The mountain. That’s what we call it here in the Pacific Northwest. If you look at a map you might see that we have more than one mountain. For clarity, “the mountain” is Mt. Rainier. I tried capitalizing it, but that’s not really what we mean…it’s not something big and formal, but really more of a friend. Just as I might say, “the neighbor is mowing his yard”, I would say “the mountain is out” or “look at the mountain today”.
This past week I had the privilege of spending a few days on the mountain, in a beautiful historic lodge, with 9 of my family members. We sat by the creek, hiked in the sun and snow, played Frisbee and made S’mores by the campfire. After the kids were asleep the adult discussion wandered from television shows to the stars, from Sasquatch to aliens. We morphed into our own version of ‘scary campfire stories’ until we found ourselves looking suspiciously over our shoulders and into the trees. Another log on the fire banished the ghosts. That is, until we went in for the night and someone discovered the door to the cellar, hidden under a rug.
I am comfortable on the mountain, perhaps a little too comfortable sometimes. I have grown up with it. I do not generally worry about bears, cougars, landslides, raging rivers and the other dangers that lurk behind the veil of beauty. But I did find my conscious thought interrupted by warning lights more often than usual this time. Is it the wisdom of age? The knowledge that my body can’t hold me and catch me as well as it used to? Or something more?
Just as the mountain holds wildflowers budding under the freezing snow, gentle creeks that turn to raging rivers and vistas that can crumble overnight, I can hold the beauty of the memories being made within the sadness of what has been. I have written before about my tendency toward reflection and melancholy, particularly around ‘anniversary’ events. This week held my birthday, my father’s favorite holiday and the one-year anniversary of the death of a friend and co-worker. This friend died just 16 days after turning 50, in a tragic hiking accident in our beautiful mountain range.
As I watched my nieces play on the mountain this week I thought of my friend's daughter, and grieved a little. As we laughed and told old stories around the campfire at night I thought of my dad, and grieved a little. As I ran, despite my gimpy ankle, to catch the Frisbee, I thought of my healthier self, and grieved a little. When we stopped at a stunning vista on the mountain I thought of my friend, and cried. And stayed in the car so that my nieces would not see me sad. As I bravely traversed a log across the roaring Nisqually River, I thought of my younger self, and grieved a little. As I watched my children cross the very same log, I thought of my friend. And I panicked. I wanted them off of the log. I moved downstream, as though I could save them if they fell in. I knew that I would jump in that water with them, futile though it would be. I broke out in a cold sweat and tried not to vomit. My stomach was churning with each grind and groan of the boulders in the river. “Stupid!” my mind shouted. At any moment the current could dislodge a boulder big enough to shake someone off the little log bridge. They made it across and back, smiling hesitantly. They had made a memory; a brave, healthy, young memory. I walked back to the car on very shaky legs.
I don’t know that I can ever fully reconcile the beauty and the danger that is “the mountain”. Or the beauty and the danger that is life. I can simply do my best to be present for both. May I be brave enough to forge ahead on the trail, adventurous enough to keep my eyes open for glimpses of flowers and treasures. And wise enough to stop if the snow gets too deep, the sky too dark or the waters too rough.
We purchased an Annual pass so that we can go back and explore the many trails and adventures that were calling to me! I cannot walk more than a couple of miles right now, as my right leg and foot have been uncooperative for the past 3 months. From one specialist to the next, caused by my MS or not…we’re working on it. After all, The Wonderland Trail is on my 50 by 50 list! Even if I have to do it in sections over 3 or 4 summers and hire someone to carry my gear! Hell, if I have to, I’ll hire someone to carry me! Those young men of mine look pretty strong!