My sister Rebecca and I attended the open house for the newly renovated Weyerhaeuser Research Center building today, where our dad worked down there on Pearl Street next to the currently non-operational swimming pool where I was a lifeguard the summer I graduated high school. It was conveniently located to ride my bike down the hill to go swimming in earlier years, then throw the bike in the back of the Chevy station wagon and hitch a ride with Daddy back up the hill for dinner.
Our dad, George, was the director from 1966-1980 (of Weyerhaeuser Research Center, not the swimming pool), and in the early 1990s the building was renovated and named for him. Now it’s been renovated again, bringing new vitality not just to the building, but to his passion for research.
It was nostalgic to be in the building. We took our picture sitting in what used to be Daddy’s corner office. It hasn’t been an office for some time; now it’s part of a beautiful conference room. But that is right where I sat behind his big desk (it’s at the house now), playing with the stuff in the top drawer when I went there after school in third grade, before we had moved to Centralia. (Some of the stuff is still in the drawer too. The drawing tools were my favorite; well, and the rubber stamps of course.)
Rebecca remembered we would stop there after church after Jo Ann left for college and call her from the big room where all the secretaries worked. (I don’t think there are even any secretaries any more, certainly that is no one’s title.) We could call long distance for free from there. I don’t remember that. Perhaps they called me from there too, after I left for college. I don’t remember being on the receiving end of those calls either. It’s good to have sisters with different stuff in their memory banks.
I felt like a rock star being there on behalf of my father, with STAEBLER on my name tag. I wanted to write it really big. I wanted everyone to know I was HIS daughter. And many did.
I wish my mother could have been there. She did know, though, that the renovation was happening and the Center was thriving again. And she was glad. We were a family back in the 60s. My mother threw a luau in the yard for everyone at the research center. My father cooked a salmon over the open fire. And Neil Armstrong was walking on the moon that sailed overhead.
In an intentional honoring of the past, the halls are lined with large photographs of logging before my father’s time, and a display of photos of my dad are in the entry.
The Center declined at some point after that dedication, perhaps with a diminished interest in research by the corporate mucky mucks. I was pleased to meet the new mucky muck, and thank him for his commitment to the research my dad was a part of to “Make trees grow faster. For the future.” Daddy would be so pleased.
The Centralia office is thriving again, and the new open work space, full of wood, is beautiful. Young employees are bringing energy to it; employees who weren’t around in its decline. And they are doing it under the legacy of my father. I hope their families are family, like they were in the 60s when I was a child in the midst of it.
I couldn’t be more proud.
Dateline: September 8-12, 2018
Takhlakh Lake Campground, Gifford Pinchot National Forest
I have a thing for this remote campground on Takhlakh Lake guarded by Mt. Adams: I love it. Apparently it has a thing for me too: it hates me. Or maybe it’s just playing hard to get.
I don’t remember how I discovered the small picturesque lake the summer after my return to the Pacific NW. I camped there for four nights that second July and wanted never to leave. I watched the osprey and eagles fish each day as dawn cracked open, the sun rising over the trees at one end of the lake, setting the snow-topped mountain to glowing at the other end. At night the silver moon sailed over the mountain, reflecting in the calm lake. (See the photo journal here.) I returned for a day visit in October that year for autumn color (see it here).
I’ve tried to return to camp every summer since. I was rained out of my reserved week the next year—the only week it rained that summer—smoked out by a nearby wildfire the summer after that, and then the road washed out with no federal funds for repair until this year.
I made my reservation as soon as it was possible. I picked the wrong week. It hasn’t rained all summer. It rained all week this week, at least at 4500 feet elevation. I hate camping in the rain, but I went anyway. I didn’t count on the cold; 49º cold when I arrived Monday at 2:30 after cleaning the Airbnb for guests I won’t meet.
It starts raining just as I spread the tent out in the window of time the hourly report said it would not rain. Covering it with a tarp during the shower, I still get it up in 20 minutes, throw in my gear and spend the next shower setting up my home for four days.
I rig a tarp over the table so I can at least cover the stove and make coffee in the morning. Priorities. I can’t stand up under it, but whatever. I feel successful, if unprepared. I should find some poles for next time. Or not camp in the rain.
