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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Mount St. Helens: Hear the untold stories

I remember May 18, 1980, as if it were … well, maybe not yesterday, but certainly last year. It was a Sunday afternoon, and my wife and I, and then-baby daughter, were visiting some friends in North Spokane. We were on a rural property, with a lot of open space, and I remember looking up from a croquet match at the dark cloud coming quickly from the west.

“That is one serious storm,” I thought.

Just then, someone yelled out that the TV was reporting that Mount St. Helens had erupted. And what we were seeing was the ash cloud. So we quickly packed up the baby and headed home. I remember driving home through a snowstorm of volcanic ash and worrying that the stuff was going to ruin my car’s engine.

That began our ordeal. The next morning we awoke to a gray world, one that was as eerie as it proved enduring. Weeks to months later we could still find patches of gray along the highways.

Mount St. Helens comes to mind because of Steve Olson, the author who will be reading at 7 tonight at Auntie’s Bookstore. Olson is the author of “Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens" (W.W. Norton, $27.95).

Here are some critical comments:

Mark Damsker, USA Today: “As Steve Olson reminds us in his vividly reported new history … what happened on May 18, 1980, in the primordial thickets of the Pacific Northwest, was an enormous, multi-faceted event. … This engaging book maneuvers deftly along the way toward impact.”

Michael O’Donnell, Wall Street Journal: “In Mr. Olson’s telling, [the survivors’] stories read like urgent fiction. … These vignettes lend a human face to an event that has become associated largely with geology.”

Randy Dotinga, Christian Science Monitor: “In his evocative and convincing new book, author Steve Olson reveals that the eruption – the most powerful natural disaster to ever strike the US – is much more than a horror show. … He has a bigger picture in mind, one of the eruption’s role as a touchstone for an evolving society and natural world.”

The story that Olson tells is an indelible part of Pacific Northwest history. It’s well worth revisiting.