Paradise—A photo essay


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I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: “It was paradise at Paradise. The best day there ever!”

DSCN4657Because I live here again, I can decide to go to Mt. Rainier the morning I’m thinking about the possibility. I check the forecast the night before, and the webcams the morning of before I make a final decision. (I also sort of know: if there’s fog in my valley, with a promise of clearing, it most likely will be paradise at Paradise.) Hence, every time I go is the best day there ever.

DSCN4666I arrived just before 10. Gorgeous, with drifts of fog hanging in valley crannies under blue skies from Morton on up. Forty-five minutes from the gate—where I flashed my $10 Senior Access Lifetime Pass and sailed through ($20 per visit for less fortunate youngers)—I entered Paradise.

DSCN4669I vowed, this time, to take fewer pictures. “Leave the camera in the backpack,” I told myself. “Just enjoy looking and breathing the ambrosious (sure, it’s a word; why not?) alpine air.”

“How did that work out for you?” you might be asking. Well, not that well. I took 182. In five hours.

DSCN4690I knew I wouldn’t be able to resist, so I made a deal with myself: only photos of fluid scenes. If I “need” a static one, I can comb the 1000s of them around the house: in my computer, my photo albums, my mother’s photo albums, my father’s slides, the boxes of photos, the envelopes, the unsorted stacks. There are pictures of Mt. Rainier and the Tatoosh range in all seasons, in all weather, in all decades. (Here’s a classic. That’s me stylin’ in the kerchief.)

IMG - Version 3So, that didn’t work so well either.

DSCN4679“But,” I hear you saying, “you don’t have any from THIS day.” True. But really? The differences can’t be seen in a photograph. It’s not like the mountain has erupted. (I pray I’m gone when that happens. It will break my heart.) Water is fluid. This is a legitimate shot. There are many fewer streams this year.

DSCN4801I’ve walked the High Skyline trail three times in the four summers I’ve been back here. I had never done the whole loop before, at least that I remember. It’s a little kick ass, but the view is distracting. And the trekking poles make such a difference. (But still, I am sore.) I out-paced just one couple in the 4.5 miles (had to take the Golden Gate shortcut, knocking off a mile, to get home for dinner duty). I didn’t count how many parties passed me, because who cares? As three guys from Lon Gisland said, “It’s not a race.” (Two of the passers were young women with strapped on skis. I wish I had asked where the heck they were going.)

DSCN4765The Goddess Cairn Field (that’s my secret name for it) at the apex, above Panorama Point—which is where most hikers turn around (more’s the pity, the other side is best)—was not filled with cairns like it was last time I was there in autumn. There were a few, but in 2012 there were hundreds. This is my 2015 offering.

DSCN4719Below is my 2012 creation. (You can read about that visit here.)

DSCN3148There was no smoke obscuring the view. With Her Majesty to my back (she is not actually in the Cascade Range; she’s her own thing), I could see Adams, Hood, and St. Helens. Chippy looked with me.

DSCN4696DSCN4703In the uncountable number of times I’ve been to Paradise in my life, I’ve never seen one of these snowy creatures. I zoomed in, though it was not too far from the trail. I hope it was just resting. Can a mountain goat break a leg? Seems unlikely, though they give it every opportunity.

DSCN4743I was on the lookout for a marmot. Finally saw just one, dashing this way and that, being adorable, and getting fat in preparation for the Big Sleep.

DSCN4789DSCN4795DSCN4796Her Majesty disappeared into a cloud as I finished my hike; but frankly, this time of year, in her nakedness, she is not the main attraction. Especially this year. A bad wardrobe year, you could say, after a mild winter and and a long, hot, very dry summer.

DSCN4816This was the only snowfield near the trail. Very unusual. Crossing it is a shortcut from or to Panorama Point from the east and west sides of the loop, cutting off the Goddess Cairn Field. (Several years ago—meaning to do the loop—I had to turn back; not realizing there was an up and over, and not about to go across. I also went counter clockwise that year, which I do not recommend. Much easier to go clockwise.)

