Our Mountain

Digital illo: Our MountainMy many years spent as a lucky resident of the Pacific Northwest were dominated, as are many such fortunate souls’, by The Mountain. Mount Rainier can be coy, hiding behind not only her customary jaunty little beret of lenticular cloud but veiled further in the often hazy skies of Western Washington state. She can be mighty capricious, being after all a volcano whose natural habit is to lose her temper occasionally, diva that she is.

If you click on any of the site links above, there’s plenty of information to tell you far better than I could just how alive and powerful this entity is. So it’s not surprising that many of us refer to Mt. Rainier merely as The Mountain. Or, just as often, My Mountain. She owns us, in many ways, for when she makes an entrance, dominating the horizon with her granite glory, bedecked in a dazzling gown of white snow and fur-trimmed in, well, firs—we can’t help but be in awe. Such presence. Such beauty. Such danger, too, though we can’t think about that too closely, since we don’t know when or how; even if we did, there’s little chance we could do anything about it. But yes, deserving our respect. And in some ways, perhaps, because of this understanding along with the tremendous beauty, we feel an intense connection to the perpetual presence standing above us. So we call her Ours.

The valley where I lived for seven school years, and my parents remained resident for longer, is one of the most logical outlets for the lahar that would follow a pyroclastic flow from a Rainier eruption. That will likely wipe out much of the valley, whenever it comes. From our house above the valley, I stood out front in 1980 and watched the massive plume rise when Mount St. Helens, about seventy miles directly south of us, blew her lid, and that mountain also sits on the same Ring of Fire as the whole seismically busy left coast of the United States. Tiny amounts of volcanic ash drifted onto our neighborhood occasionally for a brief period thereafter, the same ash that was both ethereal looking grey ‘snow’ in a wide swath around the mountain and in traces across the continent, fully nine hundred miles across. St. Helens started at something slightly under ten thousand feet (3000m) high before the blast; her taller sister Rainier is a bit above fourteen. Mt. Rainier could have a smaller eruption…or be more powerfully, radically, explosive yet. Meanwhile, stunningly gorgeous. But isn’t that just our life all over? Precarious, yet all the more exquisitely precious because of that very tenuous quality. The Mountain owns us, and we in turn look on her as Ours.

This summer’s short visit to family and roots, naturally, gave us both the urge to visit Our Mountain, too, and Mom and Dad S—also longtime admirers of the magnificent mountain—joined us for that wonderful earthly element of our roots tour. Rainier smiled benevolently as we approached, doing that magic trick of hers where, as foreground terrain changes, that peak looks like you could just reach out of your car and stick your hand in the snow; you go around the corner a mere tenth of a mile ahead, and the mountain looks incredibly remote, hours away; just over the next rise, everything has shifted once more and you realize that you’ll be entering the national park at the foot of Rainier in a few minutes, the trees rising up like a cathedral colonnade through which we process onward for our audience, our reconnection.

No matter how long I live, The Mountain will outlast me; whether that next, inevitable, eruption comes during my tenure on this planet, whether it’s when I’m near enough to be killed or directly affected, or that this particular cataclysm finds me distant and leaves me unmarked, there will still be traces of Mt. Rainier for eons after I’m forgotten dust. I just found out, to my surprise, that it’s possible to get permits to scatter funerary ashes in Mt. Rainier National Park, and that seems like a delightfully apropos gift to give to an entity whose own ash will most likely someday blanket much of the Northwest. But I hope that my turn at that, should my survivors choose that option, is in the distant future. For the present, I happily remain an admiring acolyte of the splendid wonders of my mountain. Our Mountain.

Sorry, Texas!

I’ve enjoyed these six years of living in north Texas, and I expect to enjoy the next whatever-number of years here, too. But after just returning from a roots tour of sorts in the Pacific Northwest, visiting family and familiar territory where I grew up, I am reminded that the riches of one’s birthplace can have no insuperable competition elsewhere in the universe if one has been as blessed with hometown wealth as I have been. I won’t say much more, because yes, I am happy wherever I find love and landscape enough to keep me contented, but I will leave you with a couple of photos as food for thought on the subject just the same. I suspect you know whereof I speak, no matter where your roots lie.

Photo: Mt. Rainier through the Lupines

Texas Hill Country has its magnificent bluebonnets in proliferation in a good spring season, to be sure, but are they any more exquisite than the carpeting of blue lupines on the flanks of Mt. Rainier in *her* glory?

Photo: Raingardens, Seattle

There aren’t *that* many cities where a mere parking strip is as likely as not to be a fully fledged Raingarden, loaded with a mass of flowers, vegetables and fruit, and xeric plants all exploding with texture and color.

Photo: Seattle Skyline from Puget Sound

A soaring modern skyline, the deep, cold waters of the Sound, and the beach life of leisure scented with fresh-caught fish and chips. Don’t tell me that isn’t pretty fine stuff!

Things to Remember

Apparently I am sucked into the Throwback Thursday vortex, for amid my housework wanderings I stumbled across some dish-drying towels that brought a flood of memories over me. The first thing that came to mind was curiosity about whether there are many others who grew up using tea-towels like these made of flour sacking material and hand-embroidered, often with a small posy or aphorism in the corner, and usually by Mom or some older relative, at least until we ourselves were conscripted for the task.

