In this special edition, Terrain.org presents writings from, about, and inspired by Mount St. Helens, that beautiful, temperamental lady the Indigenous call Loowit, which last erupted on May 18, 1980. Thirty years later, scientists gathered to share data, research techniques, and stories of the region’s renewal at the Science Pulse. The Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word, along with the U.S. Forest Service, brought a dozen writers and artists to interact with the scientists, and the volcano.
Some of the resulting literary and artistic work is presented below. Though many of the scientists have been returning to Mount St. Helens regularly since the eruption—and indeed before—most of the writers included here spent just one late July week on the mountain in 2010. Was it long enough to know that place? It was a start.
On Mount St. Helens recovery is a four-letter word. Considering its context, that seems a bit harsh. After all, this is a place where pyroclastic flows of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit are, geologically speaking, a regular occurrence; where disturbance ecologists measure mycorrhiza efficacy by the micrometer over a vast plain of pumice and ash; where the avalanche lily, despite its tough-guy name, hasn’t bounced back.
In the blast zone of Mount St. Helens, I have been drawing. With my eyes and with my pen I follow jagged ridge lines, the Us of valleys. I move through fallen forests, into snaking drainages, across billowy landslides, tracing contours, ticking textures.
How can we encourage the making of long-range commitments when things seem to be changing so fast? Against the tide of haste and short-sightedness, I want to share a couple of stories from the field about how scientists foster long-term research and how a program that hosts creative writing residencies has tried to adopt some similar strategies.