Tuesday, September 25, 2012

This Side of Paradise

I recently joined my parents on a trip to Mount Rainier. I had been wanting to visit for years, but while it's a mere 2.5 hours away from Seattle, I had just never been able to just plan the drive and go. And oh, now all I want is to go right back again.

The road to aptly-named Paradise - a small stretch of clearing on the south slope of the mountain and home to the visitors' center and the historic inn at which we stayed - was designed by collaboration of conservationists and engineers to create minimum impact on the environment and maximum impact on visitors making the drive. The mountain reveals itself gradually through the glances afforded by the road's meandrous climb, its monstrous beauty made all the more entrancing by the moments in which old-growth trees block it from our view like winter clouds blot out the sun from our sight but not our minds.

At 5,400 feet, we reached Paradise. Over 48 hours, we hiked more than 20 miles (with temperatures in the 80-degree range), felt the thunder of several waterfalls in our chests, watched solar flares through a sun scope, and at night, spotted lights on the mountain from climbers' camps and gazed at the rings of Saturn and the clustered stars of the Hercules Nebula through a GPS-programmed telescope worth more than I'll make in 50 lifetimes. I saw my first glacier, fell in love with the Avalanche Lily and the Pasqueflower, encountered as many furry and feathery creatures as Snow White could want, and ate one of the best meals of my life from a recipe passed around by National Park chefs in the Northwest. And wildflowers, subalpine wildflowers everywhere you looked. At Mount Rainier, I felt so laughably small among such powerful forces that have been in the world for so long before I came and will be for so long after I am gone. I renewed the appreciative pain I always feel in such pure places: that while I inhabit the same world as this mountain and its meadows and air, I am too far removed from its purity of form to ever really be a part of it.

I saw and felt and knew a place so devastatingly beautiful that I ached.

Above the visitors' center, dozens of trailheads lie just beyond a humble stone stairway engraved with the words of John Muir, a sort of love-letter description of his most hallowed of the "fire mountains" of the Pacific Coast: "...the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings."  But there is another thought from Robert B. Marshall in his tribute to John Muir that I find just as fitting: "One cannot describe Mount Rainier, one cannot describe the Grand Canyon, one cannot describe his beloved Yosemite; humanity is silent in their presence." Even though I have written my share, words will always fail to describe Mount Rainier, and so I have written more than enough. Photos, too, will fail, but their silence is more reliable than mine.

Lupines for days.

Before I knew their name (Pasqueflowers), I called them Lorax Trees
Sitka Valerian
Magenta Paintbrush

Corn Lily (False Hellebore)


Avalanche Lily

Bathtime in Paradise River

Under Narada Falls

Above Myrtle Falls

Nisqually Glacier

Grouse in the House!
The second fawn (twin?) is hiding behind the white log

To wrap it up, here are some other tired, sweaty, hiked-out animals. Note: unless you ever go hiking with me, this is the only time you will ever, ever see me in a baseball hat, plus the messiest bun ever. Live it up while you can.

Sitting on boulders counts as bouldering, right? (Hi Dad)

Snow day, every day! (Hi Mom)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The heart is no fool and the gut is its loaded gun

sadlyharmless on etsy

We face What We Don't Know with all sorts of weapons, whether designed for battle or negotiation. With grit, with grace. Through grief and grins. Through anger and exhaustion and whiskey and more whiskey. But through all of it - even despite and because of it - there we are, left with certain truths. With our bodies we feel truths so unimpeachably true that they make our bones shimmer in their light and make our cells swim in circles. Those currents of truth are as strong and subtle as electricity, and they can drown us as easily as the ocean's if we fight them. And so we best know these truths with our bodies rather than knowing them in our heads, the way we can lose ourselves in thought on a long walk and still trust our feet to find the way home. Our brains are small, and our minds are bigger, but our hearts are doubly so. We can trick our brains into believing something just because we WANT to believe it, but the heart is no fool and the gut is its loaded gun. The deep-pitted flutters down there are itches on the trigger, so pay attention to them. Epiphany does not always come with klaxon bells and intuition is quieter still.

I think the truth we seek is really clarity robed in spiritual light. For some of us, maybe it is simply self-resolution in a fancy hat. It seems so deliciously mysterious and desireable when we think of it as alien or separate from ourselves, because if we have anything to do with it, then it must be lesser. We think it is soiled if it is already inherently marked by the fingerprints of the very person reaching for it (if we're fucked up, it must be too). But I don't think that's the case. Instead, I think our truths are long buried beneath muscle and memory, safely tucked away from harm as we corrode our more obvious parts with the daily acids of worry and doubt and restless ambivalence manifest in mental anxiety.

It can, of course, relieve some of this anxiety to analyze and overanalyze and make lists of pros and cons. Plans and theories often help us see a little further down the path of What If when we aren't ready to trust our feet to lead us past uncertainty. But just as often, these plans and lists only tell us what we already knew and felt, revealed in a tangible denouement of ink or type. I'm finally learning to do as we're so often told: Trust your instinct. Go with your gut. Maybe I'm finally old enough to listen to the flutters and young enough to have time to follow their guidance. I will make up my mind but let my body have final say whether the choice is right or wrong. Our small brains are useful tools for mapping unilluminated terrain, but our bodies are the compass that has ultimately been pointing us North all along.