18 May, 2010

A Postcard from the Volcano

...with our bones
We left much more, left what still is
The look of things, left what we felt.

This picture was taken on Sunday morning, May 18, 1980. 30 years ago today. Most people who were living in the Pacific NW on this day can't forget this date. It's the alliteration in the date. This morning I saw the date and I immediately realized that I knew exactly where I was on this day. We (my mother, brother, and I) are smiling in the picture because something exciting--something extraordinary-- is happening: Mt. St. Helens is erupting. There is another picture of me, perhaps now lost (my father destroyed many of the family photos in a rage several years later) on a banana-seat bike with a 35mm camera strapped around my neck and Mt. St. Helens erupting a vast plume of ash into the clear blue sky behind me. I'm wearing the same striped shirt as this one. I always loved the picture because of the erupting mountain, but also because I was proud to be holding the camera. I had hopped on my bike that morning and immediately saw it in the sky. I pedaled fast to get past the buildings to the cow field. The camera belonged to a neighbor who was standing at the edge of a field of cows, before an electric barbed-wire fence, when I rode up to get as a view of the mountain without trees blocking the view. Then I rode back to the apartment complex to wake my mother. At the time we were living in a semi-rural community in southwestern Washington called Hazel Dell. My father was just about to be released from prison, where he was serving a sentence for burglary and possession of illegal firearms. The lack of my father seems to be important to my memory of the day. The neighbor later took this picture.

Everyone stood in front of the plume to get a picture. There were lots of pictures--all of them gone now. In all of them there was a distortion of perspective--as if the volcano were very close.

I imagine posting one of these pictures here:

The definition in the rolling of the smoke is extreme, towering upward and almost curving into space.

A few days later the winds would shift and bury us with several inches of ash--and the ash would stay around for years after.

In 1994, I climbed to the top of the volcano with some friends. I sat at the edge of the crater, and I wonder if I had this moment of looking southwest and imagining myself looking back at the mountain in 1980.


Josh said...

This is beautiful, Richard. The beginnings of that memoir we once talked about?

Richard Greenfield said...

No, I don't think so. I'm doing a lot of blogging because I'm not liking the poetry writing I'm doing right now. It's also warming me up for a review I'm supposed to write of Brian Young's Site Acquisition and Carmen's book.

Bryan said...

This day was a dream, one I shall never forget. Trees, rock, and slopes of ash. Freedom, youth, and friends. I was happy to find this picture on your blog. I show mine with pride as well.