Mt. St. Helens

I heard two muffled booms a little after 8:30 a.m. forty years ago.  I’d finished breakfast that Sunday in Lacey, Washington and was reading. I looked over at my mother who was drinking a cup of tea.

At the time we didn’t think much of the sound as there were frequent booms from nearby Fort Lewis during their military exercises. Later that morning we learned from the local radio station that Mt. St. Helens had erupted. It had been emitting steam since March and scientists warned it may be getting ready for a major eruption. Today was the day.

I was 21, would graduate from the University of Puget Sound in August, and was working part-time as an administrative assistant for Louis R. Guzzo, Counselor to Governor Dixy Lee Ray. 

We’d been getting plume trajectories in the Governor’s Office every day for weeks. The areas near the mountain were under mandatory evacuation, but a few souls, interviewed on national television, decided they wouldn’t budge.

The month before, on a day Governor Ray was out of the office, a group of us climbed to the top of the dome to see Mt. St. Helen’s puffing steam. The dome stairs were closed to the public due to previous earthquake damage, but someone found the stairwell key and we were on our way. I saw some staircase bolts pulled loose from the wall on the way up the narrow spiral stairs. Even Mr. Guzzo made the climb. (Governor Ray was a stickler for protocol, and I never called him “Lou.” She also sent a staffer home who’d made the grievous mistake of wearing blue jeans to work the previous winter.) Most of us were winded by the time we got to the top.

Unfortunately, with an overcast sky and an elevation disadvantage, there was nothing to see except a spectacular view of Bud Bay and the surrounding area. At that point none of us could imagine the devastation just a month later.

CNN wouldn’t launch until June 1, so no 24/7 news yet, but we got updates on television and radio.  We knew by early afternoon there was a huge ash cloud making travel difficult as near as 25 miles south of us in Centralia, and extending to Eastern Washington.

Ash clogged car engines and seeped through windows to cloud houses and businesses. We got a light dusting of ash in Lacey and nearby Olympia, but it piled in drifts on roadways all over southwest Washington. People put towels on window sills and doorway thresholds in vain attempts to keep it out.

Those who hadn’t evacuated around the mountain were presumed dead. Tens of thousands of acres of forest were destroyed and it was predicted the fruit crops in eastern Washington would be devastated. In fact, there was a bumper crop of apples the following year.

Two years later a pilot friend took me up in a small plane to view Mt. St. Helens. The trees looked like matchsticks spread out, blown down in the same direction. The caldera steamed occasionally and we did not fly directly over. The whole perimeter was eerily barren.

Seven years after the eruption I hiked on the mountain. By that time there was a visitor center, a gift shop selling jewelry made out of Mt. St. Helen’s ash, and well-marked hiking trails. Vegetation was starting to grow; grasses, shrubs, and tiny trees carried out Mother Nature’s grand design.

In the blink of an eye it’s forty years later. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. A good time to reflect on the intrepid plants growing beside that hiking trail, so soon after the shock of massive devastation. 

State Capitol, Olympia, Washington


Free Cheese

My grandmother, Mamie, lived in a hotel on North Tower Avenue in Centralia, Washington after my grandfather died, and my mother and I would go visit her about once a month.  Mamie (she refused to be called “Grandma,”) had suffered a traumatic brain injury being thrown from a car on her wedding day, and my grandfather said she’d never been quite the same since.  He stayed with her anyway because he loved her.

She was a young woman during the Depression and was frugal and a bit of a hoarder.  In her house in Oakville, before she moved, she collected fabric and sewing notions. She’d pour out Mason jars full of buttons onto newspaper and my young cousins and I would delight in sorting through them. In her hotel rooms, she collected books and had tomato plants growing in cut up milk cartons on her window sills.

We went to visit her one day when I was 13 or 14, and she asked us if we’d like some cheese. She pulled out a massive oblong block of cheddar cheese from her refrigerator. Mom and I were astounded because it looked like a six-month supply for my tiny grandmother.

“Where did you get that?” my mother asked. 

“It was free. They were handing it out,” my grandmother replied proudly.  Mom couldn’t get any more out of her but we deduced the “they” was a local charity.

My grandmother lived frugally in that hotel, as she had all her life, but like a lot of Finnish people in the area, she had money in the bank. She didn’t need free cheese.

My mother asked her to please not take any more cheese because she was taking it away from people who really needed it.  Mamie seemed surprised but said, “okay.”

“Without charity the rich man is poor, and with it the poor man is rich.”

