Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading. This week I'm sharing the first few paragraphs of Eruption: The Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson. I've mentioned that we spent several years living in the Portland, Oregon area during the 90's. I loved living so near snow capped mountains and I became really fascinated by Mount St. Helens, which had erupted on May 18, 1980. By the time we lived near it, the area had recovered somewhat and there was a visitor center that could be toured. I was very interested in Mr. Olson's book. See what you think:
In the year 1980, toward the end of March, newspapers and television stations began reporting on a series of strange events taking place in a largely unknown corner of the western United States. A volcano in southwestern Washington State known as Mount St. Helens was threatening to erupt. A crater had opened on the summit of the mountain and was spewing ash and steam thousands of feet into the air. Earthquakes were shaking the volcano so violently that people nearby said it was like being on a ship at sea. State officials, based on geologists' predictions, were telling residents and visitors to stay away. Floods, mudflows, and withering blasts of superhot gas could, with little warning, sweep away trees, houses, and people.
It was a wonderful diversion at an unhappy time in the nation's history. In 1980 the United States was still recovering from the traumas of Vietnam, Watergate, and the oil embargoes of the 1970's, which had temporarily deprived Americans of one of their most cherished freedoms--the right to drive anywhere, anytime, for as long as a person might want. A long presidential campaign was just getting under way between an unpopular sitting president, Jimmy Carter, and the eventual Republican nominee, a former California governor and movie star named Ronald Reagan, who promised to return the nation to its former glory. Students backed by the revolutionary government of Iran were holding fifty-two Americans hostage in the US embassy. The most popular music of the time was disco, fashions ran from bell-bottoms to peasant blouses; and men sported bushy mustaches and long sideburns. In a 1976 magazine article, Tom Wolfe referred to the 1970's as 'The Me Decade' for the period's pervasive dissatisfaction and devotion to personal transformation, and the label seems more appropriate than any decadal label coined since.
For months in early 1980, scientists, journalists, sightseers, and nearby residents listened anxiously to rumblings in Mount St. Helens, part of the chain of western volcanoes fueled by the 700-mile-long Cascadia fault. Still, no one was prepared when an immense eruption took the top off of the mountain and laid waste to hundreds of square miles of verdant forests in southwestern Washington State. The eruption was one of the largest in human history, deposited ash in eleven U.S. states and five Canadian provinces, and caused more than one billion dollars in damage. It killed fifty-seven people, some as far as thirteen miles away from the volcano’s summit.
Shedding new light on the cataclysm, author Steve Olson interweaves the history and science behind this event with page-turning accounts of what happened to those who lived and those who died.
Powerful economic and historical forces influenced the fates of those around the volcano that sunny Sunday morning, including the construction of the nation’s railroads, the harvest of a continent’s vast forests, and the protection of America’s treasured public lands. The eruption of Mount St. Helens revealed how the past is constantly present in the lives of us all. At the same time, it transformed volcanic science, the study of environmental resilience, and, ultimately, our perceptions of what it will take to survive on an increasingly dangerous planet.
Rich with vivid personal stories of lumber tycoons, loggers, volcanologists, and conservationists, Eruption delivers a spellbinding narrative built from the testimonies of those closest to the disaster, and an epic tale of our fraught relationship with the natural world.
I know the paragraphs I shared above are a little long, but I liked the retrospective of the 80's. Who remembers that time and who remembers the day Mount St. Helens erupted? I do. Where were you on May 18, 1980? I look forward to reading more about that time, that event, and the lore that surrounds it.