Home · Articles · Arts & Books · Books · Snyder's Dangerous Peak
May 18th, 2005 MATT BUCKINGHAM | Books
 

Snyder's Dangerous Peak

Reed's Zen poet grapples with the power of Mount St. Helens.

     
Tags:
Name: Gary Snyder.

Occupation: Beat poet and rancher in rural Northern California.

Age: 75.

Residence: "The nearest town is Nevada City. That's 25 miles away. We're three miles from the paved road. We have very few neighbors. It's a stand-alone place. We have to take care of everything. There's no electrical power here. We have to make our own."

Origins: Born in San Francisco, Snyder lived with his family in Washington and Oregon before graduating from Portland's Lincoln High and Reed College.

Beat cred: During the 1950s, Snyder moved to the Bay Area to attend graduate school, dropped out and then "fell in with a bunch of gay poets that were all about 10 years older than me. And they were really good teachers." He's still associated with that circle of Beat writers, which included Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Duncan, Philip Whalen (another Reedie), Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac.

Noted works: Turtle Island, winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize; Left Out in the Rain; and Mountains and Rivers Without End.

Latest poetry collection: Danger on Peaks, 2004.

Snyder's favorite poem from this collection: "Waiting for a Ride."

Topic for Portland lecture: "This is going to be a conversation between Jerry Franklin and me. Franklin is an eminent forest ecologist, a longtime student of Mount St. Helens, and I was hiking and climbing around Mount St. Helens when I was a teenager."

Snyder's first climb up Mount St. Helens: Aug. 13, 1945.

Inspiration for Danger on Peaks: "In the late '90s, a Forest Service geologist based at the research station in Corvallis invited me to go up to Mount St. Helens with him. It was overwhelming to finally see what it looked like after the eruption and to hold that in my mind against the memories of when it was all deeply forested."

Snyder's reaction to the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as he wrote in his new prose-poem "Atomic Dawn": "Horrified, blaming scientists and politicians and the governments of the world, I swore to myself, something like, 'By the purity and beauty and permanence of Mt. St. Helens, I will fight against this cruel destructive power and those who would seek to use it, for all my life.'"

On keeping this vow: "Vows will follow you around for your whole life, perhaps. So what I have learned is what vows mean. I have learned what that particular vow implies on many different levels. I would say I have not swerved from observing that vow, but what I have done has not been necessarily directly what it sounds like."

Echoes of Fury: The 1980 Eruption of Mount St. Helens and the Lives It Changed Forever

By Frank Parchman (Epicenter Press, 432 pages, $24.95)

When Mount St. Helens exploded in 1980, it was with a force equivalent to the detonation of a Hiroshima atom bomb every second for nine straight hours. Afterwards, from a helicopter the once-lush forests around the mountain looked as if God's hand had brushed down the hair on a giant dog's back. Up close, however, each of these "hairs" was, in fact, a charred tree trunk several feet thick and sometimes hundreds of feet long. Frank Parchman's sure-to-be-definitive account of the eruption follows the story through the eyes of eyewitnesses, including Don Swanson, a respected volcanologist who by a quirk of fate narrowly escaped death on the mountain; David Johnston, the geologist who took Swanson's place as an observer on the mountain the morning of the eruption, who was vaporized (along with every other living thing within five miles of the summit) by a blast hurricane traveling 650 mph; Jim Scymanky, a Weyerhaeuser logger who was working outside the volcano's official danger zone when it erupted but was the only man in his crew to survive; and Roald Reitan and Venus Dergan, young lovers who rode a rollercoaster of logs down the raging Toutle River to outrun the volcano's wrath.

Perhaps the book's most colorful personality, though, is Robert Rogers, a freewheeling adventurer who outwits state and federal authorities at every turn to sneak his way back up the smoldering mountain. Parchman also reveals how flyover data collected by a private contractor the Friday before the eruption might have averted the 57 deaths on the mountain, except the information wasn't interpreted in time because it would have required paying weekend overtime. The author's masterly description of the May 18 disaster is unlikely to be surpassed by other accounts commemorating the eruption's 25th anniversary. Epicenter Press, a Northwest publisher usually devoted to books about the Alaskan frontier, has produced a polished work about the volcano whose fury continues to echo-and spit-a quarter-century later.


Tonight, on the 25th anniversary of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, Snyder will speak at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, 227-2583. 7:30 pm. $19.50-$39.50.

Danger on Peaks By Gary Snyder (Shoemaker & Hoard, 128 pages, $22)

 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 
 
 

 

comments powered by Disqus
 

Web Design for magazines

Close
Close
Close