by Steve Olson
I was just a baby when Mount St. Helens blew up. I remember my parents telling me about the ash fall, but I always wondered how that could be: the mountain is 500 km away. After reading Eruption: the Untold Story of Mount St. Helens by Steve Olson, now I get it. It was a very big explosion, certainly largest seen in North America in any of our lifetimes.
Just like the mountain’s explosion, Eruption starts off slowly: if you were ever interested in the history of the forestry company Weyerhaeuser, the whole first half of this book is a good place to start. We learn the long, detailed story of how Weyerhaeuser was established in the American Midwest, how the owner went through several business ventures, how Weyerhaeuser expanded to set the pattern of settlement and land ownership throughout Washington State and the immediate areas surrounding Mount St. Helens.
Eventually Eruption gets to the meat of the story: Mount St. Helens starts to stir; the concerns that loggers had through the years about the little earthquakes, steam jets, mini-spouts of ash; and how the company refused to put much thought into the potential dangers of having a volcano in their backyard. However, even with these details we’re halfway through the book. I wanted to know what really happened and what the consequences of such a huge explosion were.
We do get there, but it’s a surprisingly short part of the story. As soon as the description of events finishes (and they were exciting events), the story moves to conservation and preservation. It is a little disappointing. With a title like “Eruption” I was expecting something much more exciting.
Having said all that, another volcanic event in the Pacific Northwest is pretty likely. As dry as the first part of this book was there are lessons to learn about how government and companies, as well as individual landowners, dealt with the Mount St. Helens eruption. It’s worth a read just for that information alone. Just don’t expect it to blow your mind.