For now, it seemed we were driving backward in time. The freeway was well behind us, as well as the housing developments. We encountered more tarpaper, unpainted siding, elk antlers above the shed door. Forest, and then steep hillsides, closed in on the road until, as the incline pitched noticeably, we entered the national park, with its hairpin curves around canyon walls finally giving way to switchbacks rising up a mountainside to Paradise Needle a mile above sea level.
I observed a rhythm, too, in the cloud cover. Initially, it presents lapses and teasing glimpses of nearly-sheer green slopes shooting above the roadway. Finally come earnest visions of actual summits overhead. Unexpectedly, the breathtaking white immensity of Mount Rainier itself appears. Even so, you’re unprepared for the snowy mass before you. No photograph could have suggested such vast dimensions. Even if this view were displayed full-size, it would occupy an entire gallery, including the floor and ceiling, and still the camera lenses would have compressed the vertical and horizontal expanses. What you behold is so broad the windshield cannot frame both flanks simultaneously. Rather than a smooth, cloud-like shroud, the mountain’s mantled glaciers reveal themselves as fractured, violent, and disdainful amid rocky spines. Everything shimmers in the thin, cold, crystalline air. As I pulled into the trailhead parking lot, Todd regarded rocky saw-tooth ridges arrayed around the stratovolcano itself, and these remained separated from it by fathomless gorges. Starting with his chin to his chest, and rolling his head upward until my neck could stretch no more, he regarded the nearly three-mile elevation from valley bottom to summit. “Thou whose heart constantly reaches upward,” he began to pray, standing within a supreme example of spiritual architecture. “This is nothing like what I’d read in those textbooks. Wow!”
He, too, was frozen in space.
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