I firmly believe that if at all possible, everyone should have a chance to explore his or her surroundings. And I tend to use the word “surroundings” loosely, generally meaning within a day trip, or, for some exceptional destinations, perhaps an overnight or a weekend.
I think this was brought home to me most profoundly by a woman I used to work with when I lived in a small, rather remote (when asked where it’s located, I usually say “thirty miles east of Idaho, eighty miles south of Canada”) town in Montana about twenty years ago. She was in her forties and had never been more than thirty miles from home. Given that the nearest city of any size was ninety miles away, and the only other town within that thirty mile limit was about a quarter the size of the one she lived in, that meant her boundaries were circumscribed in a way that I could never imagine.
I was born in New Orleans. I grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Denver, and San Francisco. My parents always made a big deal of exploring and getting to know the area around us every time we moved. Since then I have lived in Oregon, another part of Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Montana, and Washington state, and I have kept up the tradition of exploration. Any circumscription of my boundaries is pretty well stretched to the point where it won’t snap back.
Anyway. A few years ago I discovered that my best local friend, whose father and husband were both military and so is even more well-moved than I am, had never really had a chance to explore once she moved here. Kids and a full-time job just didn’t let her. So I started a campaign to take her someplace she’s never visited before at least once a year.
This year’s jaunt was to Mt. St. Helens.
It was a beautiful, almost too warm day. Classic Pacific Northwest August sunshine. It also happened to be the first time I left the kittens to their own devices for the entire day; as it turned out, they managed just fine and didn’t even destroy the house.
But I digress. We packed a picnic and drove the two and a half hours down I-5 and east along the Toutle River, first to Coldwater Lake, where there’s a trail/boardwalk along the lakeshore with signs telling about how the lake was formed by the 1980 eruption, and a picnic area, and a restroom that looks like a bunker for surviving nuclear war. Now that I think about it, maybe it’s designed to help anyone stranded there survive another eruption.
After lunch, we drove up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, where we listened to a ranger talk about the eruption and went through the exhibits, where, among other things I jumped up and down on a platform to create my own tick on a seismograph. My inner ten-year-old liked that a great deal.
There’s a pleasant trail leading up the hillside above the observatory, where plenty of wildflowers were in bloom. It leads past a viewpoint, and a memorial listing all of the names of the 57 people who died in the eruption. The views from the top are quite spectacular, but there aren’t many views in the monument that aren’t.
All in all, it was an extremely satisfactory “taking L somewhere she’s never been” day. I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did.