Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mount St. Helens

                                A generational and geological moment

Thirty years ago today Mount St. Helens erupted in a savage explosion. The photo here is by Robert Krimmel and is credited to the US Geological Survey.

I recall the event itself from a personal, generational perspective, rather than as a geological one. How else do we remember moments caught in images like this? It's always personal.

At the time, I was a young editor working at Outside magazine, a journal launched a few years earlier as a guide for baby boomers who were becoming increasingly interested in biking, hiking, and other more avid outdoor pursuits (like mountaineering).

When the volcano began to show signs of activity, reporters from around the world descended on the area to interview locals and soak up the ambiance of cool menace. Outside sent its top writer, Tim Cahill, to cover the story, as only he could. Tim delighted us with daily briefings on joie de vivre of the locals and the excited gatherings of thrill-seekers who thought that a volcano eruption in the northwestern United States would be a spectacular show.

It all changed on May 18, 1980. The people who went to Oregon for one of nature's rock concerts got more than they may have bargained for. For me, at least, the event marked the beginning of a certain sobering up--life's perilousness made real. The eruption of a volcano is one of those things that doesn't follow a cause-and-effect time line. It happens. If a lot of people happen to be there for a party and instead have to flee from pyroclastic flows--well, you can take it as a life lesson. 

By the way, Tim's piece for Outside was later included in his very fine book, Jaguars Ripped At My Flesh. And Mount St. Helens, more or less quiet since 1980, is still a very real volcano. You monitor it 24/7 at this website.

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading Tim's article in Outside before it blew. I was blown away by how accurate his description of what could happen did happen.

    I collected years worth of Outside magazines and still find myself re-reading articles from Tim, David Q, Ed Abbey, and all the rest. Time to move on though. I found your blog post after spending a few hours deciding in my wife's favor to give up all the old Outside magazines for the 70s, 80s, and 90s. I think I will keep the original though. Anyone interested in all the rest?