Hiking down toward Spirit Lake in late October 2005, I found the sheer scale of destruction on May 18, 1980, incomprehensible. The shell of a recently revived Mount Saint Helens puffed out steam across the water. In the eerie stillness, because there were no visual cues to lend any sense of distance or size, I might have been looking at a model of the real thing. This distorted perspective was resolved when I pulled out the Boyd Ellis postcard that I carried to make the repeat. In Ellis’s photo of an austere morning with the 9,677-foot mountain reflected in all its glory, the serrated edges of tree-lined ridges provided a yardstick by which to measure. And then I understood.
On May 18, 1980, at 8:32 a.m., Mount Saint Helens erupted, blowing away a side of the mountain. Fifty-seven people died, 200 square miles of forest were destroyed, and the mountain instantly lost 1,300 feet of elevation from its south side and 2,900 feet from its north. A thousand miles of state roads had to be closed and a layer of ash blanketed much of the state. Ellis stood closer to the south end of Spirit Lake at a spot no longer accessible today. —JS