>Ninety Miles Around Tahoma – Sept 10

August 29, 2010 at 5:44 pm (Uncategorized)

>This is the account of my solo backpack trip around Mt. Rainier Sept 1-12, 1990. I will be posting one journal entry each day.

Tahoma Glacier, hand-painted BW photograph

September 10. Tim’s birthday.

I have camp huckleberries in my oatmeal and discover empty plastic bags in the pack. In the place of cashews are mouse turds. The raisins are gone. AND SO ARE MY CHOCOLATE TEDDY GRAHAMS! Evil little bastards. How could they do this to me? I repair the hole they chewed in my Jansport, feeling betrayed. Then I laugh.

I am anxious to leave this place. The trail to Klapatche Park appears to have been neglected for years. I slog through cow parsnips with their huge maple-like leaves and seed-heavy umbels. I had told my mother the Wonderland Trail was a well-maintained, adequately signed, heavily traveled loop. I even took her to Sunrise and showed her a sign, beautifully made and quite confident looking. It seemed to indicate a Disneyland attraction ahead. I check my compass.

My laundry dries on the back of my pack. It is a challenge to keep upwind of the damp wool socks that smell like mouse turds.

Finally I achieve the ridge with its huckleberries and views. Mount Adams looks like Tahoma’s twin, and Mount St. Helens – which erupted a decade earlier – smokes serenely. Hills to the west appear to be clearcut right up to the park border. It is obscenity. The Puget Sound basin is under clouds and I wonder if my friends know what good weather I’m having. The half moon is low in the sky.

I must be the only person on the park’s entire West Side. For the first time, I am lonesome. I know I am soon to enter the final phase of the vision quest, reincorporation. I must return to my world. I must share what I’ve learned. I must be a whole person for the benefit of the people.

But I know its dangers. The clutter of life will hammer the silence into shards, and my inner peace will be tested. I fear another descent into darkness; I am afraid uncertainty will return. I question whether my peace is illusion that will evaporate with little provocation.

Steven Foster says of returning home, “No one seems to speak your language. You come back, a stranger with a vision. This reincorporation can precipitate a crisis. The true power of the Vision Quest cannot be measured except in terms of the process of reincorporation. You can either let the flame die, or you can decide to begin the vision quest of your life and seek the places where there is fuel to feed your fire. You realize that the only way to communicate the experience is not to talk about the vision, but to live it. Truly, the quest has just begun.”

By mid-morning I am at St. Andrews Lake, a huge green bowl. I find a spot off the path and take my bath; I am less shy about it now. I cook soup, wash my clothes and, knocking off spatters of pipit poop, lay them on rocks to dry. The little birds dote along shore, probably getting caddisfly larvae out of their submarine tubes of cemented twigs and tiny pebbles. A pipit interrupts her foraging and begins to bathe. What inner calling of this creature made it decide, at this moment, to clean itself?

It is idyllic here but I grow lonelier. My friend had given me a prayer before I left. It ends this way. “Through the transforming power of My love which is made perfect in weakness, you shall become perfectly beautiful. You shall become perfectly beautiful in a uniquely irreplaceable way, which neither you nor I will work out alone, for We shall work it out together.”

I am alone. And I am not alone.

I have drunk from the Cosmic River. It has taken my flimsy raft where it needed to go. It has brought me to people who have been the source of my greatest anguish and my deepest joy. It is a mystical, life-affirming, creative body, and we need only empty ourselves so it can fill us. So few know of it. I grieve for those who don’t.

I do not merely complete a circle around this mountain. I travel a spiral, for I return on a higher plane, with greater understanding, a fresher perspective, a deeper love born of intense pain. Yes, my life has had flashes of divine illumination. I remember them now, for I had once felt this way.

It is time to move on. Slash burn haze obliterates the pristine, and I am indignant at the insult to my fellow creatures. Tahoma and I commiserate over our sad state of affairs. A mile and handfuls of huckleberries later, I see Aurora Lake has dried to a grass-choked puddle. A decade ago I photographed it with a sunset reflection of Tahoma. Now it is dead.

I choose my campsite and go back to St. Andrews Lake for a fresher source of water than the small tarn nearby. There are red critters in there, like the kind I used to feed my tropical fish. I decide to boil the water in camp.

For the first time in 28 hours, I see two-leggeds. A mother-daughter pair, and I am strangely happy that I will not spend the night alone. I pick huckleberries for Tim and Ryan and watch deer play on the dry lakebed. The fawn bursts headlong into the woods then back out again. The ground vibrates as if it is hollow. Mother is oblivious to the antics, and when the baby quiets they touch noses for a long time. I think of my son and me.


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