Just in time to mark the 39th anniversary (Saturday, May 18) of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the Chronicle received a big manila envelope from a Washington man.

Inside was a poem Guillermo Castaneda wrote about that sunny Sunday morning in 1980, about experiencing the “total eclipse” of ash-induced darkness that sent him and his family scurrying inside in fear. Also included in the envelope was a smaller envelope, carefully taped shut and fat with Mt. St. Helens ash.

Castaneda lives in the Yakima Valley, in Granger, about 100 or so miles east of the mountain. He wrote in a cover letter, “because of the many of your readers still recalling the anxieties of that deadly day, I am taking the liberty of sending you a printing of my action poem of the occasion: ‘The Day St. Helens Mountain Blew Her Head,’ which I composed as the mountain was exploding, and her ash was shrouding our home and choking our sun.”

He learned from the radio that the mountain blew at 8:39 a.m. Soon, he heard a “loud, continuous rumble.” Castaneda, a Navy veteran, who has worked as an electrical engineer and science teacher, precisely noted times in his poem. By “forty past ten” ash began to fall on his notepad.

The next day, he gathered ash off his Volvo, filling two one-pound coffee cans. He decided to do some calculations. He weighed the cans and calculated the area of the Volvo “and then made a crude ‘Pound-per-square-foot’ calculation. I estimated that 2.5 pounds per square feet of ash had fallen on our 2.9-acre farm.” He also found that the farther away the ash fell from his home, the lighter and whiter it became.

“I believe that nowhere in our state were other similar ash-fall clock-time/ash-weight data recorded,” he wrote in the letter accompanying his poem and gift of ash.

“It was amazing writing that poem while I was getting inundated with ash,” he told the Chronicle.

Remembering Mount St. Helens

A poem Guillermo Castaneda wrote about the Mt. St. Helens eruption in 1980.

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