Catastrophe or nature’s process


In The Blast Zone:  Catastrophe and Renewal on Mount St. Helens
Edited by Charles Goodrich, Kathleen Dean Moore, and Frederick Swanson
124 pages, softcover:
$15.95. Oregon State University Press, 2008.

Twenty-five years after Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, Oregon State University sponsored a four-day trip into the blast zone. Scientists, writers, artists and academics came from around the country to camp seven miles from the crater and write about what they saw, melding their personal experience with their professional expertise. When the volcano first erupted, scientists believed the blast zone would remain a "moonscape" for years. They were shocked when -- just a few days later -- tiny green ferns poked through the thick layers of ash and debris. The persistence of renewal in the face of catastrophe forms the basis for the personal essays, poems and scientific observations in this anthology.  

Each of the writers confronts the significance of the eruption that covered miles with soot and ash, flattened trees, and killed 57 people and thousands of birds, elk, fish and marmots. Christine Colasurdo, a writer and activist whose family owned a cabin on Mount St. Helens, wonders how she can love a lake and a mountain she no longer recognizes: "But not only had I lost an entire landscape, I myself was lost -- a stranger in what should have been familiar land."  Other essays begin with Mount St. Helens, but travel into the more personal territory of human loss or renewal. Author Susan Zwinger compares the eruption and subsequent ecological recovery to her mother's recuperation from a stroke. Zwinger finishes the essay her mother began, noting how "her mind, like volcanic lava, is still there, but churning underground."

At times, some of the essays and poems can seem forced, occasionally veering dangerously close to the sentimental; a few of the scientific pieces are dry or overly formulaic. The contributions of acclaimed authors such as Kathleen Dean Moore, Gary Snyder, Ursula LeGuin and Scott Russell Sanders do not disappoint, but the most surprising and memorable writing comes from scientists like forest canopy specialist Nalini M. Nadkarni and moss ecologist Robin Kimmerer, who successfully combine deep understanding of themselves with their knowledge of ecosystems. Much like the diversity of plants and animals repopulating the blast zone, this anthology's selection is rich, textured and necessary.  

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