From a homily of Saint Augustine

When we were back in the car my mother turned to me and said, “it’s wrong to take from people who have less than you.  That’s what your grandmother did by taking that cheese.  Somebody could have gotten it who really needed it.”

Her emphatic words left an impression on me, and I’ve been thinking about that free cheese a lot in the past week.  I envision myself standing in line for free cheese even though I can afford to pay for it.  If I keep looking ahead, maybe I’m okay. But if I turn around I can see the face of the man whose family is hungry. The man with no money. The man who really needs it but won’t get it because he got in line after me.

That man, or woman, or child, is there whether I can see him or not.  I see him in my heart. 

My mother knew there is no free cheese. In fact, the price is far too high.

Trillium – 2019,
Indian Brook Reservoir
Burlington, VT

The Baron, the Despot, and Me

The Tower of London – June 1999

Today is Magna Carta Day – the 803rd  anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.  On June 15, 1215 twenty-five English barons stood on the field at Runnymede and demanded of King John the basic rights spelled out in the Great Charter.

The Magna Carta has become a symbol of liberty, according to Lord Denning “… the foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.”  The drafters of the Constitution of the United States of America were influenced by the Magna Carta.

Sare de Quincy (1155-1219), 1st Earl of Winchester, was one of the chief authors of the Magna Carta and one of the 25 Surety Barons on the field that day.

Sare de Quincy was my 25th great-grandfather.

Today in this New World, to which my English ancestors immigrated starting in 1635, we have a despot in the White House.  He violates our Constitution, impugns our free press and the rule of law, and has shady dealings with foreign governments.

I don’t wield the clout of my 25th great-grandfather, but I am one of millions who love our country and revere our Constitution.  As  a citizen of the United States, and as a 25th great-granddaughter of Baron Sare de Quincy, I pledge to fight for decency, for democracy, for Democrats.

I owe it to him.






Eugene M. Peasley and the Pledge of Allegiance


Eugene Melvin Peasley
Eugene M. Peasley

Imagine a boy of twelve who lived in Montesano, Washington in 1942. The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor the previous year, and the United States was at war. The boy would have been in the sixth grade. He was smart and he loved school. His name was Eugene and he had two younger sisters, ten and five, and a seven-year-old brother.
His little brother had club feet, had undergone many painful surgeries, and couldn’t walk very well. Gene was protective of him. He made him a cart and wheeled him around in it.
Gene had a hard home life. There were many mouths to feed and not enough money. His father worked in a sawmill and his mother kept their small home. They were a religious family and attended church several times a week, and Gene liked that too.
He just didn’t like being at home. His father was an angry man and often yelled at him and hit him with a switch – and threatened to hit his younger brother.

Gene’s refuge was his school and his church. And then one day when he was twelve he had to choose between them. Gene and his family were Jehovah’s Witnesses and his faith didn’t allow him to pledge allegiance to the flag. It’s considered a form of idolatry and Gene was very clear about the first of the Ten Commandments.
So when the rest of his class stood and pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, Gene remained seated. And then twelve-year-old Gene, who loved school, was expelled.

The next year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a compulsory flag salute would violate students’ First Amendment rights. The Court said, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Gene went back to school, but it wasn’t the same, and he was behind. His life at home became much worse and as a teenager he had to live with another family just to survive. He dropped out of high school when he was sixteen and went to work on the railroad repairing section tracks.

And he lost his faith.

Later, he worked hard and got his GED.

Eugene Melvin Peasley 004
Eugene M. Peasley about 1952

When he was 21, against the pacifist tenets of his former faith, he enlisted in the United States Army. He served honorably, stationed in Germany in the military police, during the Korean War.He was discharged in 1953. Six months later he married my mother.

And my father did not pledge allegiance to our flag, or attend a church, for the rest of his life.


Saladin Citadel of Cairo, 8 Nov. 2010

My neighbor is worried about Sharia law being becoming part of our government’s laws in the United States. Sharia, in its myriad versions, is a code of conduct for Muslims, like the Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments. Religious guidelines have various rules, and none of them should be legislated under our form of government.

In the United States, our Constitution protects us from individual religious guidelines, and the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”, we can each follow the guidance of our own faith regardless of the views of others, including those in government. As an Episcopalian, I live in peace with my Jewish, Baptist and Catholic neighbors. Or we can disavow all religion entirely.  That is our right as citizens of the United States of America.

