The answer may not be in the mountains, but shouldn’t we at least check?Anonymous
As my readers know by now I grew up in Tacoma, Washington with a view of “The Mountain” outside my bedroom window to the east. Everyone referred to it that way, though there were other mountains visible in the nearby Cascades, as well as the Olympic Mountains to the west. But Mt. Rainier unquestionably was the most prominent peak, rising above sea level to 14,411 feet and the fourth most prominent peak in North America. In other words, it is hard to miss, always looming above the city on the eastern horizon.
On Thanksgiving day I enjoyed a feast of my own, string cheese wrapped in ham along with a granola bar while sitting on a log next to the Kautz Creek Trail near the entrance to the National Park. My daughters were spending the holiday with their dad, so I devised a celebration of my own.
Of course, spending the day in a beautiful place and going on a hike is a worthwhile celebration on any day of the year, but the memories were what nurtured my soul on that day.
The Kautz Creek Flood took place in 1947 when a glacier on The Mountain let loose and covered many acres of old growth forest with mud and silt just two years before I was born. As a child I remember coming around the bend in the road and entering what appeared to be a stick forest, dead trees rising above a thick layer of silt. Over the years I witnessed gradual changes as the forest returned so that at seventy-two the Douglas fir trees have replaced the alder, though they are smaller than the surrounding old growth, and there are even a few cedars, which will someday make up the climax forest, though not in my lifetime. Give it another three hundred years or so.
As I sat there on a log, musing as old women do, it seemed a wondrous thing to have lived long enough to see a forest grow where dead trees once arose from the muck. But there it was all around me, and there I was, old and sassy and still hiking. It was my first hike since my shoulder injury in September. This was a pretty wonderful way to celebrate Thanksgiving.
I left Kautz Creek and headed the short distance up the road to Longmire, the site of an old resort with hot springs, where visitors arrived by horse and buggy many years before the National Park was designated. There I hiked the short circuit around the meadow, reading the signs where relics of the old resort remain and dipping my hands in the not-so-hot springs.
I remembered a visit my family had taken on Easter Sunday. I was in kindergarten at the time, for I have a vivid memory of returning to the classroom and enthusiastically telling about our Easter trip as my classmates sat about me on the carpet for show-and-tell, their Easter baskets at the ready for bragging rights. My brother Pat and I had slogged through the deep snow in the meadow. It was much more exciting than searching for Easter eggs at home.
This was one of many trips we took to Mt. Rainier, usually two to three times a year throughout my childhood. It was a relatively short distance from Tacoma, just right for a Sunday drive and allowing time for dinner at Mary McCrank’s, where we always enjoyed fried chicken with apple pie for dessert.
I have wondered often what my life would have been like if we had not had Mt. Rainier in our backyard, if there had not been regular Sunday trips like this one, and if Easter had been spent eating a ham dinner while our colorful baskets sat nearby. I liked brightly colored eggs and candy as well as any little kid, but I liked The Mountain more and those adventures I enjoyed with my family.
Next to Longmire Meadow is the sign marking the trailhead for the one hundred mile route that makes its way around The Mountain, the Wonderland Trail. As I hiked a short distance up its length, my feet acted like a conduit, bringing to mind not just memories but a re-experiencing of those first exhilarating minutes on the Wonderland Trail more than fifty years ago. Did I know then how much those steps would change my life, how many thousands of miles lay ahead of me, how it would influence not just how I spent my time but where I would live?
Though I have not lived near The Mountain for many years, it is still a presence in my life, looming above the horizon, something stable and unfailing in a not-so-stable world. It was fitting that on Thanksgiving Day I should be there on that trail, an old woman with a fractured shoulder, still hiking.