For three years, I saw Mount Rainier in the distance.
It hovered permanent in the east, sometimes the haze or clouds making it seem to float. Snow-capped year round, it never moved, only beckoned.
I was 4 and 5 and 6, those years. We had moved to Washington from Indiana, to spend time near a different set of relatives. To find good work near the booming Boeing of the mid-60s.
To start school, for me, smaller and younger than all my classmates, skipping the socialization that was kindergarten to begin school with hefty subjects that mattered: reading and math and penmanship.
But without answers for the questions that mattered most: How did that mountain stay cold all year? Why did it sometimes seem to float but would never fly away? And why, when you drove toward it, did it never, ever, come any closer?
Our Tacoma suburb was fifty miles from Rainier. The drive to reach it took, I’m sure, several weeks.
That was almost six decades ago.
Rachel and I move much faster since then. Now, we criss-cross the western US in a year. We explore the varied biomes of the pacific rainforests in a month. We skirt the northwest corner of the lower 48 in a week. We tour Seattle in a day.
And we watch Mount Rainier grow in our windshield by the minute as we approach.
This ancient volcano monopolizes the vista even more than our familiar Pikes Peak did, rising from near sea level without the mile’s head start of Colorado’s icon. Looming white even in June, the growing triangle of Rainier is a magnet drawing us up its frozen mysteries: clouds in a clear sky, glaciers in summer, impossible heights jutting alone and defiant.
We camped at 3100 feet, as high as we could park Libbie, but still not a quarter of the way up the peak of the highest mountain in the Cascade Range. Nearby Paradise, the highest elevation we could drive, was 2000 feet higher still. Everything above that was snow and stone and ice.
Above our camp the trails were unpassable snowpack. At our level the hiking trails and scenic drives were magnificent. Summer snowmelt and intermittent rain fed runnels and rapids cascading downhill from every direction.
To our delight, we got to share one day’s hike with newly engaged Sebastian and Amanda, who drove in from Seattle.
Mount Rainier National Park overwhelms with picturesque vantages. Its icy mountaintop dominates. Its rivers run milky white with scrubbed mountainside minerals, ground by glaciers and swept downhill in a cascading rush.
And its beckoning mysteries continue to captivate a wide-eyed boy looking for answers, even sixty years later.