Diaries of a Seasonal Science Educator: First Glance

By Eric Benedon

Starting a new job is always exciting. Even more so when that job is at Mount St. Helens. I’ve been working in place-based education for five years; from contemporary art galleries to urban gardens. While knowledge about the subject is important, my pedagogy revolves around the emphasis of how you teach more than what you teach. So, I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about volcanoes. I had never even been to Mount St. Helens. But in our remote training, I was reassured I was going to learn and I was determined to do just that. I was lent copies of “Return to Spirit Lake” and “In the Blast Zone”, I watched every documentary and listened to every podcast I could find on the subject. 

Heading up Highway 504 for the first time on May 22, I felt more confident. I know I’m a talented educator and I’m starting to know more about the volcano I’m going to call home for the next few months. But I wasn’t ready for the Elk Rock viewpoint. My boss chuckled to herself and pulled the car over as I stared, slack-jawed. Seeing the North side of Mount St. Helens for the first time gave me that indescribable feeling of sensing the raw beauty and power of nature. 

That feeling stayed with me as I did my first hike on the Hummocks; a 2.5-mile loop trail that meanders through the landslide deposit from the May 18, 1980 eruption. I expected a hike around the site of a massive landslide to be desolate. But every bit of the hummocks is teeming with vibrancy, you just have to look closely. A painter’s palette of rocks built the hummocks themselves, countless birds sing to each other, and the scent of the recently formed ponds floats through the air. There are telltale signs of elk grazing on green alders and wild strawberries sprawl over the rocky ground. All this life was created by an event that is so often associated with destruction.

Of course, I still have so much to learn. But after a few days (and a polar plunge in Cold Water Lake), I know Mount St. Helens is one of the most special places I’ve ever been to. Next up: see the lupines bloom on the pumice plain!