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Awe

Mount Saint Helens

Mount Saint Helens

Dear Friend,

Today, there isn’t much that leaves us in awe.

We are educated in general scientific principles.  Through modern media we are exposed to the wonders of space, of quantum physics, and other incredible discoveries.

As a species, we no longer ascribe great geological events to the anger of the gods.  It is easy, therefore, to think that physical travel for the purpose of discovery and learning is a quaint but expensive relic, best left to the rich and the retired.

However, there is one element of travel that modern technology cannot effectively communicate.  In fact, I think that our current media technology tends to understate it.

That element is the “awe” factor.

Today, my family and I visited Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in southern Washington State.  All that I can say after this experience is, “Wow!”

If you are as old as me then you remember that day in 1980 when the volcanic forces under Mount St. Helens unleashed their fury on this region of North America.  It was a day, and a scene, that I will never forget.

However, as much impact as that devastating eruption had on me nearly thirty years ago, I had never actually visited the “scene of the crime.”  And it is only now that I understand how incredibly powerful this event was, unleashing the force of over 7,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs within a seven hour period.

To see this mountain today, capped in snow, towering massively above all of the otherwise great mountains that surround it, is to be affected on a very personal level.  Only after witnessing this massive seat of power, and seeing the devastating effects of the release of that power, can I understand this event on a human level.

And that’s just it. More than anything else, this National Monument is a memorial to devastation that far exceeds the ability of the human mind to appreciate.  It is, ultimately, a memorial to human vulnerability.

When someone views his world from afar, it’s easy to see the world like a scientist, through the unadulterated lens of reason.  It is easy to ignore the emotional effect on the human psyche that the scale of certain events can have.

I was speaking to my eldest son after our tour, and we noted how this eruption was just a mediocre volcanic event in terms of planet-wide geological history. There have been many such eruptions in the past and there will likely be many more in the future.

It would be an easy matter to forget this event, scientifically speaking, except for the exellent scientific data that was gathered and the new understanding that grew out of the thorough observations that were made back then.

Yet here we were, in awe.  Because witnessing the site and the results of an event like this eruption easily breaks through to anyone’s sense of human vulnerability.  And injects in you a healthy dose of humility.

To truly understand your world you must experience that world in person.  That’s why I strongly suggest that you, too, hit the road and experience your world, perhaps for the first time.

You just might discover what the word “awe” really means.

All the best,

Hugh

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