Man, I remember that like it was yesterday! It was Sunday, and we were up on the ball field, playing baseball on the diamond above the school in Spangle, Washington, just south of Spokane on the Palouse. I was in second grade. It started to get dark, and our first thought was how quickly the day and gone by. Then I looked at my watch. It was only about two o'clock in the afternoon, and that's when things started to get weird.
The ash started to fall. The big chunks fell first. You could see them, like big, gray snowflakes. Someone came to the field and said we needed to get home right away, that Mount Saint Helens had blown. By the time I got home, ash was visible on the ground, like newly fallen snow. Except instead of turning the countryside white and beautiful, it turned it gray and hellish, like death had rode into town and left a trail of swirling soot and ash. About three inches fell where we were.
We were far later to the party than you guys in Western Washington. I'd say the first signs of it started showing up just after noon, with the sky darkening. It blew in the morning, but we didn't see the effects until early afternoon, as I recall. We didn't see the explosion or the initial plume of ash; we were too far away.
The ash was fine -- some of the finest-grained stuff possible. It was so fine it went through the air filters in cars and killed them. I remember cars lining the roads in and around Spokane afterward, as people tried to drive in it and became stranded when their engines died. The ash was so fine, it poured like water when you pushed it with a shovel. The pic above is similar to what it looked like where we were, but our ash was finer than that. The one with the car is closer to what it looked like for us. The fire department sprayed it down with a fine mist to make it more manageable and keep it from going airborne when it was moved. Couldn't spray it too much, or it became thick and heavy as hell.
We made a big dirt bike jump from the stuff that lasted for what seemed like forever. As I recall, it was there until we moved away years later. The stuff was everywhere for years, in lawns, ditches, gardens, anywhere you looked. It had some serious potential as fertilizer, too; the gardens grew like crazy afterward. Thinking back on it every year as I do, I'm instantly transported back to when I was a kid. I remember it as vividly as anything in my life, just like it had happened yesterday.
World Champion Seattle Seahawks football. It's an addiction, and there is no cure.
Les Norton - gone but never forgotten. Rest in blue and green peace, my friend.