Monday, December 12, 2011

Storytellers and their stories Part II

The Klamath Remembrance of the Mount Mazama Eruption

My one and only trip to see Crater Lake, the remains of this story, was when I was a child.  My grandmother, aunt and I were returning from a funeral in Oregon.  I had strep throat and we stopped at Crater Lake briefly.  The whole thing is a blur of not feeling well and throwing up grape soda.  But I remember the lake being incredibly beautiful and being amazed at the size of the volcano it once was.

The storyteller was a man who is half Klamath (an Native American group who lives along the border of California and Oregon near the Klamath River) and half not.  He is a sociologist, but he teaches about NAGPRA (Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) some of the time. One of the things he studies is the violence caused by denying other people's worldviews.  We exchanged several interesting stories during that semester, mostly because we share a common link to some rural areas of Oregon (He and my mom are close enough in age and grew up in close enough proximity to have had their schools play football against each other).  This story, however, was related to the group during class one day.  It was an illustration of a different sort of knowledge that had been denied or scoffed at my scientists and Euro-Americans as superstition, until somebody's research proved the Klamath oral tradition was absolutely correct.  Mount Mazama is the name given to the volcano before it exploded and then collapsed in a pyroclastic eruption (the type of eruption seen at Mount St. Helens in 1980) around 7000 years ago.  While anthropologists have recorded other versions of this event from members of the Klamath people, this was related to me personally.  It excludes the religious aspects of the tale and focuses largely on the history. It goes something like this:

The ancestors of the people who are now the Klamath witnessed the eruption that destroyed Mount Mazama and created the caldera that later became the Lake.  Becasue they lived to the south, they were spared from the cloud of ash and poison that spewed forth.  Their neighbors, who lived to the east of the mountain died as the wind carried the cloud eastward.  

This story lingers for me, in part because of the recent nature of Mount St. Helen's eruption.  The image of the pyroclastic cloud, filled with scorching ash and poisonous gases that devastated so much area is one we can see in full color. But there is also a piece of me who "sees' the death of so many people in a tragedy that occurred so long ago, but that has been remembered because of it.  I can feel the sense of relief at being spared, and yet, there was also probably sadness, too.  And the ever present knowledge that it could happen again.  There is also beauty in the image.  Volcanic eruptions are powerful reminders of the power of nature, nothing stands in it's way.  When I look at that lake, I see a beautiful, powerful place that sleeps for now, and I remember that.  The story was told with both quiet intensity and a personal meaning.  It was powerful reminder that science sometimes misses the obvious by limiting possibility.

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