“Why didn’t you just cancel?” you ask. I’m no longer escaping mother care; I have plenty of solitude at home; with my half-price-camping senior access card, it’s not much money to lose. I wanted to watch the osprey, sleep in a tent, hear the murmurs of other campers at night, sit by a fire, be without phone and internet.
I eat at 5 and get in bed at 6:15 the first night—it’s raining and I’m so cold. I don’t even brush my teeth. No one is out murmuring, no one has a fire.
I wake at 6:30 the next morning and unzip the window above my head. There’s a pink streak above the lake. Without giving myself time to reconsider, I roll out of bed and pull my pants on over my leggings, add a second jacket over my other jacket, camisole, and two shirts; pull on a knit cap and gloves over my fingerless mitts; and wrap a scarf around my neck. These will be the only articles of clothing that are removed and added all week.
Grabbing my camera, I walk the few steps to the lake as the pink disappears and the fog rolls in, then moves out to briefly reveal the bottom of the mountain. Such a tease. It rains off and on the rest of the day.
The next two days, I’m at the lake shore at dawn when the sun comes up before the clouds roll in. An osprey flies over once each morning, but doesn’t stay to fish. No humans are out either.
I walk the trail around the lake each morning while the sun ducks in and out, and slip back into the tent when it rains to work on a project, read, and nap. I’m there most of the time. I build a fire the second night, but it rains shortly after I finally get it going and I cook hot dogs on the stove and eat in the tent.
The second morning makes the whole mostly miserable trip worth it. I meet my neighbors. I am not a social camper, but Pat is. We meet at the lake shore. He introduces me to his wife, Anastasia, and we bond in joint misery. They live in Portland, recently retired teachers. Pat is from Durham; I returned to the PNW from neighboring Raleigh. He lived for a time in Danville, VA; near Blacksburg where I have lived. His father died two years ago—a day short of 100, making him the same age as my mother—a few miles from where my son lives in North Carolina. A daughter’s name is Helen; my middle name. Anastasia is an artist; I am a writer. I love hearing her talk about her passion and I share mine.
Wednesday I drive to the cafe in Trout Lake (the not-a-lake I visited a couple months ago when a planned hike was thwarted by a washed out road, read it here) to get warm. On the return I turn down the road to Ollalie Lake just before the campground. I had a hike to it that didn’t happen on the summer schedule. It’s permanently removed from my list now that I know it can be driven to from another direction. I have a policy not to hike anywhere other people drive to.
I share a campfire with my new friends Wednesday night, the night before we all have decided we will head home, earlier than planned. I’ve never shared a campfire with strangers, but then they aren’t anymore. The rain holds off and it’s delightful to share our lives, the warmth of the fire, and wine. They promise to schedule a stay at my Airbnb, and I’m happy to think we will meet again. Thank you for asking me if I knew the name of that duck, Pat! Even though you had to ask three times before I realized you were talking to me.
Thursday morning, the sun rises and the mountain is revealed. After the sunrise, I build a second fire to get warm, then let it go out in favor of breakfast in my chair by the lake. The wildlife and anglers are out in the sun. My new friends join me until the clouds roll in and we hustle off to pack up, in the rain.
I drive home, skipping my hoped for hike to the lava flow, and spread everything out to dry for the hour and a half of sun before it starts raining. It’s all in the room over the carport two days later, still waiting for me to brush off the dirt and put it away for next year.
I’m plotting a day trip to the lake when the colors change. I’ll watch for a sunny day.
I almost bailed on this hike when I realized there’s a 2100 foot elevation increase in just 4.5 miles, but I’m not a quitter. I can do it. (No way, though, am I doing the second part of the hike after the meadow, the Panhandle Gap. Another 900 foot gain in a mile and a half. Besides, it’s rocks and I’m more a meadow girl.) I’d put it off two days though, hoping both the wildfire haze and my summer head cold fog would improve.
Hoping to beat the haze at Rainier, and just maybe catch the sunrise, I set my alarm for 4:15, just in case this is the one day I’m not already awake. It isn’t. I get up at 4 and am out the door at 4:30. Downside: my coffee kiosk doesn’t open until 5:30. I stop at the one at Jackson Prairie and wait seven minutes for its 5:00 opening.
