Finding My Mountain

The Land is Part of Your Identity

In the pepeha, traditional Maori introduction, you introduce yourself with your mountain and your river. Your mountain and river are a part of you, a mark of where your home and heart lie. I’m not Maori, but I embrace this explicit relationship to the land. But what makes a mountain my mountain?

What Makes a Mountain Your Own?

Leaning on a madrone on Mount Tam

Enjoying madrones, my favorite type of tree, while hiking on Mount Tamalpais in California

Each person has different criteria. I want a mountain that holds its own, but isn’t necessarily the biggest or most impressive specimen. I’d prefer a mountain that I can visit frequently. I want to know its name and recognize it from all angles.

I am trying to adopt a new mountain. Four years ago I transplanted myself from California to Washington. Begrudgingly I traded my California driver’s license for a Washington one, my California voter’s registration for a Washington one — but my heart finds it harder to swap my mountain for a new one. Although I’m consciously trying to pick a mountain near my home in Seattle, I feel that choosing your mountain is more emotional than rational.

My Mountain, Mount Tamalpais

Mount Tamalpais

Mount Tamalpais from afar

I’m a mountain person, and replacing my mountain feels like a betrayal. I grew up near San Francisco, and my mountain has always been Mount Tamalpais, north of the Golden Gate. Every corner of the mountain holds a memory, offers a favorite trail. My high school cross country team’s home course and daily training grounds. The monstrous madrone tree with ‘GIANT’ carved into its branch where I hosted a birthday party in elementary school. An elusive boulder that breaks through the treeline on a steep forested slope that taunted my family to brush-crash up ravines on fruitless missions. The national park where I honed my public speaking skills as a summer intern. The picnic area where I realized my grandfather was going to die soon.

Finding My Northwest Mountain

When I attended college in Bellingham, WA, I grew fond of the Chuckanut Mountains, but moved away before they really took hold. But I always knew Bellingham was temporary, whereas I’m trying to establish a permanent home in Seattle. From my Seattle base, it might make sense to claim Mount Rainier for its sheer presence — but, for various reasons, I haven’t even gotten a chance to visit it. Even though Mount Rainier’s within sight on a daily basis, it feels just a little too far away to be mine. Instead, I’m drawn to a fixture of North Bend, Mount Si.

Mount Si from Rattlesnake Ledge

Mount Si from Rattlesnake Ledge

In good weather, I find myself in North Bend at least twice a month to hike and visit my partner’s family. Mount Si is a domineering presence over the town, impossible to resist. Yet I find hiking Mount Si itself less than satisfying. The main trail to the summit ascends through homogenous second growth forest, and is packed with hundreds of other hikers. A few moments of solitude might help me get to know the mountain better.

Does a mountain’s character matter? Mount Si is imposing, a roiling crag overlooking the valley beside I-90. Mount Tam is more majestic, the Zeus to a landscape of lesser deities. Tam’s ridgelines, falling smoothly from the peak like creases in a draped sheet, present a friendlier face than Si’s gnarled visage. Tam is more accessible, both in trail offerings and personality.

Home with or without a Mountain

Of course, I’m conflating making the Pacific Northwest my home with claiming a mountain here for my own. Smaller elements of our landscape have already taken root in me — the luscious mats of moss, calamitous clouds, lichen-robed cedar Methuselahs, mountain ranges that epitomize the form — but I’d like to have a mountain.

It may be that Mt. Tamalpais will forever be my mountain — and that may be as it should be, since it will always be part of my identity, if not my home. I don’t need or want to supplant my origin.

Perhaps I have room in my heart for two mountains — Mount Tam as well as a mountain in Cascadia.

What’s Your Mountain?

Which mountain is your mountain? Why?

About Tracy Durnell

Seattle-area graphic designer and SFF writer inspired by the Pacific Northwest, crafting a sustainable and intentional life.

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