Rounding Tahoma

On the day in question, it was going to be hotter than blue blazes in the Seattle area. For my purposes, that’s about 90 degrees. I know that my Southern friends will scoff at that, but remember, we don’t have air conditioning. I was anticipating misery, so I began casting about for ways to beat the heat.

My husband and I decided that the best way of doing that would be to go to higher altitudes. Specifically, we planned to go to Mount Rainier National Park. We are lucky that this gorgeous mountain is but a day drip away for us.

Mount Rainier is called Tahoma by the Native Americans in this area. I think that’s a much better name.  Tahoma is 14,410 feet high, which means it’s the tallest peak in the Cascade Range. People have been visiting this mountain for more than 9,000 years. It became a national park in 1899.

We decided on this day that it would be fun to circumnavigate the entire mountain. This meant that we’d have to use roads that were quite often outside the park itself. But the views were spectacular regardless, and we got to visit some very enchanting small towns along the way.

Our first stop was for ice cream in the little town of Greenwater. We also got to check out a couple statues of Bigfoot. This made me wonder if the plural of Bigfoot is Bigfoots or Bigfeet. I don’t suppose this question will loom large in my life, but it was something to think about rather than feeling guilty about eating ice cream.

Next, we entered the park and headed toward the Sunrise Visitor Center. The State of Washington’s highest paved highway ends there at 6400 feet. Needless to say, we were treated to several switchbacks along the way, and the roadsides were blanketed by a variety of colorful subalpine wildflowers. We also encountered the fascinating remnants of some columnar lava, and enjoyed the glacier-clad slopes in the distance. We got to see Emmons Glacier, the largest American glacier outside of Alaska.

We had packed a picnic lunch, and enjoyed that in the Sunrise picnic area. Two million people visit this national park each year, but we had the picnic area pretty much to ourselves. We adhered to strict social distancing and mask guidelines whenever we saw another human. Mostly, we were surrounded by flowers, and got to watch some chipmunks play. I relished the peace and quiet.

I was a little sad that I wasn’t able to obtain a stamp for my National Parks Passport, because the ranger station was closed. But the gift shop was open, so we were able to add another fridge magnet to our collection. Yay!

After that, we headed south along the east side of the park. We were smack dab in the middle of nowhere, without even a hint of cell phone signal, when we came across a family standing beside their broken down car. They wrote down contact information for a relative, along with their membership number for AAA, and asked if we could please contact that relative as soon as we got a cell signal, and have him call a tow truck. We said we would. We also took a picture of where we thought he was located, more or less, on a map, because needless to say, there were no intersections or addresses to be had.

It took us about a half hour to get a signal and make contact, and we texted the map photo as well. By then it was about 6:30 pm, and we knew that this would be no quick rescue. At that elevation it would be quite cold when the sun went down, so we worried about them. We asked the relative to contact us and let us know they made it out safe. And in fact, they didn’t get home until around midnight. So that must have been a really rotten day for that poor family.

But for us, it was shaping up to be a lovely day indeed. We were getting to see Tahoma from all angles. It’s a formidable mountain. Here’s a quote from the national park brochure we received at the entrance:

“Mount Ranier is an active volcano. Active steam vents, periodic earth tremors, and historic eruptions provide evidence that Mount Rainier is sleeping, not dead.”

Steam still escapes from its summit. I’ve seen it from Seattle. It’s not a gigantic, eruptive plume. It’s just a gentle mist that wafts from the top at unexpected moments. It reminds me of the power of nature.

We stopped for dinner at the little town of Packwood. There are a few restaurants there that rely on the tourist trade, a museum, and an outfitter for outdoor pursuits. That’s about it. I don’t even remember if there’s a stop light. This town relies on gigantic swap meets twice a year, on Memorial Day and Labor Day, for the bulk of their income, and those swap meets have been cancelled due to the pandemic. I have no idea how this town will survive. The elk seem to still like visiting it, though. They were everywhere.

From there we entered the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was fun to see all the different people camping along the creeks. Personally, I’ve never camped outside of an official campground, because I like having an actual bathroom, but camping rough seems to be the thing to do in this area. It certainly is a bucolic setting.

We arrived home late in the evening, having successfully driven all the way around Tahoma. When we pulled into our driveway, we discovered that we had driven 214 miles. I cannot get over the beauty and variety of this state and this country. I feel so lucky to live here.

All the photos below were taken on our journey. Enjoy them. And I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Of all the fire mountains, which, like beacons, once blazed along the Pacific Coast, Mount Rainier is the noblest.” John Muir

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Sometimes It’s the Big Things

I arrived at work just as the sun was rising over the Cascade Mountains. That’s the beauty of my quirky work schedule at this time of year. And yet, I was so focused on my morning work routine that I almost overlooked the peach, yellow and gold that was the sky. It happens every day, right? And the mountains… they’ll always be there.

