HIGHS & lows

The beauty of mountain landscape was all I wanted to talk about. The photographs from two trips to Mount Rainier, one last week and one on June 30th, were almost ready to publish. I love being high up in the mountains. I’m very thankful I can go there regularly and I enjoy sharing photos of these “wanderings.”

But my mind is clouded with the knowledge that three nights ago, 59 people were killed when a man whose mind I cannot fathom, opened fire on an outdoor concert in Las Vegas. Posting about trips to the mountains as if nothing had happened doesn’t feel right.

As America debates the wisdom of laws that allowed this man to legally buy weapons that made it only too easy for him to kill and maim hundreds of people, the second amendment comes up once again. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

I wonder, where do we draw the line at defining arms? The perpetrator couldn’t buy a missile – we seem to agree on that limit – but in Nevada he could legally buy assault weapons, large capacity magazines, and equipment to turn his guns into fully automatic weapons with the ability to kill dozens of people with one squeeze of the trigger.  Now, 59 innocent people are dead and 489 are injured.

I don’t expect America to ban guns – I’m not naive. But lines can be drawn. Will tighter laws that outlaw the sale or possession of military-style assault weapons prevent every mass shooting? No, but we can start somewhere, can’t we?  Lives do not have to be wasted this way. So many innocent people died, and the waves of people who were and will be affected by those deaths ripple out farther than we might think.

I believe millions of people are discouraged by this event and other acts of violence around the world. It’s not a good feeling. So instead of running the text I originally wrote alongside the photos, I’m going to post the images by themselves, in the hope that if you’ve been discouraged by recent events, public or private, you might find a bit of respite in seeing an uninterrupted stream of photographs from high places.  (The original text is at the bottom).

 

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***

It’s about 110 miles from my house to Paradise.

Paradise, Mount Rainier that is. On that long drive to Mt. Rainier National Park we pass through cities, suburbs and deep forests, but the critical distance traveled is in elevation. To go from 400 feet to over 5400 feet (1646m) above sea level completely changes your perspective – geographically, environmentally, emotionally and spiritually.  To raise ourselves above our ordinary surroundings is why we go. Arriving at this pristine place where the busy world drops away, our perspective widens, and we touch the infinite.

The winding two lane road up to Paradise is kept clear of snow all year, but even in late June, huge piles of snow lingered up at the visitors center. I had been eager to see Paradise in the snow, and we could have traipsed around on rented snowshoes, but I was content just to sit on a log, watching as a couple threw snowballs at one another, peering at trail markers half-buried in snow, and listening to the pleasant gurgle of icy water pouring down the steps and across the parking lot. It’s hard to describe, but there is something about the atmosphere on a mountain that feels pure, relaxing, and energizing. That day we stopped at Longmire, too. It’s several thousand feet lower so butterflies and bright Spring flowers replaced the snow of Paradise. What a difference the elevation makes!

We returned to the mountain on August 16th for a hike at Sunrise, on the other side of the mountain from Paradise; the hike is described in a recent post.  Last week we went back again. A trail I’d hiked two years ago, the Naches Peak Loop, had been closed for weeks this summer because of smoke from wildfires in the area. After some rain the smoke cleared enough for the pass and trails to reopen, giving us a window of time to enjoy the hike before the weather turns cold. The menu of spectacular hikes on and around Mt. Rainier is long and varied; I’m sure we’ll never exhaust it!

At 14,410 feet (4392m), Rainier’s perennially snow-covered summit is typically climbed in two days. That’s one hike we don’t plan to attempt. Rainier isn’t among the grandest or toughest climbs, but it’s not a walk in the park, and it challenges even an experienced climber’s mountaineering, crevasse, and glacier skills. Not everyone makes it. Many turn back, some perish on the summit bid, and others lose their lives on or off the hundreds of trails that trace the mountain’s rugged contours.

The current list of people who died on Mount Rainier tops out at 421 (record keeping began in 1897).  Towards the bottom you’ll find the name Karen Sykes. A locally respected 70-year-old nature writer and an experienced hiker, Karen died on Rainier three years ago. She and a friend split up during a hike on the east side of the mountain. She didn’t return at the agreed upon time, he was unable to locate her, and rescue operations were called in.

