Life is at its best when a person is seized by an experience or idea that completely alters everything that came before. These moments are few and rare, which is why they work so beautifully. On top of this, the moments do not always occur as a result of a major Hollywood-worthy event, but may be a result of a simple look up. A complete alteration in the way I think about the world happened almost two weeks ago and the disruptor is called Rainier.
My consort and I planned a trip to the west coast months ago. The convenience of attending WAWH 2015 in Sacramento followed by a travel break before a summer studying for the comprehensive exam was just irresistible. It is not our style to relax on the beach with a Mexican-style lager in hand (though, we have fond memories of deflating ourselves along the sandy shores of Virginia for a week at a time), but found that travel – real exploration of a particular area – is what we like best. Over the years Seattle caught our attention, probably due to our attachment to music of all kinds (and absolute, unapologetic love for the 1992 movie Singles). Yet due to the incredible variety of expressions in the west, we also felt the need to experience several different types of landscapes during our trip. Right off the bat, Sonoma and Seattle were on the list. The difficult question remained in which “wilderness” to encounter: Yosemite? Redwood? Yellowstone? Rainier? Ah, yes… Rainier. That is the one.
Shortly before leaving, a friend expressed that Mount Rainier was the type of place that “you can’t believe actually exists” (Megan McGee Yinger). Smiling at her use of words, thinking that I believed her, we went on our way. Little did I know, Rainier’s enchanted land would steal a piece of me like a sorceress in some modern-day German folk tale.
I think I am so rational.
I think, “my interest in the wilderness – if ‘wilderness’ is really what I mean, because, of course, it is culturally-constructed in my mind – my interest in wilderness is because I am an American and thus I am prone to sentimental ideas of the pastoral landscape. And because of my post-Thoreau/post-Edward Abbey knowledge of ‘nature,’ I engage with the wilderness/civilization dichotomy and feel a need to explore my humanity by viewing a pristine landscape. Oh, and let’s not forget about the fact that my middle class economic status provides me with not only the separation, but the funds in order to appreciate this experience…”
No amount of rationalization and theoretical awareness could prepare me for an encounter with a place that I couldn’t believe actually existed.
I envision a future trip to Rainier quite soon, hopefully one that includes hiking the full 93-mile Wonderland Trail that surrounds the white cap and passes through wildflower fields, along waterfalls, and beside precarious cliffs. However, word has it that applications for permits are increasing every year and the National Park Service must regularly turn away thousands, unlike in years past. This increase in national park use deserves further inquiry and somehow I will find a way to study it. I may not be able to separate emotion from rationalism as I walk the grounds of Rainier, but I can engage my scholar’s quest through an analysis of the park’s use.
Here are a few images captured on the trip that I want to share with you. Since a large part of the AD’s mission is immersion into ideas of space, place, and landscape in the American consciousness, they may be of interest.
We stayed with Deep Forest Cabins in Ashford, WA. Located 1/2 mile from the Mt. Rainier southwest entrance, we could not imagine a more ideal spot to spend our days.
Our first sighting of the mountain took us by surprise and legitimately took our breath away.