Seriously, go look at a Volcano. Ok, some people might not have the privilege (or the unfortunate nearness) of living near a mountain like Mt. St. Helens, but the next time you are nearby, you should go. But why?
Geologic Time is Long
In the era of “internet time”, where everything changes in nanosecords and it’s tough to remember what you ate for breakfast much less what happened yesterday, visiting a volcano (a still active volcano) like Mt. St. Helens reminds you that our lifespans are very very short in the face of geologic time. The last major eruption of this volcano happened around 1500. The 1980 eruption (which some of us remember) was a blip. Looking at the geologic record provides us with some interesting clues and encourages us to think in much different ways. If you’re interested in thinking about time for the long haul, you might want to check out the 10,000 year clock project.
Nature Doesn’t Care What You Want
Although we clearly influence and change the scape of the planet, the sheer scope, scale, and speed of the changes that can happen in the face of an eruption like the one at Mt. St. Helens dwarf any changes that you or I might try to make on the planet’s course. That doesn’t mean we should give up on our individual efforts – but what it does mean is that the planet can be fickle. In the 1980 eruption, enough material was displaced to fill almost three quarters of a cubic mile. That’s a lot of stuff. See more details about the 1980 eruption here.
The sheer scale of the mountain is amazing. You can see Mt. St. Helens for miles on the approach to the Johnson Ridge Observatory (accessed from WA state 504), and yet it still is an incredible site to see. The photo above was taken a Johnson Ridge, about 5 and a half miles away from the Volcano and at an elevation of about 4200 feet (the mountain is around 8,000 feet in height.) Looking at Mt. St. Helens from that distance, you feel as if you’re facing it square on, yet can see the vast influence the mountain had on the surrounding valley when it erupted 31 short years ago.
Of course, Mt. St. Helens isn’t the only interesting natural wonder out there. But it’s a pretty cool one, and I’m amazed to think that I hadn’t been there and had driven past the general area tens or hundreds of times before I decided to go. And I’m glad I did.