Three days after Karen disappeared on the mountain I was on the way to Ohanapecosh, an old-growth forest of towering trees in the southeast corner of the park. We noticed  rescue and recovery vehicles that day and I wondered what was up.  I didn’t put two and two together until later that week, when I heard about Karen on the news. It had taken search teams three days to find her; they were bringing her out when we drove past.  She had been photographing alpine flowers for an upcoming book.  She and I had exchanged comments on our Flickr pages and I had hoped to meet her someday, but that was not to be.

Karen surely would have been able to identify the wildflowers gone to seed that I struggled with last week on the Naches Peak Loop. She would have reveled in the fall color, too. I enjoyed seeing the fluffy-headed Western pasqueflower (Anenome occidentalis) – or Hippie-on-a-stick in local parlance – scattered throughout the alpine meadows. Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) still sported papery white flowers, but many stems were already flattened to the ground. False Hellbore (Veratrum viride) leaves were decomposing artfully, and every single Beargrass flower stem was nibbled clean, probably by deer.  The intense purples and reds of Huckleberries turning color seemed to promise a few berries to savor, but the fruits were long gone.

We were charmed by the diminutive Townsend’s chipmunks along the trail but we heard a cautionary tale from a fellow hiker. A chipmunk had chewed the mouthpiece off her friend’s Hydrapak (a backpack water carrier with a tube to sip from). The woman put the pack down for a few minutes, turned her back, and the chipmunk went to work.

We watched in delight as two ravens soared together, owning the sky as they twisted and turned in tandem within inches of each other.  An older couple pointed out a coyote laying in the sun in a meadow far below the trail. We’re used to seeing coyotes on their feet, looking alert, but this one seemed delightfully lazy and content. The big wildlife score of the day was a Mountain goat browsing its way up Naches Peak while a small crowd watched from below. The shaggy white goat picked its way across the talus and rock, climbed to the very top and disappeared. Without binoculars we had to concentrate and squint to follow the goat’s progress but that was fine. He’s a little white speck in the photograph above.

Back in late June at Paradise, the flowers had barely begun pushing up, but at Longmire (elev. 2700′) beautiful specimens of Prince’s Pine, Pink Mountain heather and Avalanche lilies (Chimaphila umbellata, Phyllodoce empetriformis, Erythronium montanum) were in full bloom. The lilies are the first flowers to penetrate the snow; a few were out around the parking lot at Paradise, too. I liked the way the alders leaned out precariously from the edges of giant rocks at Longmire. The rocks support fascinating communities of living things to investigate. There are more pretty lichen-spattered rocks on the Naches Peak Loop, many with Subalpine and Douglas fir trees growing in the cracks.

Though we hiked Naches Peak on a weekday, many people were out on the trails, including a gentleman who appeared to be in his 80’s with a trekking pole, a camera, a backpack and two tiny dogs on leashes (how did he keep all that straight?). A family stopped at one of the picturesque shallow ponds of the trail for snacks, and the kids stripped to their underwear to splash in the pond.

Halfway through the hike we noticed another snow-covered mountain, Mt. Adams. It rose far off to the southwest above ranks of blue-on-blue mountain tops that grew paler and paler in the distance. We were inspired and content to be in a stunningly beautiful place, breathing clear, cool air, enjoying the gorgeous fall color, glimpsing wildlife and gazing across distant mountain views.  At times we experienced a profound silence, the type of wilderness silence that seems to ring, until it’s interrupted by the deep croak of a raven.

 

 

 

 


59 comments

  1. This is absolutely the best time to post about your trip. These photos remind us that there is beauty around us in spite of the recent events. I need posts like this to help me cope with the tragic events of the recent months, the hurricanes that ravaged the US in Texas, Florida and now Puerto Rico, the nuclear escalation of North Korea, the (all too soon) deaths of Walter Becker and Tom Petty. Don’t stop. Please continue. Sorry for the rant.

  2. Beautiful words and stunning photos.

    The events in Las Vegas (as well as all the hurricanes and the world burning up in forest fires over the summer) are just so horrific. It is really good to have antidotes like this.

