Jeanie Coates

mt_st_helens_anniversary_photoThe ash kept falling like snow, but it just wouldn’t melt. Citizens roamed the streets, their anxious faces dressed in unfamiliar surgical masks to protect their lungs. Nervous cars hid in their garages fearful of clogged air filters. It seemed
Portland, my beloved hometown, would be forever lost to unpredictable Mother Nature.

I celebrated my birthday this year with a day trip to Mt. St. Helens, the once perfectly cone-shaped mountain that erupted over 36 years ago earning it its reputation as the most deadly and economically destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States. I better get there before she blows again, I thought. That’s always a possibility with an active volcano.

GPS navigated our way through the hills and along the winding highway where, over three decades later, the remnants of the mass destruction were strikingly evident. Tree trunks akin to giant toothpicks lay half buried in the hardened-gray mudflow. Boulders protruded the ashen landscape. River beds, meanwhile, had now grown comfortable in their relocated surroundings.

Our final destination was the Johnston Ridge Observatory. I had always thought it was “Johnson,” but I now know it’s “Johnston” with a T—named for the USGS volcanologist who died following his dream into the danger zone. “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” he urgently reported before vanishing into the backdrop of destruction.  He and 56 other people lost their lives that day.

May 18, 1980, was the end of our familiar Mt. St. Helens. Fortunately, the end is always where the beginning begins.

Outside the observatory orange and purple wildflowers had pushed their way through the dust where once there was nothing. A red-tailed squirrel confidently munched on a cone. An osprey passed overhead. Life had come back to the mountain, and it reminded me that nothing ever really stops. The universe is on an endless journey.

And so it goes in business too. After 38 years, I see this more clearly now. The business journey meanders but never stops. There are good times followed by bad times followed by good times again. When you’re down, it’s actually positive news because potential lies ahead. You get older, you get wiser and you learn that disaster is never really disaster at all—just a launch pad for the future. I love the business journey, and I’ve learned to accept it wherever it takes me. There will always be another opportunity.