My family stopped at a park or a rest area somewhere for lunch and my mom went off to gather Mt. St. Helens ash from the shoulder of the highway. It seemed unlikely to me that after so long, there would still be piles of ash just laying around in the open air. I expressed my skepticism to one of my older sisters, and she pointed out the gray powdery soil in the area around a drinking fountain where the grass had been trampled away. “There’s ash right here.”

The picnic had to have taken place in the early eighties — only a few years after the eruption. My mom was gathering souvenirs of a recent event. But to me, Mt. St. Helens was a historical event. The eruption had happened in my lifetime, but I didn’t remember it. Besides, there had been a filmstrip about it at school, and those filmstrips always seemed outdated.

Later, my mom seperated the ash into little plastic baggies that she labeled with fortune cookie-sized strips of paper. She passed the baggies out to the kids in her Camp Fire group and to relatives in California.

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