In late June of 1980, I spent an afternoon at the Oregon State University Library. I’d parked my bike just outside the front doors. St. John’s wort surrounded the bike rack. I loved the vibrant yellow flowers of St. John’s wort, their large silky petals and prominent and plentiful stamens. When I reemerged from the library and took hold of my bike, I felt a fine grit on the handlebars. The dark leather seat, I noticed, was an ashen color. All the bikes were covered in the same fine grit, and the St. John’s wort had gone gray. “What an odd prank,” I thought, imagining someone strewing the bike racks and shrubs with garden lime.
That evening, Mom phoned. “Meredith,” she said in a worried voice, “the horses are covered in ash.” We had more horses than box stalls, so the animals spent their lives grazing on pasturage and sheltering in an open-sided barn. I seldom made the two-hour drive home. Only when I stabled two youngsters close to the university did I begin riding regularly again.
Ah, I thought, picturing the ash-covered horses. Now I know who the bike-rack prankster was, Mt. St. Helens. Just the month before, on the 18th of May, the north side of the mountain had blown out, most of the ash heading eastwards. A change in wind patterns sent a small sample of ash down to Oregon from Washington, and many speculated on the effects of breathing it. Projections ranged from worried to apocalyptic. There were those who insisted on wearing masks and those who refused to bother. Sound familiar? Of course, the animals had no choice.