I’m a full hour too early for the coffee shop in Packwood with the killer trail bars I was counting on for breakfast. Granola bar it is. The Summerland trailhead, another new hike, is on the “other” side of the mountain. The dark sky begins turning pink on the way up Highway 12 and by the time I’m on the road to the trailhead, the mountain is glowing. Civil twilight, my friend calls it. It’s always been my favorite time of day, it’s why I rise early; but I never knew the name for it. It’s the space between stories: the dying night and the risen day.
There are plenty of parking spots at the trailhead. Knowing the trail is in the forest, I decide to buzz on up the last ten miles of road and see if I can catch the sunrise at Sunrise. I stop just short at the view point in the center of the hairpin curve and step out into the nippy acrid air. I’ve missed it; maybe by the seven minutes at the coffee kiosk?
There are more cars when I get back to the trailhead, and though the day will be full of people, I see almost no one on the trail. It’s one of the most beautiful forest hikes I’ve been in. A wide easy trail, multiple creek crossings, the continuous sound of Fryingpan Creek (more a river) as it tumbles ever downward, occasional views of the palisades cliffs and mountains make me glad to be alive and strong and here today. And, a surprise, though there are no level spots to speak of, the incline is gentle nearly the whole way.
I break into the meadow at 10:00. There is Herself, smoke free, flanked by her constant companion on this side: Little Tahoma. The meadows here are hilly, like Paradise; so different from the Grand Park plateau where I was last week (here).
Also unlike Grand Park, it’s not far to the other side of the meadow. Most of it is “fragile meadow” protected and there’s only one trail that skirts the edge. I get to where the rocks begin, and decide to go on a bit and then a bit more. I wish I could get a visual on Panhandle Gap, but I have no idea where it is. (Turns out, it isn’t visible from where I stood.)
I gasp as an impossibly blue pond. It’s a meltwater pond, I learn later from a friend, and ice cold. So much for its call to come for a swim. I see where the Gap is now, there is a line of people silhouetted against the blue sky. The trail gets steeper and rockier. I stumble many times, failing to plant my pole before I put weight on it. I lose the trail several times, quickly spotting my mistake and turning back.
What am I doing? My hiking friend loves this trail, but it is suddenly clear where we differ in hike choices. My passion is the meadows—in its changing seasons—hers is walking the broken pieces of ancient rocks. She likes to be on the mountain, I like to be in them. I’m reminded of my mother, who grew up at the foot of the gentle Appalachian Mountains, then lived 70 years in view of these rugged monoliths. “You can embrace those old mountains,” she said, “and they love you back. These mountains are grand and beautiful; but they couldn’t care less if you like them or not.” (Perhaps I paraphrased that a bit.) The meadows are the space between the stories: my mother’s friendly forests and the wild rocky crumbling mountain.
I almost turn back several times. I want to be in the meadow, not abusing my body in this barrenness. I know I can do it; if I don’t reach the summit, it’s because I don’t want to. If I do, it’s only to prove that I can. And I want to know what’s on the other side. Sometimes curiosity trumps common sense. I told myself when I started, I would go until 12:00. It’s 11:40. I start moving again. I arrive at 12:00 straight up.
And on the other side? Meadows! And a hazy skyline of layered foothills and the cap of Mt. Adams, the rest of her obscured in smoke. I wonder what else is hidden. I stop to talk to a couple from southern Illinois who are on day 11 of the Wonderland Trail, almost finished. They tell me it was clear earlier. Did I miss it by the 30 minutes I took looking for the sunrise at Sunrise?
Another hiker joins the conversation, pointing out the plum of smoke in the distance. He was told it’s been burning since April and they are “letting it burn.” What does that mean? I know fire makes healthier forests, but is anyone watching it? Have they done a back burn to keep it from spreading? I have questions.*
I head down a ways into the meadow and eat my lunch, dreading the trip back down through the rocks. Wondering if I stay here long enough if the smoke will clear. Or maybe it will spread to engulf Herself. I’ve been watching the webcams and it seems to come and go. I’m concerned about my camping trip near Mt. Adams next week. There is a fire not far away and I’m guessing it is what’s causing the smoke I’m looking at.
I get back to the blue pond. The sun is straight overhead, casting a shadow of the bare rock mountains onto the snow field at its base, the remaining vee of white snow reflecting in the pond. Spirit fills me. Like Stonehenge on the winter solstice, a moment in time. I feel Mama’s presence, as a stand with the Holy for several minutes. I would have missed this had I not done the hard work of climbing to the top.
