Three weeks after she blew her top, Mt. St. Helens remains relatively quiet. Wildlife and vegetation are beginning to reappear along the mountain's mud-and ash-covered flanks. Resident and loggers have been allowed back into the area, and the cleanup of more distant urban areas is progressing rapidly.
But the mountain is far from dormant, geologists say. They point to a historical pattern of volcanic activity at Mt. St. Helens lasting months and even years.
Meanwhile, the political ashfall has thrown at least some grit into the re-election machinery of Washington Gov. Dixy Lee ray.
Governor ray's "image if withering under the pressure of her first real statewide crisis," the Portland Oregonian editorialized over the weekend. Critics want to know why the State of Washington did not have an emergency response plan for volcanic ash fallout or a communications system to provide disaster warning. A coordinated search for survivors did not begin until three days after the initial May 18 eruption.
The Washington State Research Council in a recent report also criticized the preliminary cost assessment prepared by Governor Ray's staff as unrealistic and in some areas "drastically overstated." The governor at first said costs from the volcano would total $1.6 billion, but later boosted that figure to $2.6 billion.
First elected in 1976, Miss Ray faces voters again this year. King county (Seattle) executive director John Spellman, one of her principal Republican rivals and the man she defeated in the general election four years ago, has been leading Governor Ray in recent polls.
While earthquake activity around Mt. St. Helens has dropped "to about zero," according to US Geological Survey geologist Tim Hait, instruments show that the mountain continues to tilt slightly to the southwest.
"It may be that the whole mountain is inflating slightly," Mr. Hait said. Geologists will be watching the mountain closely this Friday (June 13) when the moon's gravitational pull on Earth will be the strongest since the day before the initial eruption. "There are some interesting correlations between earth tides and volcanic activity," Mr. Hait said.
Scientists working as close as four miles from the mountain summit have recently found evidence that nature is reasserting itself in the devastated area.Bees and ants have been seen, as well as deer and cougar tracks. Some ferns have begun pushing up through the volcanic ash.
"It's very quiet seismically," said geologist Hait."But we still consider it very active and very dangerous. We don't know how to interpret the relative calm. It's calm like a cocked shotgun can be."
Authorities put the death toll at 24, but have called off the general search for those 47 persons still listed missing.