I Was There When the World Came to an End!

Why do you have a mayonnaise jar full of ashes? Oddly enough, quite a few people ask me that question. It is really a jar full of memories. No, this is not the remains of a deceased pet or loved one. That would be really weird in a mayo jar.

This ash is from Mount Redoubt volcano. It was across Cook Inlet, about 50 miles from our little corner of Alaska. The year was 1989 and the mountain had been having contractions for some time. The day it gave birth … the ground shook and the sky went black!

I was on my way out of Ellington's Hardware in Soldotna when I saw the ominous cloud. I stood on the porch of the hardware store with several others, just watching in awe as the cloud grew. It was enormous, like 45,000 feet high enormous. As if on cue, everyone realized that ash cloud was coming our way.

I jumped into my car and headed home. If the world was going to end, I wanted to be with my wife and kids!

I hastily filled all our water buckets at the neighbor's well and loaded in firewood as the sky was dimming. In moments, the world went dark and ash began to fall like snow. The air was thick and suffocating. We stuffed towels under the doors to seal off the choking smell of sulfur. It was an ominous experience, to say the least.

The hardest part of the ordeal was to hold my family like the world was ending, yet without causing alarm. I did not actually know if we would survive. I did not know if we would get a dusting of ash, or ten crushing feet.

It seemed like it took a long time for the ash storm to pass. I suppose it was an hour or so. The smell was oppressive, but when it ended, the sun came out. That was when it got really weird.

I walked out into a moonscape. Everything was a dull blue-gray, and there was no sound. Walking in the volcanic fallout was so silent my ears hurt. I spoke to hear something. “Is there anyone else alive here?” My voice was muffled an inch from my lips.

It was a long time before there was another sign of life.

As I carefully measured the ash on several surfaces, I decided to save a jarful for memory. It was carefully scraped from a one square foot portion of my car's hood.

That ash is more than the sum of its parts. It reminds me of the numerous times we saw that volcano erupt. It reminds me of the indescribably awesome upward lightning coming from inside the volcano during a night eruption. That one was viewed from a friend's roof. We weren't just hanging out on the roof, we had to shovel the snow off.

There is more, much more, in that jar than ash. And if you ask me why I have a jar of ashes, I will correct you and say that it is not ashes, but ash!