Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Hiking in the Blast Zone

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Reflection.  That is definitely what hiking along the Eruption and Boundary Trails of Mount St. Helens in the state of Washington is all about.  Forty years ago this mountain resembled Rainier--a perfectly shaped snow-capped cone surrounded by a lush green forest.  Today, a giant crater scars its northern face.  The distant lunar landscape contrasts with the wildflowers along the ridge I am walking on.

Reflection.  How can we know beauty without the beast?  How can we understand what genuine happiness is without being sad?  And how can we be thankful for today if our yesterdays haven't been filled with pain and hardship?

See what I mean?  What was supposed to be a nice little hike turned out to be a philosophical reconnaissance.

We paused at the memorial and shivered a bit, realizing we might have been on this list.  My travel buddy and I were living in San Francisco at the time.  For weeks we had been reading about the imminent explosion.  "We could witness history," we mused.  "Why don't we pack up the van and go see this thing!"

But the mountain blew before we got there.  Other curious souls, thinking they were within safe distance behind the evacuation line, set up their camp and waited for the event.  They did not survive.  Even the scientists were shocked by the ferocity of the explosion.  They had never witnessed an eruption; only studied ridges, rocks, and seismic tremors.  Theories were formed but many questions left unanswered.  Until May 18, 1980.

 A column of smoke rose 80,000 feet into the atmosphere.  The entire north face of the mountain slid down into the valleys, carrying pulverized rock, lava and water with it.  It was the largest landslide ever recorded on earth.  But it was the enormous and powerful lateral blasts that took the scientists by surprise.  Nothing survived within 17 miles of its path.   Hundreds of square miles were reduced to a barren wasteland.  200 homes were destroyed as were 47 bridges, 15 miles of railways and 185 miles of highway.

  But the scorched land is healing and at an expedited rate.  Once again, Mount St. Helens is providing a vast real life laboratory for scientists to study. On the edge of the blast zone, life survived and seeds were carried by the wind, caught in spider webs and dragged into the pulverized area by animals and insects.  Only a few decades later, a young forest is sprouting.  A herd of elk grazes at its base.

Reflection.  "Life finds a way."

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