After the Cannon Beach portion of my recent trip west, my husband and I spent a few days in Seattle with our daughter. For these days also we had lovely weather, and Mount Rainier appeared on the horizon most days.
I always marvel at this mountain, which looms thousands of feet above anything around it. Several peaks in the Cascades are over 10,000 feet, but Mount Rainier stands alone in lofty splendor at 14,400 feet. It is easy to see why Native Americans worshiped the mountain, which has a certain godliness about it. Like an old grandfather, it casts a benevolent smile over much of Washington State and some of Oregon.
The Native Americans called the mountain “Tacoma”, which means either “mother of waters” or “larger than Mount Baker” in the language of the nearby Puyallap people. (Reading those two definitions in Wikipedia made me laugh—”mother of waters” is such a nurturing image, whereas “larger than Mount Baker” bespeaks a certain competitiveness with the northern tribes near that peak.)
Another bit of trivia: For the 2014 Super Bowl weekend, the Washington State Senate temporarily named the mountain Mount Seattle Seahawks.
This year I have made many trips to Washington State to deal with my parents’ estates. On each trip, I have been blessed to see Mount Rainier. This doesn’t always happen, as the Seattle weather frequently obscures the mountain, and I only see it during take-off and landing at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. But when it is visible, Mount Rainier always seems to welcome me back to my home state. This year, it seemed to convey my parents’ continuing presence as well.
What impressed me most during my trip last month was the juxtaposition of the mountain with several technological wonders. I saw Mount Rainier rise above Interstate 5 as we drove south one day. Cars hurtled along in five lanes of traffic at 70mph (faster than the speed limit), dodging each other as they maneuvered around curves and exits. Despite the fast-paced vehicles and the intricacies of modern highway design, the mountain’s grandeur impressed me more.
We saw Mount Rainier again on a boat tour of Lake Washington. “There’s Mount Rainier,” I told my husband as soon as we entered the lake. I pointed through the haze at the barely visible, but still majestic, presence.
Although I noticed it immediately, the tour guide didn’t comment on it until almost the end of our tour. He said he was a native Washingtonian, like me, but I had to wonder. I know about where it sits on the horizon, and I search for it whenever the sky opens up. Maybe because he has lived in the state his whole life, he no longer holds the mountain in awe. For me, an expatriate, it is a signal I am home.
Mount Rainier appeared yet again across Lake Washington during the Boeing Seafair air show. My husband, daughter and I sat on a hillside near Madrona Beach. The sky was hazy that day as well, but when I searched the horizon, there was my mountain.
We watched many planes that flew silhouetted against the mountain—including an Air Force F-22, a Marine Harrier, and a Marine C-130 “Fat Albert”—all lead-ups to the Navy’s Blue Angels. The show highlighted our nation’s aviation progress from World War II to the present.
Finally the Blue Angels appeared. Their choreography was awesomely beautiful and incredibly precise. The pilots guide their missiles across the sky with just inches keeping them from disaster.
“Only the lead pilot is watching where they’re going,” my husband told me. “The others watch the lead plane. It’s the only way to keep from hitting each other.” He’s an afficionado of all things military, so I believed him.
We watched the Blue Angels perform their stunts. They shot vertically toward the sun, then fell over in symmetrical spirals. They streaked across the sky straight at each other, veering away at the last moment. Behind it all stood Mount Rainier, its ghostly presence reminding me that the planes are far more temporary on this planet than the mountain. The mountain will remain when all the pilots and all the spectators are gone.
Unless, of course, the volcano blows, as Mount St. Helens did in 1980.
When have you been impressed by a natural or technological wonder?