  3. Your post is so well written and the photos are wonderful, literally. Your account of Karen Sykes reminds me of a similar event in 2013 when I went to the Wave near the Utah-Arizona border. Shortly after I was there, an elderly couple from California got lost in that area, and both perished of exhaustion and exposure to the harsh July heat. The husband was the author of an excellent book on a computer language that I liked to use. Nature is amazingly beautiful, but it can also be deadly when you least expect it.

    • That is a strange story – life is stranger than fiction, right? It must have been very sad to know they died like that, but other possibilities, such as one of them being disabled or in a nursing home for years, may be worse. They were together, they were outdoors. Thank you.

  4. What a spectacular series of images – thanks for sharing them on this sad week in American history.

    We have very strict gun laws here in Australia, but as you say, banning sales of these high assault weapons won’t stop these horrific events happening.

    I listened to a discussion on Australian television the other night and I think one expert made a very good point in that after these types of carnage, the more publicity, the greater the purchase of guns in the U.S. Banning the sale of the very high-powered assault weapons would be a good starting point though. But then, you can buy anything on the ‘black market’. An interview with the Australian man who happened to be staying in the room next door to the shooter made a good point though. How on earth did this shooter get all these weapons up in the lift of the hotel without being noticed by staff and how did staff servicing his room not see something amiss?

    • Vicki, it’s interesting to hear from you about the laws in Australia, a place people tend to believe still has a bit of a Wild West atmosphere. I suspect he brought the weapons up separately in suitcases over a few days, and no one would notice that in a big, busy hotel. Maybe he pout a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob every day, too. Banning certain guns would at least be a start. I was at a salon yesterday and the woman helping me was from Las Vegas. Her ex-boyfriend was shot in the stomach at the concert, and still in the hospital. Crazy.

  5. Amen to everything you said about gun control Lynn, and thanks for devoting a portion of your post to this urgent matter.
    Thanks to NRA shills in Congress, the government is prevented from even studying gun violence as a serious health issue. That alone should tell us something about Second Amendment absolutists and their moral and intellectual bankruptcy.

  6. I completely understand feeling compelled to break from the “regularly scheduled program” in the wake of such senseless tragedy. You’re not alone. Late night talk show hosts, media professionals, teachers, barbers, and pastors have felt similar compulsions of late, with so few highs and so many stomach-dropping lows. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. And, of course, the gorgeous images.

  7. Love these images, Lynn – and my friends are right into this sort of hiking, as you probably know by now. I especially like the shot of the two wispy ?seedheads, which is 3 below the little mammal. As for the shooting, our news broadcasts seem hung up about finding a motive, but to me the important question is for how much longer such vastly devastating weapons are going to be freely available to the general public. A

    • Thanks Adrian – those are in the Anemone family, and are called Western Pasque flower. Same plant you see in other photos, just losing more wisps. They’re such fun to see. That’s a good point you make about the media, and priorities. See Alan’s comment above (AG). He tells it like it is.

  8. Thank you for a moment of serenity with your wonderful photographs, Lynn. On the flip side, there has to be a solution to this senseless availability to firearms. Australia did it right after their first incident with great success. It is all depressing and confounding.

  9. An excellent post Lynn. I applaud both the sentiments and tone of your comments on the gun laws in the US. I cannot believe that the authors of the Second Amendment expected their words to be interpreted so literally.
    But you then go on to present and explore a different reality, and it is your sensitivity and awareness in juxtaposing these realities that makes this such a significant post.

    • Yes, the writers intent was not to have scenarios like this unfolding, surely. I really appreciate your analysis of what I did, because I was unsure about it, even regretting the writing at 3am this morning. 😉 So that’s good to know. Life is full of conundrums and anomalies and things that just don’t seem to go together, but maybe that’s why it’s life. Thank you!

  10. Not being an American myself, I have never understood the need to carry weapon or even have it in the constitution. I guess it comes as part of history and culture, but I certainly agree with you that even i US it must be possible to discuss limits, such as assault rifles. On a different note, I also agree with you about the landscape around Mount Rainier. It’s gorgeous and quite dramatic – as are you photos from your trip.

