The Weight of Their Words | Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Crater Lake image source

Crater Lake
image source

“Crater Lake used to be a mountain.  Mount Mazama, it was called.  It was not so unlike the chain of dormant volcanoes I’d be traversing on the PCT in Oregon–Mount McLoughlin, the Three Sisters peaks, Mount Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Jefferson, and Mount Hood–except that it was bigger than them all, having reached an elevation that’s estimated at a little under 12,000 feet.  Mount Mazama blew up about 7,700 years ago in a cataclysmic eruption that was forty-two times more voluminous than the eruption that decapitated Mount St. Helens in 1980.  It was the largest explosive eruption in the Cascade Region going back a million years.  In the wake of Mazama’s destruction, ash and pumice blanketed the landscape for 500,000 square miles–covering nearly all of Oregon and reaching as far as Alberta, Canada.  The Klamath tribe of Native Americans who witnessed the eruption believed it was a fierce battle between Llao, the spirit of the underworld, and Skell, the spirit of the sky.  When the battle was over, Llao was driven back into the underworld and Mount Mazama had become an empty bowl.  A caldera, it’s called–a sort of mountain in reverse.  A mountain that’s had it’s heart removed.  Slowly, over hundreds of years, the caldera filled with water, collecting the Oregon rain and snowmelt, until it became the lake it is now…

This was one Mazama, I kept reminding myself.  This was once a mountain that stood 12,000 feet tall and then had its heart removed.  This was once a wasteland of lava and pumice and ash.  Thus was once an empty bowl that took hundreds of years to fill.  But hard as I tried, I couldn’t see them in my mind’s eye.  Not the mountain or the wasteland or the empty bowl.  They simply were not there anymore.  There was only the stillness and silence of that water: what a mountain and a wasteland and an empty bowl turned into after the healing began.”

~Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (pages 262 & 273)


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