Stop. That’s what I had to tell myself. Look. Take it in. Don’t ever take it for granted. You are only accorded a finite number of sunrises. And while the mountains may always be there in your lifetime, you may not always be able to see them.

And so I sat down and allowed myself to breathe in the peach and breathe out the gold and appreciate how comforted I’ve always been by mountains. Their size and longevity always makes my worries and concerns seem so trivial by comparison.

May I never forget these things. May I always appreciate the gift that is my life.

May your sunrises be many and your worries be few, dear reader.

Sunrise over the Cascades, by Brad Greenlee

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Weird Drawbridge Stuff

Every time I think I’ve seen it all as a bridgetender, something new and surprising happens. The other day, a boat passed under my bridge, and on the bow there was a woman in a hot pink, shiny catsuit, wearing a powder blue motorcycle helmet, complete with visor. I wish I had had time to whip out my camera, but I was too busy standing there, slack-jawed.

I’ve also seen my fair share of nudity and inappropriate acts, and believe me, most of them I wish I could wash out of my brain with bleach. It seems as though the level of one’s exhibitionism is directly proportionate to one’s lack of classic beauty. I would really rather not see your thick carpet of back hair, ma’am, thankyouverymuch.

And then there are the strange things that have floated by my tower: Houses. Lengths of bridge. Airplanes. Submarine periscopes. UFOs (unidentified floating objects). I once opened for a yacht being used by Sir Paul McCartney when he did the halftime show at the super bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. (I didn’t catch a glimpse of him, though.)

Pedestrians can be quite entertaining, too. They often like to sing. And while they tackle it with enthusiasm, as a general rule they shouldn’t try out for American Idol.

Or they dance. We get a lot of dancers. One guy walked down the sidewalk dribbling an imaginary basketball. Another preached a full sermon to the geese on the canal.

People have gotten into fist fights while crossing my bridge. I’ve seen more than one marriage proposal. A sad number walk across, shouting and gesticulating when no one else is there.

I’ve also seen eagles and falcons and ospreys and alligators and nutria and harbor seals and dolphins, to name but a few of the fascinating creatures who share the planet with us. I’ve also seen more lightning strikes and rainbows and sunrises and sunsets than I can count.

I’ve seen enough bizarre traffic accidents to make me wonder if anyone puts any thought into vehicular safety anymore. I’ve also heard every obscenity known to man, and have had a wide variety of objects thrown at me. I’ve also had government snipers on my bridge when presidential nominees were making speeches nearby.

I really do have the most interesting job in the world. I’d like to say I’ve seen it all, but somehow I suspect that I haven’t. So watch this space!

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A coworker to a picture of this waterspout as it passed by the bridge. Glad I wasn’t on duty!

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Moving Moments

My friend Jim told me the other day that when he saw the Grand Canyon for the first time, he was moved to tears. I totally get that. Sometimes you are just struck by the pure, intense beauty of the moment.

Since, for me, these moments are rare, they seem all the more precious. Because of that, they reside firmly in my memory. I would posit that when you are moved to tears, you are never more firmly in the moment, the now. You are there, man. Totally there, and completely grateful to be alive. It’s the best feeling on earth.

I love both experiencing that and also witnessing it in others. When someone cries while saying their wedding vows, it completely does me in. (And I don’t even like weddings, usually.)

I remember when I took this picture. I had finally gotten my first bridgetending job, after a lifetime of jobs that I absolutely hated. I was standing on the balcony, watching the sunrise, and thinking how lucky I was to be able to witness this miracle, and to be getting paid for something I love to do. I’m glad the camera had automatic focus, because it was hard to see through my tears.

Wishing you moments of absolute and utter joy, dear reader.

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Continuity

I read something recently that I found very comforting. The same sunrise/sunset has been circling the globe for millions of years. Mind officially blown.

I love the idea that my sunset is someone else’s sunrise. It gives me a sense of connection with the wider world. It links me to all of time, past, present and future.

I also enjoy the perspective this gives me. The thing that is causing me stress and anxiety today is a mere blip on the sun’s radar. Talk about not sweating the small stuff! Here I am, one tiny little person, in one tiny little point in time, worrying about one tiny little thing.

It also makes change seem trivial. That multi-million year sunrise has looked different every single day, for every single person, and it will look different again tomorrow. And yet it still keeps on keeping on.

Despite our mortality, despite the havoc we wreak, on a larger scale there is stability and continuity. Life will go on, in some form or fashion, somewhere, some time. We are each just one thread in a vast, complex tapestry.

