A Summer of Disquiet

Readers, sorry to take until nearly Thanksgiving to inform you of events that happened in summer. This post was especially hard to write, and came as I entered a busy patch that caused me to fall behind. 

IMG_1676The weather has been alarmingly pleasant since we moved to Seattle. The first week in our new house, the mercury topped 90 degrees for five days, shattering the historical record. Seattle has literally never had this warm of a summer. Welcome to Los Angeles. The rain jacket we’d planned for Dubsie to wear has stayed in the closet. Instead she dons sandals and high-SPF sunscreen.

For the next few weeks the sun rises day after day into an untroubled blue sky. I take Dubsie down to Golden Gardens, the beachfront park near our house, and lazily push her back and forth. Across Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains stand in bold, unclouded relief. Normally they are hidden in precipitation and when they do reveal themselves are clad in snow, but this year they are brown. Mummy grew up here and says she has never seen them that way.

Near the end of August the long string of sparkling days end, not with rain but a grayish-orange sky. The wind that normally blows off the Pacific has moved in reverse, bringing in smoke from the east, from the wildfires in the Cascade Mountains. The forest fires are the largest and hottest the state had ever seen; even the Olympic rainforest to the west, usually one of the wettest places on the continent, has its own blazes. The photos of Dubsie from that weekend have a ruddy evening light to them, though I take them at noon.

Then the weather manages a return to its time-honored pattern. A wet storm blows in, followed by a day or two of cloudy gloom, followed by another wet storm, and daytime temperatures drop into the sixties. Dubsie is compelled to wear socks.

Despite the rain, we stick with our plan to hike on Mt. Rainier this weekend. We drive out of Seattle and its brown lawns and up Highway 7, which takes us by Alder Lake, a reservoir on the western approach to the massive mountain. I’ve thought of Alder Lake as mysterious because it always seems to be swathed in mist. Today there is no mist, and moreover there is almost no water. The peaceful green shoreline has vanished. Instead there is a landscape of stumps, left over from when the reservoir was first filled. Alder Lake has become nothing more than a creek, wending through a boneyard. On the far bank a fire smolders.

IMG_1896We roll on into Mt. Rainier National Park, where things look enough like they usually do that we feel we can stop worrying. Tall strong mossy trees deck the roadside. We climb to Paradise, the park headquarters from which so many adventures are launched, which on average gets 53 feet of snow a year, but today there is none to be seen. The permanent glaciers that crown the mountain aren’t visible; a brow of clouds frowns just above us. We embark on a trail called Dead Horse, and the layer of clouds rises almost in tandem with our ascent.

Mummy and I taking turns carrying Dubsie. In some stretches she insists on walking, and sometimes she nearly runs, her toes turned out and her left arm tucked by her side as her right one swings. Her head lolls back and forth with each stride. She’s so new to running she hasn’t worked out the kinks. But she is running farther than before, and uphill, and when I scoop her up, breathing hard, she says to me I will go there, pointing upward in the direction of the peak we can’t see.

The goal today is a point on the map known as the overlook of the Nisqually Glacier, one of 20 glaciers that makes Rainier the most ice-capped peak in the contiguous United States. We climb and climb but no sign of ice yet. It isn’t until we are nearly upon the official outlook that we finally see the the tail of the glacier, sticking out from underneath the blanket of clouds. Below it, stretching for thousands of vertical feet, is a valley of mud and stones that show us where the glacier used to be as it melted and retreated over the prior decades. It’s a forlorn sight, like the impression in the bed from a lover that’s gone away.

The view from the Nisqually Glacier overlook.

The view from the Nisqually Glacier overlook.

Back down we hike. Dubsie wants to run. She points her pigeon toes downhill and careens, nearly tripping, arms flailing, every stride a bloody nose nearly happening, and I race forward to grab her, to hold her back before anything bad happens, to use my grip for now to restrain a girl that is restlessly growing, to restrain clock that is endlessly spinning, to restrain a thermometer that is relentlessly rising, the unstoppable forces that are pulling my daughter out of my grasp and toward a future of muddy, iceless slopes, of burning forests, of acrid smoky skies. I hold her tighter because I sense that a larger hand has released itself from the wheel, and we are careening toward God knows where.



1 comment to A Summer of Disquiet

  • Sally

    David, I love reading the Ferris Files. Little Dubsie is a lucky little one to have so many adventures in her young life.

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