It’s unlikely anyone has ever visited Bonney Lake and commented on anything other than its natural beauty.
Tucked into the base of a major mountain range, Bonney Lake, my hometown, is only an hour southeast of Seattle, but can feel worlds away.
Here, mundane trips to the store can contain moments of heart-stopping beauty. Mostly, I’m talking about the mountain — the one white explorers renamed Rainier and the local native peoples call Ti’Swaq’, the sky wiper.
Indeed, rising out of the well-watered western slopes of the Cascade Mountains, Ti’Swaq’ pierces the sky and towers over its surroundings, dwarfing a little city like Bonney Lake. On a clear day, commuters on the main thoroughfare, state Route 410, are blinded by a stunning, close-up view of Ti’Swaq’ just as they enter the city.
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But as one of our nation’s most dangerous volcanoes, it’s a feast for the eyes that will one day turn sour. Statistics show an eruption is likely, quite possibly in our lifetime. Volcanoes in the Cascades erupt two to three times a century. Analyzing the past, experts say Ti’Swaq’ is overdue.
However, promises of early-warning signs and evacuations breed complacency, and the brevity of our lifetimes blinds us to the impermanence of the landscape. Ti’Swaq’ is a reminder of the violent forces that shape and reshape the surface of the earth.
Growing up in the shadow of a volcano has always been a lesson in mortality for me. It’s a quiet reminder of earthly change, something to which I am not immune. “I am here — and then I am not,” I catch myself thinking at the foot of the mountain.
The thought of death once terrified me. I used to fall apart wondering when I would die, wondering what kind of afterlife awaited me. But wanting to make peace with the inevitable, I began spending time reading about death and contemplating the mysteries of the universe.
Nature, modern physics and the wisdom of ancient philosophies slowly quieted my fears, just as death began knocking. Through my twenties, I watched as loved ones defied death or succumbed to it.
The military and war, raging alcoholism, ovarian cancer, accidents and old age put my learning to the test. Suddenly my experiment with truth became a way of being.
There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t contemplate death. Awake, readying myself for it, I tell people I love them. I sit in stillness and center the mind. I practice mini-deaths — letting go of things material and immaterial.
I prioritize my life around building character, not padding my résumé. Hospice nurses report that working too much is a top regret of the dying.
I philosophize and play around with death endlessly in my writing, imagining that moment between here and eternity when the clouds of my being, floating heavy and close to the earth, will lift off like a flock of birds never to return again.
Paradoxically, the specter of death heightens my passion for life. Reminding myself why I am here, why I am alive, I recently wrote to a friend:
“I didn’t come here to think up all the terrifying reasons not to do the things I want to do. I came here to laugh and dance, cuss and slam doors, wrestle with polarities, go places, share the pain, sit around the fire long enough to feel my fears curve and bend and settle like an old dog at my feet.
I came here to come directly in contact with my highest self. I came here to earn my death, not work against all that I hope to create.”
My death, like the eruption of a volcano, is a statistical certainty.
So is yours.
Michelle Ryder is a freelance writer living in Bonney Lake. She is one of six reader columnists who write for this page. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.