It’s been awhile since I’ve thrown you a mystery flower, hasn’t it? Today’s contestant likes to live dangerously. It’s growing in old lahar deposits on Mount Rainier.
You see something like this, without knowing what all the boulders encased in mud mean, and why there’s a bloody great glacier-covered lump rising out of the earth, and you’d think, “Wonderful! So serene and peaceful. Maybe I should build a house up here.” People, like this flower, once had no idea that majestic mountains like this sometimes explode. I seem to remember the people of Pompeii were mightily surprised when their cantankerous peak encased them in ash and pumice, but it’s not like it hadn’t given them some warning. They just didn’t speak Volcano yet.
Mt. Rainier, of course, is more likely to fall down than go boom. I think of that every time I go up there. Yes, it’s beautiful. Yes, I enjoy exploring its nooks and crannies immensely. But always, in the back of my mind, there’s this thought: today may be the day when its slowly rotting slopes give way. I won’t hold a grudge if they do. For one thing, I’ll be dead, so I won’t have any opinions whatsoever. For another, it’s not the worst way to go. I mean, up until getting buried under several thousand cubic feet of rotten volcano, I’ll have just been sniffing flowers and admiring volcanic vistas. It’s not like slipping and breaking my neck in the bathroom. I’d rather a lahar than a toilet as my last sight.
I hope I can be like that dude in the old Zen Buddhist story, the one who fell off a cliff and was clinging to a tiny root or some such, with a fatal fall below and a ravening tiger above, who still took a moment to appreciate a nice juicy strawberry growing within reach. As I’m standing on a ridge that turns out to not be high enough to escape disaster, I’d like to watch that thundering wall of water, rock and mud come barreling down on me with flowers much like these probably floating in it, and instead of thinking “OshitoshitI’mgonnadie!!!”, I’d like to think, “That’s some damn fine geology, that is.”
And no matter how destructive things are at the time, the lahar will settle. Trees will grow up on it, drop a carpet of needles, and more flowers will nestle amongst the rocks. I like that about volcanoes. They remind me that no matter how awful things look at the time, some pretty dramatic and lovely scenery is just around the corner. Also, flowers seem to like them. Who am I to question the flora?