A capable guided tour of a landscape unlike almost any other.
Nostalgia for lost places—mostly dammed or developed or 'dozed—drives much modern nature writing. First-time author Colasurdo indulges in nostalgia aplenty, and sometimes in purplish prose, but the lost places about which she writes are gone, not through human malfeasance, but through a not-unexpected show of natural force. Spirit Lake, the venue of many of Colasurdo's memories, is located below Mount St. Helen's, or Loowit, its Native-American name, which blew its top in 1980. The resulting "dreamscape of our childhood,'' as Colasurdo calls the mountain, for years resembled the surface of the moon. But then, faster than anyone expected, life began to return to the volcanic landscape: Trees grew, flowers bloomed, and the dead lake filled anew with water, fish, and beavers. People returned, too; a hundred visitors now ascend the volcano every day. Colasurdo, writing with a solid grasp of science lightly worn, looks at volcanology and what might be called salvage ecology to account for this renaissance, noting that "the volcano had not so much deforested its foothills as rearranged the trees'' and that most plant and animal species are, all in all, a hardy and resilient lot. The author has a grand time presenting and interpreting her arguments of how the mountain works, and she's done her homework well. After much time walking its remnants, she writes, "I understood how volcanoes bloom on the Earth's crust like so many branches of scarlet paintbrush.''
After a session with this lyrical book, the reader will understand, too.