Today (5/18) is the 40th anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption. It was a very big boom. I remember ‘feeling’ it while lying in bed at my home among the junipers between Bend and Sisters. My mother lived in Yakima, Washington, and she related stories of ash clouds. I recall seeing pictures of her home and other structures in communities downwind of the ash fall. People had to scoop gray gritty powder from the tops of roofs like they were shoveling snow. The abrasive ash clogged machinery and human airways. It was amazing only 57 people lost their lives as a direct result of the blast.
Truth be told, in this relative existence, all living beings are shaped by geology. We live on the earth and depend on her minerals to maintain our basic health. The earth supports food production and provides materials to build shelter. Some of us actually want to live atop a volcano for the view, assuming it will not erupt in our lifetime. We tend to avoid desert sands unless we can ignore their reality by pumping out insane amounts of subterranean water. I think Buddha could have been a geologist in one of his lifetimes because his analogies of impermanence all begin with how we myopically walk the earth.
Imagine a time when Eastern Oregon hosted vast sub-tropical forests. The living community adapted to abundance because ample moisture blew in from the ocean. Then the Cascade Range appeared in fiery explosions, creating mountains up to 10,000 feet in elevation that blocked prevailing weather patterns. The resulting “rain shadow” effect caused precipitation to be reduced to less than ten inches per year. The area was transformed from green forests into dry deserts. Of course, this took some time. But this was nothing compared to the caldera we call Yellowstone. One eruption there was 2,500 times the size of the St. Helens ‘burp’. The resulting ash clouds blocked the sun and altered weather patterns for the entire planet.
I find it comforting to contrast our human experience with geologic events and time scale. Human life barely shows up on that radar. So, when something like this Covid-19 pandemic occurs, I find our human reaction somewhat humorous. We cannot prevent pandemics any more than we can prevent a volcano from blowing its stack. But we can keep from blowing our stacks in reaction to a pandemic. We might want to place things in perspective and simmer down.
Next time you take a walk, find a rock and place it in your hand. Contemplate the millions of years it took to create and erode that chunk of geology. You are holding a record of history that, for the most part, does not even include human existence. Become aware of that inconceivable time and space—and rest your mind. Sometimes it is important to have rocks in your head.