The threat we face is not from Sharia law, but from other forms of religious law.  We have an Education Secretary who wants to use government funds for religious schools, just like the Taliban, and we have state and federal elected officials who want to use their own religious beliefs to deny women the right to decide what happens to their own bodies. I am as repulsed by this as my neighbor is about legislating Sharia law.  It is the same thing.


Patriot Ancestor Spinning in His Grave



Alarm bells called the citizens to this green April 20, 1775 to learn of the battle at Lexington.  There was indecision until 1st Lt. Stacy stepped forward and said “Fellow soldiers, I don’t know how it is with you, but for me I will no longer serve a king that murders my own countrymen.”  Pulling out his commission from the crown he tore it to bits and trod it underfoot.  Amid wild cheers a militia company of patriots was formed and under the gallant Stacy as Captain marched off to Cambridge.  May such patriotism ever be with us. *

Colonel Stacy fought valiantly in the American Revolutionary War, including in the Battle of Bunker Hill.  He was captured later and held as a prisoner.  He didn’t sit out the war due to heel spurs.  He fought alongside his countrymen so that future generations would be free from tyranny.

Colonel William Edward Stacy was my sixth great grandfather.

After the war, he was among the first settlers in Ohio Country.  He’s buried at Mound Cemetery in Marietta, Ohio.

And now, almost two and a half centuries later, a foreign government appears to be causing great damage to the very foundation of this great nation.  Trump claimed before November that the election was rigged and he was right:  it was rigged by the Russian government.  As you may recall, Trump requested Russia hack Secretary of State Clinton’s emails during a nationally televised debate.  Russia complied with that request and more.  And has President Trump done anything to prevent this in the future?  No!  He patted Putin on the back last week.

Both President Trump’s Campaign Manager, Paul Manafort, and National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, are registered as foreign agents. We learn of additional pre-election meetings between the Trump campaign officials – including members of his own family – and Russian operatives almost every day.

My Patriot ancestor is spinning in his grave, not only at Trump and his comrades, but at our United States Senators and Representatives who choose to look the other way.

Colonel Stacy and all our Revolutionary War Patriots deserve a great deal more of us than this.

*A memorial plaque dedicated to Colonel Stacy in 1956 on the village common of New Salem.

The Republican’s Milgram Experiment

Cathedral La Seu, Palma de Mallorca

Our Republican representatives in Congress are participating in a real-life Milgram experiment.  This one will affect well over 20 million of our fellow Americans, causing real pain, suffering and, in some instances, death.  The Senate will vote on their Obamacare repeal at some point in the near future, and the House has already voted on – and approved – their own version.

In Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram’s well-known experiments in the 1960’s, a volunteer “teacher” was put in a room with an authority figure in a white coat who told the volunteer to administer shocks to a “student” in the next room (actually an experiment accomplice) every time they got a wrong answer in a test. It’s chilling that 65% of the volunteers continued to administer increasingly severe shocks up to an astounding 450 volts, while hearing the cries of agony from the “student” in the next room.  The test subject volunteers were convinced the person in the next room was really receiving the shocks.  They continued because an authority figure exhorted them to keep going.

For Senators and Representatives, the cries of agony are real, heard from many of their constituents.  But even after being told the real-life effect of repealing Obamacare by their constituents, and later, the Congressional Budget Office, a whopping 92% of Republican members of Congress still voted to repeal healthcare for millions to give tax cuts to the rich. This in spite of the fact that the majority of Americans want the Affordable Care Act to continue and be improved.

In this real-life experiment, the authority figures are Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, rich donors like the Koch brothers, and President Trump.

Milgram performed the studies to measure obedience to authority figures, even when that obedience meant going against one’s own conscience.

Assuming that inflicting real pain, suffering and hardship on millions of their fellow Americans goes against the conscience of most members of Congress, only time will tell how obedient they are.

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.     II Timothy 1:7


On Liberty

My  25th great-grandfather, Baron Saire de Quincy, stood on the field at Runnymede in 1215, with 24 other barons, to demand of King John the rights spelled out in the Magna Carta.

My ninth great-grandfather, Joseph Peaslee, immigrated to this New World in 1635, just like millions of immigrants from all over the world who came after him, seeking a better life for himself and his family.

My tenth great-grandmother, Mary Dyer, fought and died for our religious freedom.

And my sixth great-grandfather, Lt. Col. William Edward Stacy, fought heroically in the Revolutionary War so we could be free from tyranny.

It’s part of my DNA, and my sacred obligation to my ancestors, to speak out on liberty and justice for all.