TOPPENISH - The explosion of Mount St. Helens on Sunday didn't take Watson Totus by surprise.
A proud believer in the traditions and lore of the Yakima Indians, the tribal elder saw a sign Friday presaging the eruption. Looking at the late afternoon sun, he saw gold, purple and black colors in the sky to the right of it.
"That's an old lndian sign," he said. "I got home and told my wife something was going to happen. " They agreed it would be something spectacular, he said, because of the three colors. Gold alone would indicate something like a thunderstorm, he said.
The greater number of colors means a bigger happening, Totus said. What colors or shades isn't as important as how many, he said.
But Totus didn't need a sign to tell him Mount St. Helens was growing angry, and had been for most of his life.
In his 70s, he remembers with sadness how his father, grandfather, and other Yakimas would travel each year to the east flank of the mountain in the late and early fall.
There they would meet with tribes from the coast and would gather roots, berries, and hunt game together, to be dried for winter sustenance, he said.
They also traded in the shadow of the mountain, and enjoyed horseback races.
Mount St. Helens was honored by the tribes as one of three mountains particularly sacred to the Creator, Totus said. Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens were special guardians, Totus said, "put up by the Creator to look after Mother Earth, to protect the earth."
Mount St. Helens was also a giver of life, a source of rivers and a home for the game and vegetation the Indians needed, Totus said.
When Totus' grandfather brought him by horseback to the ancestral campsite in 1919, the great intertribal gatherings at Mount St. Helens were over. Roads, logging, and other encroachments of white civilization had made them a part of history.
Since, said Totus, white men have increasingly desecrated the mountain.
What he thinks finally triggered the mountain's anger, last Sunday were the droves of scientists and thrill seekers who descended on it after it began to show signs of life last March, "drilling holes, climbing up there and flying over in helicopters," he said.
"They shouldn't do that," he said. "The mountain used to blow up a little and my people would leave it alone, and it would die down again." When his omen of Friday was fulfilled Sunday morning, Totus was in his Satus Loghouse church, where he leads about 20 people each week in worshipping the Creator with the old tribal songs and dances. The doors and windows of the Status building rattled with. the mountain's explosion.
When Totus realized that the ancient guardian of the earth was at last striking back, he contemplated the Possibility of death peacefully. "I didn't care," he said. "I'd lived long enough."