We've traversed many many landscapes over the past few days. The wooded mountains of Lolo Pass and the Lochsa River of Idaho, the golden brown wheat fields of eastern Washington, the bone dry plateau in the rainshadow of the Cascades. And finally, we've reached the lush evergreen of the Pacific Coast.
I was not prepared for Mt. Rainier. I've seen mountains before, but there's really no way for a flatlander like myself to get ready for this incredible mass of a volcano rising absurdly out of the earth. We were 70 miles away in Yakima when we saw the enormous craw of this mountain swelling over the horizon and we screamed and cried in disbelief.
We camped at the feet of this great crag, that really can only be described as a goddess. Following intuition, my uncle's suggestion, and a little purple arrow pointing down a rocky forest service road, we found our way to a free campsite among towering cedar and pine that was occupied by a collection of teepees.
There was only one person staying in the encampment. He was a member of the Warm Springs tribe from the Columbia River valley, and he and many others set up camp here every summer to escape and "detox" from the world. This summer, however, he is also praying for the people at Standing Rock North Dakota, resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline construction. He has intimately studied the treaties between his tribes and the U.S. government, and he spoke of the centuries of pain and violence that are still so present to him as an Indian. It struck me how privileged I am as a white American to not live with this ugly history in my present life, and it struck me how important it is to re-educate myself in North American history, rather than remaining blissfully ignorant (High School U.S. History classes kinda suck, y'all).
This man was unbelievably kind. He offered one of the teepees for us to sleep in and gave us firewood. We gave him music and smoked salmon. It was beautiful. Nonetheless, I could acutely feel the centuries of colonialism, exploitation, and cultural appropriation converging on this meeting. I think that maybe this is how being-together should be in the 21st century. Yes, we must love one another, we must share, we must be in peaceful community. But peace does not mean ignoring pain. We cannot forget the history that led up to this moment. Rewriting history is the privilege of the oppressor; once we sit together with awareness of the past maybe we can actually heal.
The next morning, Abby and I chased the dawn up to Sunrise Point. We cooked oats and watched the new day turn the glaciers of Rainier pink. The mountain's native name is Tahoma, meaning "grandmother". A bit more fitting than some sea captain's namesake, isn't it? These are the things we cannot forget: this land is sacred, it is not ours to claim, it has other names. Let us live in it, but let us be reverent.