The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 battered the landscape and sent several hundred million tons of ash to the east. Trees for miles around the mountain were flattened like “one-hundred-foot matchsticks,” says WSU Vancouver biology professor John Bishop.
But Bishop and his colleagues have found the devastation around St. Helens to be a tremendous laboratory to study the resurgence of flora and fauna after a disaster. Led by a familiar purple flower, the lupine, and an array of other plants and animals, the formerly sterile land now houses significant biological diversity. It’s a portrait of resilience.
Now we face a new and compelling need for adaptability and perseverance: the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re all adjusting to the challenge of things we probably had never heard of, such as social distancing and flattening the curve. Of course, we know Cougs are generous and resourceful, and we are already hearing stories of that spirit in action.
Even before the pandemic and economic downturn, many people across Washington state, from Seattle to Pullman, faced a different crisis as they became overburdened by the high cost of owning or renting a home. The problem has a number of causes, including a lack of housing supply. Fortunately, we have WSU faculty, students, and Extension leaders coming up with possible solutions to ease the strain for people seeking a home.
Life changes for all of us, sometimes quickly and sometimes over longer periods of time. Krist Novoselić (’16 Soc. Sci.) was bass guitarist of the iconic Northwest band Nirvana, but then moved to remote and rural Southeast Washington, got involved with the Grange, received his WSU degree, and grew to love conservation and the natural world. He connected with nearby author Robert Michael Pyle, one of America’s leading nature writers, and the two of them recently released a spoken-word album with poetry by Pyle and acoustic music by Novoselić.
The album celebrates the joy of the natural world and its direct experience, as does the essay by WSU environmental sciences professor Stephanie E. Hampton. Natural history, though, can do more than build appreciation; it can give us practical ways to adapt. As Hampton writes, “A resilient future requires us to be able to make informed predictions about how and why things change.”