“Be Quiet. Be Still. Be Alive.” No phrase serves as a better true north or mission statement for every hike I take. On Mt. Rainier, this statement of being feels especially true. It is a reminder for every step taken something is left behind. Some of those things only for a little while; others are more permanent. Left behind in the city is noise and distractions. Here quiet calm engulfs every inch of your humanity reminding you of the moments holding the most purpose. Left behind is the constant movement of everyday life. Sure, hiking is about point A and B, but each endpoint comes with an opportunity to stop and reflect. Here, we are invited to be still and reconnect with ourselves. Left behind is the overcomplicated notion of living. Here, you are invited to be alive. To feel your heart beat, to allow your mind to wander, to have your eyes filled with beauty… this is living. This is what it means to be alive.
Many writers better equipped than I have waxed on longingly about our connection to nature. I enter my verse into the record not as an attempt to poetically draw arms along lines of craftsmanship. Rather, I do this to synthesize my thoughts about something that means so much to me. I also attempt such a task in an effort to discover a common thread. For those of us who hike, camp, long for the woods or the open road, we all share the journey of trying to feel small. We walk down city streets, crowd ourselves into cubicles and struggle down freeways. We are constantly surrounded by people and things. We head for trails, ridges, streams and mountains in an effort to find space; a place on this earth that can momentarily be called ours. For an afternoon, Mt. Rainier belonged to me and a friend. Sure, we crossed paths with others, but never did we feel like ants searching for something better.
As you stare and study Mt. Rainier, a volcano whose dome is crammed with glaciers, one thing is abundantly clear; we are having a tremendous impact on this vista. With the passing of each summer, the temperature ticks a little bit higher for a little bit longer. That holding pattern is causing the melting period to begin earlier in the spring and stretch further into the fall. Winters are shorter which means less accumulation of snow and ice. Glaciers are decreasing in size. Streams are drying up and fires on both sides of the geological line separating east and west are becoming more prevalent and harder to contain. The debate is finished. We are causing this and with each brush of our apathy we rob ourselves of the opportunity to feel small, to be quiet, still or alive.
Despite the changes, there are still lessons to be learned. Those lessons come in many different forms. As my Oklahoma friend and I climbed ever higher, the struggle between flatlands and elevation gains was becoming more and more difficult. With each step, my friend showed her determination. She also showed a need for patience and frequent breaks. While she over-apologized, I happily altered my pace. Today’s lesson was friendship. On this day, I was more than happy to share one of my favorite places in the world with someone whom I love dearly. I was also honored to help coach and guide her there, no matter the pace.
Finally, as any Google search of Mt. Rainier will attest, our trip was filled with vistas beyond belief. Trying my best, I adjusted my camera and my angles all in search for the perfect shot. Ultimately, I failed to do so. The sun was too high. The bears were too far away. There was too much in the way to get the mountain rising above the road. If you hope to make photography your hobby, you have to find comfort in these moments. Sometimes it is the journey not the destination. Sometimes it is the attempt not the product. With each failure, comes the opportunity to learn and try something new. You’ll never learn, if you never try. Which is just another powerful lesson provided by Mt. Rainier.
Be good to each other,