Gary Snyder's Danger on Peaks*

Joel Weishaus








At age 15, Gary Snyder climbed to the then 9,677 foot summit of Mt. St. Helens, in southern Washington State. One week before, on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped the first of two atomic bombs on the people of Japan. When the news reached him at his campsite, the would-be poet vowed "something like, 'By the purity and beauty and permanence of Mt. St. Helens," that he would "fight against this cruel destructive power and those who would seek to use it, all my life.'"(9)

In 1980, Loowit, as the Indians call her—"Luwit, lawilayt-lá—Smoky/is her name"(15)—famously erupted, changing her contours and the landscape around her forever. In August 2000, after having published more than eighteen books of poetry and prose, Snyder returned to the mountain, walking in the shadow of her truncated summit, making notes for what would become the first section of Danger on Peaks.

Today, the sound of rain mixing perfectly with the rills of a stream is rubbed raw by a truck grinding up the winding road that skirts Portland’s Japanese Garden. Far off, but within sight of this city, Loowit is again sending up columns of smoke and ash, recreating itself with signs and What if I took him literally? What if it were true that nature speaks in signs, and that the secret to understanding its language consists in noticing similarities in shape and portents. Taking shelter in a wood-pillared kiosk, sitting on a bench of knotty pine, I begin work on this critique of a book written by a man whose life and work have influenced the better part of mine.


*Shoemaker Hoard, $22.00 hb, $14.00 pb.
**G. Snyder. From, "The white dome peak..."

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Numbers within the text refer to pages of Danger on Peaks.
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