WELCOME TO THE CASCADE RANGE

by Jnana Hodson

Four hours after setting out from home, our toes approached a lookout at 7,200 feet above sea level. Though blessed with the clearest day one could hope for, Seattle remained shrouded in auto exhaust, a violet haze covering Puget Sound from Valhalla to White Horse. Above it, the Olympics wrote a cyanine line. So much for civilization. To the south, Mount Adams, the Goat Rocks, St. Helens, and Hood scanned our movement. To the north, Baker, remote Glacier Peak, and Stuart dominated the panorama. As we clambered about the trail, the mountains winked at me, or so Todd insisted.

He told me about the Cascade Range itself — about twenty volcanoes strung at about fifty-mile intervals all the way from Lassen and Shasta in northern California to Silverthrone and Franklin in British Columbia. Twelve of them reached to more than ten thousand feet in elevation, and two — including Rainier, which sits on a coastal plain — rose to more than fourteen thousand feet.

“Rainier may look cold,” he said. “You know, all snow, although much of that is actually glaciers — those slow rivers of ice inching down its sides. But there are warm, sulfur-fume caves on its summit. That’s a sleeping volcano that could pop at any time.”

“And then what?”

“The devastation would take out parts of Seattle and Tacoma.”

Oh. But it was so lovely and so awe-inducing.

He turned my attention back to the three ice cream cones to our south. The shortest of them, Mount St. Helens. was so perfectly shaped that many considered it to be the American Fuji, though compared to Rainier, its was somewhat more remote to access. “In the Native lore, the mountain is named Loowit, a lovely young lady who kindled a rivalry of attraction from Pahtoe and Wyeast on either side.” I could guess those were Mount Adams and Mount Hood. What happened was those two big guys began hurling molten rock at each other and shaking the earth. “And that’s all in the Native memory,” he said. “From their perspective, thousands of years ago isn’t that far back.”

Todd reached for his guidebook. “She’s all of 9,677  feet tall,” he said. “Look how pure she appears, even from here. She’s your mountain, Lucy. Or your sister. We’ll have to go sometime.”

I laughed with enchantment. “I’m a little shorter than that.”

“Not in spirit.”

As we sat in the clear sunlight, I regarded at my husband as much as the surrounding wonders. He was trim, with curly hair he could let grow wild, if he’d listen to me. His green eyes sparkled.

“Logging roads lash the needled slopes beyond the park,” he told me. “They’re scarring them forever. Our sustainable logging practices are really short-term in their calculations.”

Tentacles of the vast mountain we stood on blocked any view of our orchard valley. “How small this state is. Look, to the south we see peaks in Oregon. To the north, that ragged brink drops off into Canada. You expect mountains and rivers to run on without end. Alas, they too have limitations.” Yet sitting at the margin of a snow bank, there’s no way to remain gloomy. An invisible trickle gurgled below us. I fed bits of chocolate-chip cookies to fearless chipmunks who put their paws and even their mouths in my hand before scampering away to nibble. I stripped off my turtleneck and was down to my bra so the good sun would tan my back. We had sufficient privacy, just the two of us. Loafing in this place is like riding an intensely colored cloud, for we’d plopped down amid a miraculous alpine garden where brilliant complementary colors harmonize: red-orange joins indigo, royal purple embraces screaming yellow. Some blooms stood out spotlessly white against sparkling soil. The low plants growing amid sharp stone resembled broken china, which rattled when we walked along a sweep of juniper and scree. Eerily, this high country makes everything appear both bony and airy. Todd remembered viewing microscope slides and now saw the resemblance. Perhaps this phenomenon is caused by the atmosphere’s thinness. You could wonder about life, too, despite its apparent concrete existence. How extraordinarily insubstantial we become! Most other hikers veered off toward a neighboring lookout tower, leaving us largely uninterrupted in a heavenly afternoon. But nothing on this planet, not even these mountains, lasts forever. A growing chill indicated the hour to bid flowers and chipmunks adieu.

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