By Marilyn Zuckerman
Flying out of Seattle,
we come so close to Rainier
floating above the mists,
we seem to touch it with our wings.
Below – icy folds of glaciers,
long lozenges of avalanche falls,
ahead – smoke from Mount St. Helens,
then its crushed, barren summit.
I imagine the explosion,
plumes of steam,
fiery rivers of lava,
and finally the ash storm that darkened
the sun for months.
Once, long ago,
I flew over this mountain,
looked down to see
footsteps of climbers
in snow at the top.
Mount Shasta, Three Sisters, Mount Jefferson
line up one by one
like monks meditating
above the field of clouds.
I watch until the red glow
dies along the horizon.
Arcturus, Vega, the Big Dipper,
and out of the calm, starlit night
I hear again the voice of a TV scientist.
Stars sputter, galaxies collide,
there are icy winds at supersonic speeds,
and asteroids on a murderous path.
tucked into Earth’s belly,
a green blip on the radar screen.
I accept the orderly seeming stars,
refuse to remember
the small shift
that can at any moment
earth, sky, mountain, plane.
· · ·
From Amerika America, published by Cedar Hill Press, 2002
Ring of Fire: Eruption of Mount St. Helens, May 18, 1980
In the years before I moved from Boston to Seattle in 2004, I would visit the western city every summer to see my children and grandchildren. Then, flying in, as the plane neared the mountains of the Cascade Range in Oregon, I would sit back in happy anticipation waiting for the approach of the volcanoes famously known as The Ring of Fire. The visibility was always clear up there in the stratosphere and so the volcanoes would appear one by one with clouds on their shoulders—to my delight.
First came Mount Shasta then Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson and the Three Sisters clustered together looking spiritual and silent , as I say in my poem,” …like monks meditating…” while I left my breath on the window, peering out, trying to see them all.
Soon Rainier’s distinctive shape hovered near by and then the white cone of Mount St. Helens, breathing fire and if we were flying above the mountain I could see, “footsteps of hikers at the summit.”
We probably all know what happened next. On Sunday, May 18, 1980 Mt St. Helens erupted causing 57 deaths—scientists, campers, loggers and more. The ash rose 80,000 feet into the atmosphere and created a cloud that covered eleven states and the mountain developed a deep crater on its north side. The explosions continued for weeks and months afterward. A year later when I returned for my summer visit, Mount St. Helens had lost 1300 feet, the smoking crater was quite visible and had replaced the hiker’s footsteps in the once pristine snow.