we slid into bed that night I could hear a bit of static from radio across the hall. “Shall I shut the door so the radio won’t keep us awake?”
“No, I want to hear if David Johnston reports anything from the mountain, tonight.”
Eventually, I tuned out the radio static and slept until 8:32 the next morning when the radio crackled to life with David Johnston shouting, “Vancouver, Vancouver, This is it!”
Jumping up, I shouted, “Kevin, Kevin, did you hear that?” He was already up and running across the hall to the radio, hoping to hear more. I too, rushed to the door of the room, but I was stopped, a wall of silence had descended, ending all activity. Kevin stood hunched over the radio waiting; I joined him in the waiting, holding my breath willing the radio to release some static. Please show some sign of life, I prayed. After a few minutes Kevin stood upright and shook his head.
“Let’s see if there is anything on TV, hopefully Dr. Johnston is fleeing down the ridge away from the blast, if that is what has happened.” We heard the words before we saw the pictures, “Mt. St. Helen’s has blown.” Mike Donahue on channel 6 was reporting as the picture of an ash-filled plume filled our screen.
“We’ve got to see this for ourselves, lets go up on the hill, the cemetery will have the best view.” Kevin was already throwing on his clothes and I dashed to do the same, while he was already out the door, to start the car. Grabbing two bottles of juice and stuffing some bagels in a bag I ran for the door as he backed out of the garage. I had the sense to scoop up the camera as I flew past the hall table.
“Good thinking,” he smiled weakly, as I jumped into the Land Rover. We drove quickly up the road and in through the cemetery gates to get to the highest vantage point. A few other cars were parked along the road, some a bit haphazardly as though hurriedly
abandoned. More were following behind us as we quickly parked. About 30 people stood at the crest of the hill, all focused on the scene taking place some 30 miles in the distance. Everyone was silent, even children, none of us could speak words that refused to form in our minds. Our eyes saw a sky-filling plume that appeared to be a giant gray column, built to support some monstrous building. My mind kept telling me, this is not possible, this is the city, this cannot be happening. But there we all stood seeing the same reality, stunned into an awe filled silence. Eventually, I heard behind me, one word, one name, “God.” The tone was reverential, the explanation complete.
Kevin and I looked at each other and said together, “Yes, God.” And still the people came as though entering a cathedral in overpowering silence and wonder. As we watched it seemed the column was stationary, yet alive. My eyes were searching for movement, was it widening, going higher, it was hard to discern.
After almost an hour of silent watching a camera crew arrived and broke into our cathedral of silence, as they set up to film and interview the crowd that now numbered around one hundred.
We retrieved our late breakfast from the car, finding an isolated spot where we could sit, continuing our vigil. God’s power was on display. As we opened our bottles of juice we softly clinked them together saying, “To David Johnston, may he rest in peace.”
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