I stared blankly at the television as the volcano erupted. Everything for miles was covered in by a plume of smoke and ash. Next to the mountain was a river and its water ran black with soot. The nature scene had gone so wrong. Everything was grey.

I was twelve years old when I watched that screen in awe. It was 1980 and the explosion of Mount St. Helens is one of a few news stories from my childhood that I remember clearly. The event justified my teacher wheeling the big audiovisual cart into our classroom at St. Mary’s Catholic School. History was happening right before us and I was glued to the images.

The stone-and-ash filled wind decimated the surrounding countryside and killed everything in a 230 mile radius. The blast is said to have been 500 times more powerful than the bomb detonated over Hiroshima.



Before the eruption the ridges were protected in old-growth Pacific fir and beautiful hemlock forests. But they were gone now. Television crews from the air panned jumbled piles of logs. The 300 mph blast ripped trees from the ground, stripping them of all their branches. Nearly 150 square miles of forest were destroyed almost instantly- and then the eruption continued for nine hours.

What was once a lush, green, land had been  transformed into what folks were calling a “lunar landscape.”

Sixteen years later, in 1996, I visited Mt. St. Helens. I was in Portland for a conference and I rented a car with three friends.  We drove over an hour north until we reached the park entrance. When we turned the last corner up the mountain the land sprawling out below us looked a whole lot like sacred ground. I stood mesmerized at the cliff, quiet and looking. It was a compelling view: the destruction, the knowledge of what had been and what was lost.

But tears ran down my cheeks when I noticed the random pattern of bright green leaves pushing through the dusty ground.

It was true that life is greener, more vivid, more cherished when silhouetted against the grey ash of destruction. It was true that when everything is wiped away the color of hope is green. Green might be small and just starting but it was beginning to spread and take over the mountain.

Hope was returning. Organically.

I learned something important that day on the mountain, all those years after I had watched the destruction on television. I had to smile when I read on a plaque there that the gloomy predictions were wrong. So much for the forecasts of long-term barrenness. The words there explained that when that volcano erupted scientists thought that the land had changed too much to ever see the same foliage return. New plantings would need to be brought in. The words on that plaque went on to explain that much of the regrowth  surprised them and took place because of “biological legacies”:
The fallen trees and buried seeds, the very ones that had been blasted down became resilient restarters.

Resilient re-starters. Legacy leaves. Shoots of hope.

It may take centuries for the forest of Douglas and Pacific silver firs and hemlocks to regenerate fully. But the truth is that a cataclysmic event- a 5.1 Richter-scale earthquake that shook that volcanic mountain could not destroy everything permanently. Not even temporarily.

The fallen ones were rising back.

A legacy was continuing from the very spot they were thought to be squelched out.

Hope is resilient like that.

I bought a vase there, in the gift shop at Mt. St. Helens all those years ago.
It’s formed of lava and ash from that ground.

When it holds flowers that have come up from the soil in my own backyard I remember the legacy leaves: the green shoots of hope that spring from ash.


{If you’re interested in more:  Here’s a video that will give you some background}——-> And it’s set to a song by “The Clash,” so there’s that.}

Linking up with Jennifer at #TellHisStory













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