May 18

35 years ago today was one of the strangest days of my life.

It was a Sunday. I had been with my family all weekend near Soldiers Meadows Reservoir in northern Idaho. This area was fairly remote; communications wise… no phone, no T.V., any contact with the outside world was via C.B. radio.

I recall it being a pleasant spring day, just being in the woods, fishing in the lake or whatever. Around noon the sky took on an odd color, like rain clouds moving in, but at a high altitude. Gun metal gray and opaque, the celestial dome was transformed and the forest became still. It felt like the sky was pressing down on me… and then the ash came.

Just a dusting at first, nearly imperceptible in the air around us but accumulating on the hood of the car, the pine needles, the ferns. My first thought was forest fire, but it was too early, too green for that. The C.B. radio was abuzz with the voices of other mountain dwellers… a storm? An accident? Nuclear fallout!?!

We packed up and headed for home as the ash continued to accumulate, ¼ inch, ½. By the time we got to the paved road there was a good inch of the stuff everywhere. It muffled the sound of the driving car, like a fresh snow seems to stop a sound in its tracks. We were forced to pull over every few miles and bang the air filter of the car on the bumper to dislodge the ash so the engine could breathe.

Finally, within radio signal range, we got the word that the ash was from a volcano in western Washington, Mount St. Helens.

There was no soundtrack to that day in my life, I was just scared. It was a very quiet trip home, we just held on and hoped for the best.

Today I’ll listen to Fire On The Mountain by the Marshal Tucker Band and just remember.

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