    • Maybe I shouldn’t get my hopes up, but there seems to be some talk about a change, at least regarding buying the equipment that turns a machine gun into an automatic one – how crazy that we even need to be discussing it! Thanks for being here, Otto!

  11. In the aftermath of this appalling tragedy we need to be reminded of the beauty of our planet. we always need to balance evil with good. A superb gallery of a magical place, Lyn. Looking at these images I am immediately transported back to the European Alps and the peace, calm and silence associated with a high place.

  12. Your beautiful photographs Lynn remind us that we do live on a beautiful planet in which the vast majority of people are decent. Unfortunately there are a lot of nutters in the world with murderous intent. The NRA are so powerful, bankrolling the Republicans and lobbying so strongly indeed, nothing is likely to change.
    I heard a statistic this morning that on average, the number of people killed in the Vegas massacre are killed every three days across America and at the hand of a gun. The most tragic when children get hold of guns kept in houses and shoot themselves by accident.
    What a different reaction there would have been had this been an Islamist terror attack. It’s a huge problem of course and in the UK, with no gun culture, we look on with complete bafflement. The constitution was written at a very different time in American history and surely the right for people to own assault weapons in huge quantities seems absurd in the modern age. But as you say, nothing is likely to change but yes, that doesn’t mean people should stop trying to change things.

    • Yes, kids with guns – what a concept! It’s just crazy. They’re talking change, but we’ll see – we won’t hold our breath. I hope all is well with you – have a good weekend! (Are you back?)

      • Hi Lynn,
        Yes, we’re home now. It’s always nice to sleep in one’s own bed again. My mother always used to say ‘all good things have to come to an end’ and my response was always ‘why?’. As an adult I know of course they do as they cease to be ‘good’ things if they go on indefinitely and become routine. I’m cool with that.
        We’ve had a wonderful time away and can now look forward to the next time, whenever that might be. 🙂

  13. I admire your evenhanded comment on Las Vegas followed by something that managed to calm the blood pressure. I can certainly understand the urge to say something and I’m not faulting it, but my tendency is to avoid adding my attention to it, at least as far as that’s possible given today’s media. Sort of a wish or hope to not feed the beast, so to speak. I can’t help but think that the media attention contributes its share since the Las Vegas incident seemed planned to escalate the publicity to the next level. It’s almost a challenge for the next deranged person to beat this latest count.

    I only wish we could have kept the attention on your marvelous (in every sense of the word) images. Alas, we live in some strange times.

    • You have a very good point, don’t feed the beast. As you know, I usually refrain, but I guess the need to say something overruled the desire to keep quiet this time. Coming up next week! A bunch of blurry lensbaby shots that are accompanied by – not much! 😉

  14. Gorgeous pictures, Lynn! What a beautiful place it is (I was there a few years ago), and I think it’s exactly the right time to share them. It’s easy to be discouraged when watching the news, to feel sad and helpless, but it’s important to remember how much beauty there is in the world too ❤

  15. such turbulent days and weeks…i love your narrative Lynn heartfelt and yes we need more beauty…sending you all good things for a lovely day with your loved ones ❤ smiles hedy 😀

  16. These are all beautiful Lynn but I’m particularly drawn to your close-up shots. The capture of those whips flowers is stunning. And I could not agree more with your text. So many of us are so tired of the proliferation of assault weapons and high powered rifles. Really? Time to get these things off of the streets and out of the hands of sick and angry people.

  17. yes, i find myself with the same feelings – how can one write about sunshine and flowers and happiness when the country is rebounding from one tragedy after another… your images, however, are a balm to the soul, and they provide a solace and brief respite, especially when one can view them in silence and ‘just be.’

    you are so very talented…. and sensitive! hope your travels are going well…

  18. Once again, your photos are beautiful, Lynn, and your words in your original text: “Arriving at this pristine place where the busy world drops away, our perspective widens, and we touch the infinite,” are words that speak in a broader sense as a possible answer to the situation you talk about: our world today and specifically the Las Vegas shooting. I believe that if more people got out into nature to touch the infinite, they wouldn’t be fighting and killing one another. Thanks for sharing your beautiful outing and your thoughts on the dilemmas facing our country today.


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