I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel like a great weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

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Make up a Holiday Day

Yesterday was International Women’s Day and I should have written about it. I’m a bad blogger. Bad! I really should stay on top of these things. These types of holidays are prime opportunities to create awareness about various topics. I’m sure I could have spoken in depth about the fact that 90 percent of the women I have known have either been the victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse at least once in their lives, and how that tells you a great deal about the violent yet silent world in which we live. Or I could have spoken about women who have achieved greatness, and women who do great things every day and yet fly completely under the radar. I could have told you one of a million stories about my mother, who was pretty amazing in her own right. But noooooo…I missed it completely. Sorry ladies.

But there are so many things in the world that are unsung or ignored. Here are some holidays that should exist, and for all I know, do exist but have been overlooked by me. Feel free to add more in the comments section below!

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  • International Cease Fire Day
  • Thanks for Doing the Dishes Day
  • Resist Road Rage Day
  • Make Waves Day
  • Expand Your Horizons Day
  • Give Shy People Some Space Day
  • International Day of Peace and Quiet
  • Make a Fool of Yourself Day
  • Work in Your Jammies Day
  • Think Outside the Box Day
  • Try New Food Day
  • Learn from Your Irritants Day
  • Foot Massage Day
  • Explore Another Religion Day
  • Sleep Late Day
  • Get Your Own Damned Coffee Day
  • Spoil Your Pet Day
  • No Electronics Day
  • Step Out of Your Comfort Zone Day
  • Stay in Your Comfort Zone and Make No Apologies Day
  • National Day of Nurturing
  • Jump in a Puddle Day
  • See the Sunrise Day
  • Hug a Perfect Stranger Day
  • Don’t Underestimate the Elderly Day
  • Cook a Meal for a Migrant Worker Day
  • Stop, Look, and Listen Day
  • Teach Someone Something Day
  • Learn Something New Day
  • Breakfast in Bed Day
  • Defy Gravity Day
  • Burp in Public Day
  • Don’t Spend Any Money Day
  • Compliment a Stranger Day
  • Focus on Yourself Day
  • Tip Extravagantly Day
  • Stay Home and Read a Book Day
  • International Appreciate a Blogger Day
  • Be Kind to Bridgetenders Day
  • Skinny Dipping Day
  • Change Your Mind Day
  • Day Trip Day

Nature is what’s happening while you’re not looking.

As a bridgetender, I spend days, weeks, years looking at the same view. I’ve learned that sunrises are like snowflakes in that no two are alike. I’ve seen that many animals have a phenomenal inner clock, going about their routines on a daily basis at EXACTLY the same time. And even here in Florida where we don’t really have dramatic seasons to speak of, I see them clearly with the migration patterns.

Here in Jacksonville, we get manatees coming through in the summer, and baby gators hatch in August, “barking” all night long. Canada Geese swim by, with their babies in an organized line at the same time every day, throughout the spring. I count them, and when they loose one to a gator, I mourn with them.

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One year we got a solitary swan. He (or she) stayed for several days, drawing crowds. It’s not something you normally see in this neck of the woods, and I kept wondering “Where is its mate?” Just as abruptly as it arrived, one day it was gone.

We also see nutrias and otters, cormorants and a bald eagle that fishes in the area. One day an armadillo crossed the bridge and walked right into the tenderhouse. When he discovered that there was no way out, he did an abrupt u-turn and went on about his way, ignoring me completely.

We also get a blue heron who likes to stand in the middle of the street at 3 a.m, munching on eels. And blue herons let out a blood curdling scream that I’ll never get used to as long as I live.

There is a black coated night heron who sits below our window all night, every night, rain or shine. I’ve named him Fred because he looks like he’s wearing a tuxedo a la Fred Astaire. But he rarely moves a muscle. Makes me wonder what he’s thinking. He recognizes my voice. We’ve been together for years, except for a two month period two years ago when he disappeared. I felt his loss. But he’s back now. I assume it’s the same bird; he keeps his own counsel.

When dolphins swim at night, you can’t see them, but you hear them breathing.  If I’m very lucky and happen to be looking skyward, I will see the snow goose migration, and when I do it’s a treat. One day I made the mistake of sassing a crow, and he lay in wait for me, dive bombing me on my way to the car. That will teach me.

I also note the movement of the stars and the sun and the moon, and once saw a ball of lightning that stayed in one place, striking itself in the sky, for two solid hours. The neighborhood over which it hovered must have thought it was the end of the world.

And rainbows? Don’t get me started. A tornado came straight down the river within a quarter mile of the tenderhouse, and I am very grateful that it happened on my day off.

Mostly what I have learned is that I’m a very, very lucky woman to be able to observe the world in long running increments. It makes me look at the passage of time in a whole new way.

At least once per shift, I like to step outside, look up at the sky, and say, “Thank You.” Nature. It’s happening all around you. Stop and look.