This August, our Second Annual Group Camping Trip found us at Mount Rainier National Park. We camped at Ohanapecosh, forayed to Silver Falls and Grove of the Patriarchs, admired the smorgasbord of wildflowers and delighted in hoary marmots at Paradise.
Forests and mountains are what brought me to the Pacific Northwest, and they’re what keeps me here. Old growth cedars and douglas-firs dominate. They are out of scale with our lives, a culture too rushed to wait for the slow growth of wisdom. These trees stun with a stature to match their age, their existences crescendoing decade after decade, century after century, to a climax that silences us. On the mountain, shockingly pink paintbrush blasts color for a season so short, it measures but a few millimeters in the life of one of the trees.
At Mount Rainier we find the gasping of life at both scales: months and millennia. The scales of their deaths invert their lives; where the long-lived forest will perish suddenly by storm, slide, or smoke, climate change pushes the alpine meadows higher up the mountain every season, a slow but sure killer of plants and animals whose very life patterns were built around the quick burst of summer. One day, the mountains will run out; there will be no higher to climb.