It’s all a matter of perspective. I must have been 12 or 13 when I began to be aware of the choices to be made, the horizons to be contemplated. The physical landscape didn’t offer much. I grew up among rolling hills, absent mountains, narrow valleys and many swamps. It seemed impossible to get high enough to see for miles. No big vistas or views. At least, not from my house.
I remember long, languid, summer afternoons fighting humidity. It was too sticky for exertion, so I stretched out on the grass under the tall oaks and hickories that surrounded the house. I had a little transistor radio close by, a silvery rectangle, not much bigger than two packs of cigarettes pressed together side by side, the MP3 player of its day. I was catalyzed by Top 40; the hyperactive patter of the disc jockeys seemed to call out from civilization’s core. I longed for a connection to that place wherever I believed real life was.
Weeks ago, during graduation season, I listened to my inner voice tell me I was coming full circle, that if actuarial tables are correct I’m long past middle age: a hard swallow. While I dashed off a quick, congratulatory note to a good friend’s talented, high-school-graduate daughter, I remembered a story heard from another grandmother. She had worried about a granddaughter about to leave for college.
The girl – now a successful young woman – had been crippled as a toddler by an insidious virus that limits her mobility. Still, the teenaged granddaughter was imbued with the impulse to abandon the cocoon of her childhood and embrace the unknown for all it was worth. As the grandmother told me, even though the girl walked with a limp, she was ready to fly. If we are lucky in youth, we enjoy that quickness of spirit, that drive, that naive lust for life.
I confess I’ve lost the yearning to be somewhere I ain’t, the desire to become someone more than I am. There’s nothing like nature to inform perspective. And I don’t just mean hormones, or the lack of them. I’ve found my place in the landscape, specifically at altitudes beneath Mount Rainier.
There’s no view from my house, but when weather permits I see her on my walks. Sometimes she’s topped off by a little horizontal whisp of cloud – that Rainier weather thing folks sometimes speak of. She stands there immense and overpowering, a magnificent reminder of our nearly inconsequential place in the universe. The image of volcanic power at its peak. Striking awe. Often, I see the tourists stop. People driving from the metropolis to the mountain get out of cars, snap a few pictures, slam doors and move on.
If she were not there, you and I might not be either. She’s become my icon, my totem. To say I have a spiritual relationship with the mountain goes too far. But she puts me in my place. Her broad white skirt like the gown of some fabulous fairy godmother. (I’m thinking Glinda the good witch in Judy Garland’s “Wizard of Oz.”)
I climbed her once, almost 30 years ago; I don’t need to go again. There she sits: reminder and caution combined. The miracles, the possibilities, the risks. Our mortality vs. the ineffable power of creation.
I’m fortunate to see her while driving, too. As I head home on that perfectly oriented, east-west highway that is state Route 702, the mountain sits smack dab in the middle of my windshield. When the car crests a certain rise, the Cascade range surrounds her, like a big audience to the queen. As I cross the Yelm prairie, passing crowded subdivisions under construction, my view is long.
The mountain seems to watch as the clouds sneak around the sky, the framers slap up new walls and commuters like me plug along on the highway. Our fairy godmother is glorious. We’re not so great.Susan Gordon, one of five reader columnists whose work appears on this page, lives on about five acres north of Eatonville with her husband and son. She’s a former News Tribune staff writer. Reach her at SJGordonCommunications@gmail.com.