DSCN4766The trail (or rather the trail it interrupts) is closed this year. I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would cross it without crampons and ski poles. But, anyway, it’s usually much, much bigger than this. As in, if you lost your balance you would take a quick trip nearly all the way to the Inn. Now one would just take a precipitous fall to a quick death.

DSCN4734No, it’s not the mountain the makes me gaga in the autumn. The eye-popper is the crimson and gold foliage.

DSCN4825Once home, I pared my 182 photos down to less than 40. Back in the day of film and developing, one would have only taken one or two rolls, and hoped they chose well and held steady. It’s too easy now.

DSCN4770Is there a 12-step program for people with digital cameras? See you next year, beautiful one.

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Plus, I’m Out of Granola

New post on Daughter on Duty.

“I had a great day with my main man on Monday. I haven’t seen him for a month. He played hooky from day care and spent the day with his Gigi. I swear he said “Gigi” once, too. He would beg to differ, since he repeatedly avoided saying it on demand. “No,” he said, when I asked him if he could. “No” has been his best word since forever. He has added “mine” as a new favorite since I last saw him. Thank you for that, daycare. But now I’m back home, where “no” and “mine” are sort of the way things are here, too; if not more subtle.” Read more


Essay: Reunion of the Class of 1970



This is a guest commentary I wrote for the local newspaper. It was published in the Chronicle on September 8, 2015. (You need a subscription to read it online, but here is the link.)

My sisters and I are each five years apart. It was a big deal when we were young. We had nothing in common except our parentage. In 1962, when my little sister was taking her teddy bear to kindergarten show-and-tell at Washington School, I was struggling with year two of New Math—that even my smart father didn’t get—and our big sister was starting high school. In the olden days, sixth grade was in elementary school and high school began with tenth.

The following year—when Rebecca’s and my school bus slide down an embankment and John Kennedy was assassinated—she was learning to read and Janice Wiester and I sold ice-cream at lunch time all year (we were so good that Mr. Bogen, the principal, didn’t want to switch off weekly like the popcorn sellers from the other 6th grade class). Jo Ann was learning to drive with Leo Milanowski—one of the few teachers she and I would have in common—and gas was 25¢ a gallon.

Those were the only two years any of us were in the same school. When I got to junior year—the last year of the old Centralia High School—Mr. Richardson told me in front of the whole chemistry class on the first day of school that I obviously wasn’t as smart as my sister because she had been in advanced chemistry five years earlier and I was in the lowly regular class where none of us would get an A. I hated chemistry and adjusted my career dream to be a nurse. Jo Ann was starting her last year of college, and Rebecca had moved up to junior high. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed that year, and the Daily Chronicle headlines screamed the number of deaths in Viet Nam.

But that was then, this is now. Our ten-year spread in age has long been insignificant. We still have divergent interests, and sometimes we wonder about our parentage, but we are all aging. That was driven home recently, when we each attended our class reunions on successive weekends. Rebecca and I both have—much to our surprise—returned from decades on the other coast to live in Centralia, and are local reunion goers.

Jo Ann came back from her east coast home to attend her 50th reunion in the old high school gym—now part of Centralia College—where I despised running up and down the balcony bleachers in P.E. That great old three-story, no-elevator school (I know there was no elevator because when I was on crutches following a skiing accident, my locker was on the third floor) had been torn down when Rebecca started senior high. My class of 1970 was the first to graduate from the new high school. I still call it that.

It was good to see old classmates, even though we weren’t always sure to whom we were speaking; and odd to be in a room where everyone was 63. It’s startling to be reminded how much life has passed since graduation in 1970, the year “love meant never having to say you were sorry.” From the Smith Corona electric typewriter with an erase ribbon I received as a graduation gift, to computers in watches, we’ve come a long way, baby. Classmates have left the earth; there are grandkids. Gas has topped $4 a gallon.

Reunions are where we remember the times we lived in, the teachers who taught us everything we know, and who we used to be—with people who will remind us, lest we’ve forgotten.

Gretchen Staebler is a Centralia native who returned to the Northwest in 2012 to live with her now 99-year-old mother. She blogs weekly about that experience at


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