Try to remember the first time you had a salad with fruit in it. If you’re like me, you were probably in your twenties and were just discovering the culinary world beyond top ramen and frozen burritos. Usually, salads are for vegetables, and dressing and cheese are for hiding the taste of all those vegetables. When you put fruit on a salad, you’re showing your taste buds that hiding the “healthy” stuff behind the “good stuff” isn’t necessary because fruit is both the healthy stuff and the good stuff. Reading ‘After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mt. St. Helens’ by Eric Wagner is both the healthy stuff and the good stuff. It is the fruit in a book salad.
You might fear that fruit on a salad is pretentious and to this I say nay. What could be more pedestrian than an apple or a pear? And similarly if you think science writing is also pretentious, or at a minimum, out of your wheel house, fear not. What’s really satisfying about fruit on a salad is the way the fruit’s juice hydrates the whole dish. The juice is the joie de vivre of a salad. And there’s so much juice in Wagner’s scientific observations, the writing is downright refreshing.
Whether he’s interviewing scientists or describing the surprising ways that Mt. St. Helen’s landscape recovered after the volcanic eruption of 1980, you’ll appreciate the curiosity he displays that’s also tempered by the reverence he has for his subject matter. Sprinkled throughout, like a few walnuts on our book salad, Wagner incorporates self deprecating humor that keeps the writing from being too serious. These moments will also make you feel like he’s invited you to be a part of his special club of scientist friends.
The refreshing and reverent take on the subject matter evokes Kishi Bashi’s soaring song ‘Marigolds.’ While marigolds don’t make a prominent appearance in the book, this song definitely captures Wagner’s earnestness, one that’s transferred to the reader, in the lyrics “I want to see the world the way you do.”
This Book Might Be Your Next Read:
- If you’re a nature lover/national parks lover/science lover
- If you appreciate subtle surprises and humor
- If you’ve ever marveled at the resilience of nature
- If you subscribe to ‘The Atlantic’ and that long read just wasn’t long enough
photo credit: University of Washington Press (purchase the book here)