Mary Anning deserves far more recognition than she gets. So, on the occasion of her 221st birthday, let me share with you a book that does her justice.
Shelley Emling traces the story of Mary’s life from before her birth to after her death. We are shown just how unlikely it was that a girl born in poverty, who was literally struck by lightning as a toddler(!!), should grow up to become one of the most renowned fossil hunters of her age.
Her story is absolutely amazing, and at several points heartbreaking. She lost her dad when she was a little girl. Only one of her siblings lived to adulthood. Her family was desperately poor. She never got the education she deserved. Because she was female, and science very much a male clubhouse, she often saw others taking credit for her discoveries and insights. She lost her dog to a landslide, and her life at a relatively young age to breast cancer. Shelley shies away from none of the bad stuff.
It seems like entire libraries have been written about the Mount St. Helens eruption. Here are four books well worth reading.
Let me just start by stating the obvious: this is far from a definitive list. It’s just a microcosm of must-reads. These are four books that provided particular insight. Some are out of print, but used copies are fairly easy to find. This is the stack I would personally hand to anyone wanting to learn all they can about that fateful day, who want accuracy, but who don’t want anything too technical or difficult.
You should purchase a box of your preferred tissues to go along with these books. You’ll get to know some of the people we lost up there. And it’s hard. But I feel we owe it to the dead to remember them, how they died, and to try to prevent the same thing from happening to others.
There are incredible stories of survival here. At times, there are frank discussions of terrible injuries. What a volcanic eruption does to a human body is truly grim. So be mindful of that. Take breaks when you need to.
The best part of all of these stories is that science prevented catastrophic loss of life and human suffering. And we learned so many lessons that helped save lives when other volcanoes erupted.
Mount St. Helens is one of the most fascinating volcanoes in existence. These books do her justice.
– Last words of USGS volcanologist David Alexander Johnston, 8:32 am, May 18th, 1980
Dave Johnston would be 70 today, if he hadn’t been up at Coldwater II, watching the volcano. He should have been safe: before they’d chosen the site, they’d investigated the ridge and determined Mount St. Helens hadn’t done anything particularly terrible to it for thousands of years.
Dave had thought there was a chance she’d blow laterally, like Bezimiany volcano on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula. But volcanoes rarely erupt sideways, and when they do, it’s seldom with such force. Miles away, high on a ridge where lahars couldn’t reach, they thought it would be okay. It’s never safe in the Red Zone. But for science, for public safety, you take the calculated risk.
You can never know for sure. And sometimes, like Dave, you end upon the fatal side of the calculation.
Today, take a moment to honor all of the volcanologists who have sacrificed their lives in the quest to further our understanding of these beautiful, dangerous mountains.