I have been to the mountain and back—to the magnificent Mount Rainier in Washington State. I have a picture of me taken with the mountain in the backdrop, which I promptly published on Facebook. Someone responded to my post with a funny question: Was the mountain real? The question didn’t surprise me. I have to admit the backdrop looked a bit staged—like something in a Sears photograph. But no, it was real and goose-bump spectacular.
I don’t like really big things like mountains. I’m a megalophobic, meaning I fear large objects. I’m also afraid of gigantic statues that look human like the Statue of Liberty. This makes me an automatonphobic. I’m not crazy about skyscrapers either, which sounds odd coming from someone who lived in New York City for almost a decade.
It didn’t surprise me either that I was a bit afraid of Mount Rainier. The closer, though, I got to the mountain the more majestic it was. Its majesty impressed me to the point that I was awed rather than terrified. And it had me thinking: How many times in my life have I seen something in nature that is majestic?
I’m not a nature gal. Never have been. As I FaceTimed at the Vistors Center with Ken who was back east, he jokingly said that Mount Rainier was not Fifth Avenue. True, but it was the Fifth Avenue of Nature. Despite my overall laziness and my bum knee, I could not leave the park without taking a bona fide hike. The thought of hiking on my own brought on another old phobia: mazeophobia—fear of getting lost. I am someone who once could not negotiate her way out of a circular path near the beach. Each time I asked for directions, people exclaimed: “How can you be lost? It’s a circle!!” Even though the trail at Rainier was dotted with signage, anything was possible. One of my companions came to the rescue and found a hike for me guided by a ranger.
Ranger Savannah was in her twenties—tan, blonde and fit. As we gathered around the flagpole, she looked me up and down as if I might be trouble. The others in the group were dressed in appropriate hiking clothes and sensible shoes. I was clad completely in black as if I were indeed hiking Fifth Avenue. I wore my Danskos to stave off the pain from my torn Achilles tendon. (Yes, another injury). I also didn’t look like I would do well in subalpine conditions, meaning that I was between 5000 and 7000 feet above short-of-breath sea level. While I’m not a total aerobic disaster, I’m not in the best shape either. Nevertheless, I persevered going up and down the trail and pretty much kept up with the group.
Ranger Savannah’s goal on the hike was to teach the eight of us about the wildflowers we would encounter. She was prepared for boredom by having us play “Wildflower Bingo.” She was equipped with laminated cards of wildflowers and dry-erase markers to check off the flowers we saw and happened to have on our cards. The game not only engaged me in nature (surprise!), it also made me fiercely competitive. I kept asking Ranger Savannah to identify every wildflower that caught my eye. (I guess I was trouble, after all). Specifically, I needed the subalpine buttercup or the cinquefoil for the win. I never found them on the nature hike, but no matter—everyone is a winner at Wildflower Bingo. We each received a pin that said: Protect Fragile Meadows. Stay on Trails. That was another lesson from Ranger Savannah: No walking into the meadows. It destroys decades and decades of slow, steady growth.
The mountain was on our right as we hiked. Ranger Savannah said that we were lucky. Last week the smoke from the wildfires in California and Canada was so thick that there was no visibility. The Rangers were forced to cancel hikes and improvise indoor programs. People who signed up to summit the mountain months ago and more had to postpone their plans.
After Ranger Savannah snapped my photograph against the backdrop of Mount Rainier, we walked down towards the Visitor’s Center. She told me her next National Parks gig was at White Sands Monument in New Mexico. I tried to picture myself as a nomadic park ranger. Alas, it called up another fear for me—rootlessness.