Tuesday, 19 February 2019

F Fic, Non-fic

The Monument

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Mount Rainier mornings fell into an easy rhythm. Dad woke first and stoked the fire. We huddled under our blankets as yellow flickers of heat chased away the night chill. Mom warmed milk on the stove, added cocoa and marshmallows and handed out steaming mugs as we rubbed sleep from our eyes.

On the other end of the day, Northwest stars glittered like white diamonds on a black velvet sky so bright and open, it hurt your eyes to look up. "Hard night" Dad called it, referring to the way night falls fast and hard in the Northwest, pouring out of the sky like a chocolate milkshake.

One summer, perhaps in 1966, Dad rushed home mid-day, threw on a flannel shirt, loaded gloves, an axe and extra socks into a rucksack and tore off to God-only-knew-where. A forest fire was raging. Every available hand was called in to battle the blaze.

"Is Daddy coming home today?" was the constant refrain around Ohanapecosh staff housing. "What day s it?" brothers Jeff and Kurt asked. At age six, I was old enough to remember days of the week, but couldn't. Days swirled into nights and back into days and then more nights and more days plodded past. Dad still wasn't home and time was no longer something solid, predictable, but jellied.

I know we ate. I know Mom cooked and we sat at the kitchen table, the four of us. But I can't remember eating a single meal when Dad was away fighting that evil fire. He finally came home, sooty and sweaty, coal-black hair grayed by a film of ash.

"The fire's out," Dad explained wearily, unwinding his gangly legs from the motor scooter he drove on patrol. "We knocked 'er down."

I wasn't quite sure what "knocked 'er down" meant, but since Dad threw his arms around Mom, kissed her, and Mom kissed him back, it had to be something good.

My family and I moved to Washington State in 2002. Nearly 50 years since the last time I gawked at Mount Rainier with Dad, the Mountain stands as bold and impressive as ever. Glittering and gold in the sunset, she is perhaps the most “permanent” and venerated icon of the Great Northwest.

Scanning a faded photo album recently, I flipped creaking pages and found a 1966 photo of a snow-suited six year-old. Me. Mom, my brothers and I perch outside the now-defunct Paradise ice caves. Next to the creased black and white snapshot I mounted a 2012 photo of me and my family, taken near the same site.

Much has changed since 1964. The Mountain remains, but she's deteriorating. Glaciers gnaw at her shoulders; avalanches carve her vales and meadows. The Cascade Queen will eventually crumble into dust.

How easily we forget the eroding mountain, the cancer leeching life from a loved one.

Not long after Dad’s death in 2003, I spotted Mount Rainier on a clear day and whispered four of the most beloved words in my western Washington lexicon: "The Mountain is out."

I gazed at the Old Girl and winked. When she's "out," I choose to see something most don't at first. Something to look for. Something Big: a snowy monument to my dad, Tom Naas, Mountain of a Man.

About the author

A fourth generation Rainierholic, Kristine Lowder makes her home in Hoquiam, Washington with her husband of 30+ years, Chris, their four sons and one incredibly mellow yellow Lab, Eve. She is a graduate of Biola University and the author of numerous articles and essays nad over a dozen books including Akeldama and how i got to be 50 and other atrocities(EagleWing Publishing), Guys and Other Near Humans(Uncial Press), A Likely Story: When Spiritual Abuse Comes Knocking(Ezer Publishing).

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