My mother enjoyed embroidery as a relaxation mode as well as art form, and the last batch of dish towels that I know of her having made were a series of line drawings of local native flora, based (with the author’s permission) on a book of lovely little watercolors of the same plants and flowers. I chose one representing a favorite alpine blossom, even though the creamy white blooms were guaranteed to fade quickly against the pale fabric, and the outline of them remains faintly visible even after many years of hard use. That’s a perfect representation, in its way, of how my memory works. I began to reminisce, seeing this embroidery, on the alpine plants that have always signaled peace and freedom to me as I day-hiked on the flanks of Mt. Rainier. So I meandered over to search online for native alpine plants of the northwest, and as soon as I began looking at the images I was struck with an infusion of the very scent of those hikes, a spicy, earthy, fresh and herbal blend of tree resins—cedar, pine, alpine fir—and sun-baked earth, lightly perfumed flowers, crushed needles and fallen leaves underfoot, the brisk dash of elevated air. What a lot of fine things to be contained, in addition to the treasury of love and family history, within my mama’s embroidered dish drying cloth.Photo: Mama's Embroidery

You might think I’d’ve inherited an embroidery gene, because in addition to my mom’s fine handiwork, I grew up seeing and using Grandma’s embroidered towels and pillowcases and enjoyed them, too. I did not, and since I had these two sources readily available, I didn’t mourn the gap in my skill set. I could always go to one or the other of them and find some new kitchen linens in a time of need.

My father’s mother never got so inventive as to design her own embroideries based on book illustrations like Mom’s were, but Grandma chose for her projects the resource of hand-me-down and found patterns, most of them quite out of date already (hence the ease of her collecting them), and almost all of them much quirkier and tackier than her normally refined taste would have allowed. These were, however, mainly destined to be given to charity or sold for the proceeds that would go to the charity in their stead, so she had no attachment or agenda for showing them at home. I, on the other hand, bought a few not only out of any little do-gooder intentions but because the sheer silliness of some of the designs so delighted me.

This one, for example, that was my inspiration for joining now in the Throwback Thursday brigade, was highly amusing to me in its ridiculously fantastic subject, its period style, and its girly goofiness. I couldn’t resist it. I found no other Days of the Week as companions, so I can only imagine what happened on those days, but it was enough to find this towel that could simultaneously remind me of my grandmother and my youth and make me laugh, all while getting my dishes dried.Photo: Throwback Thursday

Fashions change, and with them, the decor and even tools that fill our lives and homes. Yesterday’s dish towels are probably more often machine-made of some high-tech sort of microfiber or super-absorbent bamboo fiber blend with an artful printed-on design in the proper Pantone colors of the year. But do they do a more artful job, as well, of wiping dishes dry after washing? Can they strain soup broth into crystal clarity? Do they make perfect wraps for ice packs when a sore neck or bruised arm is in want of one? No better than the old standbys of my youth, I imagine. Old as I am, I come from good stock that valued something a bit quaint and very handmade, and if it managed to accomplish the task and carry memories for decades at the same time, why, I suspect I’ll do well to try to be a human imitation of it myself.

I Find Respite in the Woods

We all find our places of escape where we can. Having grown up in the Evergreen State and not far from both the vast forests of Mt. Rainier and the green refuge of the Olympic Peninsula’s rain forest, I have always found trees and wooded places a comfort and a place of safety and reassurance. No matter how deep the sorrow and pain, I have found strength returning to me and a gentling of the spirit poured on my woundedness in those times spent in the protective forest greenery. When I can spend time among the trees and relish their distinctive and individual beauties, I find myself rescued and my hope renewed.digital illustration

To the Woodland

Cedar, bless me with your resinous breath,

And oak, stretch down those knotted arms to me

And close me in, so others cannot see

My sorrow as I stand so near to death—

I come here to the woodland for relief

Among the leafy shadows of the glade,

Hoping to leave my sadness where I’ve laid

It here, a monument in shade to grief—

Sweet birches, bend your green to veil my tears

And weep with all the willows, as I do;

Great trees, for graces have I come to you

Each time that I grew mournful through the years—

I come here to the woodland for relief

And leave a monument, in shade, to grief.

This mottled darkness will give way to sun

Anon, as time flows on, and so shall I;

The dead still sleep, no matter how I cry,

And I must live, or my own death’s begun—

And I’ve much yet to live, and purpose find

In bringing others light who, too, repine

That have no pine-groves filled with peace like mine

As balm and rescue for a troubled mind—

Who know not aspens’ kindly whispered care—

Should all seek peace and comfort in the wood,

These mercies surely better us, their good

And healing gifts send us renewed from there—

So we’ll go to the woodland for relief

And leave in shade, as we emerge, our grief.digital illustration

A Little Northwest Pictorial

It’s certainly a fine time to be in the old familiar places of the northwest. The Evergreen State is at its lush floral best, the cool-weather walks already impossible in Texas by mid-June are still a fine evening pleasure for scoping out the neighborhood sculptures and specimen plantings in their cottage-garden settings, ferries ply the waters of Puget Sound, and even Mt. Rainier comes out of hiding behind various veils of cloud from time to time.photophotophotophotophotophotophotophotophotophotophoto