I exchange photo ops with a sister hiker then make a cairn to show Mama the way, just before I reenter the meadow, though clearly she is already here. I stop and soak my weary feet in the frigid monkeyflower-adorned creek before I head back across the meadow and down the trail.
Next week I’m camping and the following week is my swan song hike to Paradise. Autumn is beginning to show in this meadow; in two weeks the Sitka mountain ash and huckleberries should be glowing in orange and red before the snows begin. Summer and autumn in the mountains is the quick breath of space in the story of these wild places where winter reigns. I’ll take some of Mama’s ashes with me and say goodbye. She will always be there on my annual Skyline hike; but then she is there on every hike already.
* My favorite forester tells me fires are never unmonitored and when they let these naturally caused (lightening strike) fires burn, they always have a plan. Unlike human-caused fires (which they never let burn), lightening strikes generally occur where there are rocky outcroppings and other natural features that help keep it contained. (The Miriam fire, near White Pass, the one I’m guessing is causing the smoke in the photo and is near to my campground, was a probable lightening strike in early August. I read there are multiple strategies being employed, depending on proximity to populated areas for one thing. They hope to have it fully contained by the end of the month.) Interesting stuff.
“Do you ever just miss her so much?” my sister asked earlier this week. Surprisingly I do.
Then I come across a photo of her slumped in her chair, and I don’t.
Then I find the photo of her leaning over the deck railing, the sun shining on the halo of her white hair inside the circle of her visor, to watch me working in the garden below, and I do.
Then I think of her complaining about the food and not being able to poop or pooping too much, and I don’t.
Then I think of something I need to ask her, and I do.
Then I remember the sadness of her not remembering, and I don’t.
We decide we want her back like we wished she had been and maybe never was. That ideal of a mother we hold in our heads. Perhaps that is the gift of death to those who remain, the freedom to aggrandize the lost one into all their inherent goodness without the bits that drove us to near madness.
She is with me in everything though. After spending six years trying to escape from her when I was in my garden or out hiking or driving off on some adventure, now I’m looking for her. And she finds me. On each of my hikes I make an inukshuk, or cairn, to show her the way to the beautiful place I’ve found. I find her in a moth that lands on my bear whistle and stays there, a western tanager that sits on the deck rail observing me as I eat my lunch, the mama and child enjoying an evening snack.
Last week I made a quick trip up the driveway to the garden for tomatoes and strawberries. As I bend down to pull a few weeds from the pathway bricks, the shadow of a large bird crosses the grass. Looking up, I spot a golden eagle circling the meadow. As I stare at the rare (as in never) event, it swoops down over me then flies off over the neighbor’s orchard.
I sink into one of the turquoise plastic Adirondack chairs, willing it to come back. Several minutes later it comes from behind my head and circles above the garden enclosure, around and around, over and over. “Hi, Mama,” I say. “You found me.”
Just when you think you’ve seen all the best spots in the Pacific Northwest wealth of best spots, along comes another one. Truthfully I never thought that, but maybe I’m nearing saturation of those my 66-year-old legs can get me to.
This hike from a remote trailhead on the “other” side of the mountain was on my list for last week, but smoke and heat kept me from it on the appointed day. Yesterday was looking good and I was at my coffee kiosk (Avenue Espresso on Main Street) shortly after 5:30. Still dark. (I’m ready for daylight savings time to be done. On the other hand, I get to see the sun rise without getting up at 3am.)
The sun rose on Herself in all her glory on the road to Tenino after a month’s long rest behind the smoke curtain. I was kind of sorry I hadn’t gotten up and out earlier and been closer, but later realized I wouldn’t have seen her at all as it was a three hour drive to the trailhead and she wasn’t visible again until an hour into my hike.
The official trail to Grand Park begins at the Sunrise entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park and goes through Berkeley Park where I went two years ago (read the Log here). I wanted to go on to Grand Park then, but it was too far and I still had the long exposed climb out of the bowl ahead of me. Since then I’d learned from an online hiker friend that there’s a back door ten miles up a, yep, Forest Road. Bonus, it’s a forested trail! “Grand Park via Lake Eleanor.”
