An Explosive Anniversary

On May 18, 1980, after two months of earthquakes and steam blasts, Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, USA, erupted at 8:32 on a Sunday morning. The eruption spewed ash 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere. The eruption went on for nine hours and reduced the height of the mountain by 1400 ft. (426.72 m) The ash was deposited in over eleven states as well as parts of Canada. I was 156 miles (approx. 251 km) north of the mountain. Since it was the weekend, I was sleeping in and knew nothing of the eruption until much later. In my area, all we got was a light layer of ash on our cars. The mountain exploded laterally so Eastern Washington got the worst of it.

Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980

But this isn’t an article about the eruption, the lives it took, or the damage it did. I’ve blogged during other Mays but have never felt inspired to write about the eruption. It seemed that everybody already knew about what happened or if they didn’t would learn about it every year in the days leading up to the anniversary.

What inspired this post was a comment by someone on social media about Harry R. Truman who lived with St. Helens for 52 years during which time he owned and ran the Mt. St. Helens Lodge. When it became apparent that the volcano would erupt local officials tried to evacuate Harry. The old man refused to leave. He was one of the more than fifty people the eruption killed. The woman on social media called Harry a science denier. So, I have to defend Harry. He was a rascal and an independent old coot but even though I never knew him, I have no doubt that he never questioned that the volcano would erupt. The huge bulge in its north side would have been a major clue even if the earthquakes and steam eruptions hadn’t been.

Harry R. Truman.

Even though I’m only speculating, I can understand why Harry refused to leave his beloved mountain. He was 84 years old, twice divorced, and once widowed. He had only one child. He’d lead an unconventional, independent life. He was a WW 1 veteran having served in France. On the way to Europe, his troopship was sunk by a U boat. Later in life, he was a bootlegger, a poacher, and a thief who stole gravel from the Forest Service and fished on Native American land with a bogus license. He was never caught in any of these acts. Before moving to the mountain he ran a service station. Though he may have been a rogue, I seriously doubt that he was a fool.

Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lakve beore the eruption.

I can’t blame Harry for not wanting to leave this gorgeous area or live to see the devastation he must have known the eruption would cause to the splendid place where he’d spent more than half his life there.

Harry wasn’t fond of old people. I’m sure he’d rather have this guy for a neighbor.

At his age what would Harry have done and where would he have gone if he left his home? Give up his cantankerous independence? Go to a nursing home? Become a burden on his only child? Sit around and rock, waiting to die? The mountain was his life. Better to make a spectacular exit than to give up the only life he’d known for fifty-two years.

I hope Harry was sitting on the porch of his lodge, drinking his favorite cocktail, whisky and Coke when the mountain blew.

The death toll isn’t certain. A couple of people were reported missing but turned up alive. It’s not certain if the people who were found later were the missing individuals or people with the same name.

White Tablecloth Festival: Celebrating Latvia’s 2nd Independence Day.

(Yes, this is a repost from last year. My post, “Lights Out!” explains why I’ve been distracted. The only thing that has changed is that more and more Latvian communities are participating in White Tablecloth Day)

(Thank you to my friend for allowing me to use her photos. She prefers to remain anonymous. You know who you are)

On May 4th, 1990 the Supreme Council of the Latvian SSR adopted a resolution “On the Restoration of the Independence of the Republic of Latvia”, turning a new white page in the history of Latvia. The White Tablecloth Festival celebrates the anniversary of Latvia’s renewed independence after decades under Soviet rule.

A clean new page is understandable but why a white tablecloth? The cloth was chosen as a symbol of national pride, unity, and self-confidence. On feast days tables are traditionally set with a white linen tablecloth. Latvian friends, neighbors, and families all over the world, those in Latvia and the Latvians of the Diaspora in their adopted homelands are encouraged to gather together as one family to celebrate Latvia’s renewed independence with reverence and joy.

The white tablecloth also symbolizes that Latvia’s break with the Soviet Union was achieved relatively peacefully through diplomacy with the occupying power.

Except for social media I’ve been out of touch with my local Latvian community. I’m not even sure if they’ve adopted the White Tablecloth Festival. I learned about it just the other day when a friend in Ohio shared photos of her Latvian community’s celebration of this anniversary.

It’s about time more attention was paid to this important holiday which usually gets little notice compared to Latvia’s original Independence Day. November 18th has been celebrated by Latvian exiles in their new countries. During the years of Soviet occupation, such a celebration was illegal in Latvia.

Buffet at the Latvian Center in Cleveland.

Whenever Latvians gather to celebrate there is always lots of food. On this special occasion in Cleveland, there were also speeches (hardly a unique occurrence) recitations of poetry, shared memories, and stories about what it means to be a Latvian. They also saw a video about the dedication of a monument to a Latvian freedom activist who died shortly before renewed independence became a reality.

Intricate drawnwork (Dresden work) embroidery.

The day before the party participants were invited to bring heirloom tablecloths that were handmade by their mothers and grandmothers to be displayed on the walls of the Latvian Center.

Crewel embroidery on a linen tablecloth.
Textile works of art. Some might even have been brought along when fleeing from the Soviet invasion of Latvia in 1944.

Of course, human nature being what it is, especially Latvian human nature, not everyone is eager to embrace the White Tablecloth Festival. Some people think it’s silly because white tablecloths are used for every celebration that involves feasting (all of them) Others prefer the name Renewal of Independence Day. I think White Tablecloth Festival is more of an attention grabber.

Glory to Latvia!

Whatever it’s called, May 4th is a day to celebrate the restorations of freedom.

As we celebrate we are all hoping that there will soon be a day for Ukraine to celebrate renewed peace and freedom.

Glory to Ukraine!

To clarify any misunderstanding. I am not collecting money for Ukraine. I prefer to leave that to long-established and respected organizations such as CARE, Save the Children, World Central Kitchen, Doctors Without Borders, and other charities. These donations are compensation for me for my work on the blog, researching, writing, editing, and illustrating. I apologize for not making this clear.


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Song on May Morning

We’ve had the third coldest April in forty-five years in my little corner of the world. The thirteenth coldest since records have been kept. On the fourteenth snow came down thick and fast for maybe a half-hour. It even stuck to the grass. Then it was over as if it had never happened. Usually, the Pacific’s breath keeps our climate mild, even in mid-winter but this isn’t the first time it snowed in May.

We’re all hoping that May will be more like the month described in John Milton’s poem.

The pale primrose stopped blooming weeks ago.

John Milton – 1608-1674

Now the bright morning Star, Dayes harbinger,
  Comes dancing from the East, and leads with her
  The Flowry May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow Cowslip, and the pale Primrose.
  Hail bounteous May that dost inspire 
  Mirth and youth, and warm desire,
  Woods and Groves, are of thy dressing,
  Hill and Dale, doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early Song,
And welcom thee, and wish thee long.

Cowslip, not cow’s lip. A European flower of the primula family.

Happy May Day!

In 1889 labor activists turned May Day turned into Labor Day in some parts of the world to commemorate the Haymarket riot in Chicago. It was a terrible event but I wish they’d left the joyous celebration of Floralia, to honor Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers alone, and been content to commemorate workers on the first Monday in September. I guess American influence has its limits.

May Pole

May first was once considered to be the beginning of summer. A time to dance around the May Pole and for children to surprise friends by bringing them flower baskets, leaving them at the door or hanging them on the doorknob, knocking or ringing the bell, and running away. What a lovely surprise for the recipient.

Lilies of the Valley