The tiny parking area and trailhead is in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, but about quarter mile in a low-profile sign—as in typed on a sheet of copy paper in a plastic sleeve—announces the boundary of the national park.
There are only two cars in the lot, a third arriving as I step onto the trailhead. I strap my bear bell to my belt. Huckleberry bushes with ripe berries overgrow the trail—I guess the back door doesn’t merit a lot of upkeep—and I start thinking it’s a good place for a black bear encounter and it feels isolated, especially after the driver of the arriving car passes me. I stop and get the bear spray out of my pack and move it to my pocket. A good-hearted friend gave it to me, not needing the extra in the Costco two pack. Like having a gun in the bedside table, I suppose, I wasn’t afraid until ownership of the canister made me aware of possibility. I kind of preferred naivety. Still, I’m grateful to have it. My mother would be pleased too.
The hike to the lake is surprisingly easy; and a pretty little lake she is. I’m pretty sure I could backpack to it, and there are camp sites, should I be so inclined.
The elevation gain continues at a gradual pace to the small unnamed meadow, beautiful enough without even going on. And there She is, peeking up over the trees.
The trail plunges back into the woods after the small meadow, the mountain disappears. My pedometer battery is low, plus I still haven’t calibrated it, so I’m not sure when the pant-worthy upshit begins. I guess there has to be some to get anywhere good.
The wild flowers are gone, if there even was a show this year. I settle for dew on leaves, which is a welcome site after the weekend rain in the dry summer. There are some mud patches on the not-dusty trail. Asters are in various stages of the death spiral and a small patch of gentian still waits its 15 minutes of glory. Otherwise nothing.
The trail levels out again before the forest ends; Herself appears once more and I know I’m getting close. The woodsy petrichor gives way to the heady scent of alpine fir with slight undertones of eau de smoke.
And then the deeply channeled trail soars into the open and I forget to breathe. Wow! I don’t even know how these places exist, these secret hide-a-ways the vast majority of humans don’t even know about.
There is no cliched exclamation appropriate for the feeling of coming out into this enormous meadow. I run through every one I know. The strongest, “holy whatever,” are too mundane or crass. I can’t even form a word in my head that is pronounceable, like the so-called too-holy-to-pronounce YHWH. Like бесподобный. *
This park is an enormous meadow plateau with deep valley on two sides and trails steeply up to it on the ends; unlike Berkeley Park, which sits in a valley. I read when I get home it’s a mile and half long and half a mile wide. I’ve certainly seen expansive prairies before; but there is something about the high alpine meadow that sets it apart. You can’t drive to them for one. Most people will never see it for another.
And it’s silent. The only sounds are the call and response of the ravens, the buzz of unseen insects, the tinkle of my bell, and my boots thumping the sandy path. As I walk farther from the trees, the ravens quiet their voices, then oddly the insects stop moving their whining wings. I tuck my bell into its silencing mesh pouch, and there is just my boots. Until I stop them too.
I’m beginning to think I’m going to have to make a wood chip inukshuk to show Mama the way, until I come upon a dry creek bed. I stack the rocks then sit with her and Her for a while.
I read in a WTA trip report to head down a cross trail toward James Camp for a view into the gorge. Ten minutes later I stop to eat my lunch on the edge of the earth, the mountain reigning above and the White River far below. As a sit, the haze begins to move back in on the peak. I’m glad I got up early.
Back in the meadow (where the smoke scent has gotten a bit stronger), I can’t not keep walking. I set turn around goals for myself. “When I get to that next copse of trees.” “Just over that next rise.” “How can I not climb that grand staircase through this grand park?” I want to go until I get to where the trail heads down toward Berkeley. I’m probably almost there, just up that last series of steps, maybe.
A newly familiar pain in my upper thigh is starting to hurt (I wonder what that muscle is; part of the hip I suppose, wondering if it will be my downfall someday), and I’m a long way from the car. This eight-mile hike obviously was measured only to the edge of the meadow and will be 12 miles by the time I’m back.
As I walk back through the meadow, a bald eagle circles and soars over my head. I will be back. I’ll keep coming back until I hit the narrow, ever-changing window of wild flower bloom on a perfect clear day, or until my legs can’t carry me.
*бесподобный: glorious, peerless, incomparable in Russian.