Monday, August 4, 2008

Whistle Stop Summer: Rainier Edition

Many years ago, when my sister was small (this same sister is visiting me now), my parents went camping with her and my other sister. They were in a national park, Yosemite, I think (I wasn't born yet; I'm just repeating an old family story), and at a stop or campsite, my sister, a chatter-y sort, was talking to an old timer. And he told her that if she saw a bear, she should offer to shake hands with it. My parents, busy getting packed, or fueling the car, missed what he said to my sister. A ways down the road, a bunch of cars stopped to look at a bear. My parents stopped their old VW van, too. My sister went shooting out of the car towards the bear, crying "Hi, bear-y, bear! Will you shake my hand?" Turns out, my father could vault a VW van and land running, in order to catch a little girl about to find out the rude red truths of the food chain. The old timer's comments emerged as the reason for my sister's behavior, and my father was worked up enough at having had a chance to see his daughter become an afternoon snack that he went back to speak with the old timer. Who was, of course, appalled. He was passing the time with a sweet kid, and hadn't thought such a bright little thing would really do anything so, well... dumb.
It would, apparently, be too much of a commitment for me to spend more than a few hours touring a place. This is the summer of the whistle-stop tour. We already blew through the Olympic Peninsula. Today, we did Mount Rainier.

You know, the enormous national park with multiple climate zones, hundreds of miles of trails and deep wilderness? Yeah. That. It took us a day. We’re very efficient.
Actually, we’re far from done. For Curly, my boy and their cousins, today was an amuse bouche that visibly got their appetites flowing for return visits. Given the day, it wasn't a surprise. Whether one is a whistle-stop tourist or someone who takes the time for in-depth visits, a perfect day on the mountain is something that will make you go back again and again, hoping for another. And today was a perfect blue sky day, the wildflowers in exuberant, explosive bloom, butterflies fluttering through the meadows (and onto Curly's hand, much to her delight). We went high enough to get some leftover snow; a snowball fight in August was had, which gave the kids a deep and gleeful satisfaction. More of Curly and my boy's cousins are in town visiting (including a return visit from the Incredible Eating Nephew), who had never seen glaciers, or snow in August, or snow-fed lakes, so they were pretty pleased, even before they got to peg one another in the back of the head with snowballs.
My head-to-mouth editing failed me (again) while we were taking a short hike up by Frozen Lake. When asked where the Wonderland trail went, I explained that it encircled the mountain. Now my kids have plans to someday hike the entirety of the damn trail, which wends its way around the mountain in some 93 miles of “fun.” I should really buy myself a muzzle.
The bigger kids peeled off for a slightly longer trail, and I walked a shorter route with Curly and my boy back to the trailhead. And right next to it was:
this adorable bear cub. We did not detour to get this close (I don't particularly want to introduce my children, up close and personal, to something higher up on the food chain). I have no future (at least not when I have my kids with me) as a wildlife photographer; I was too worried about where the furry darling's mama was to get a good picture. The kids were thrilled. A little scared, but thrilled. And although I would have been happier seeing it across a meadow instead of really, really close to the trail, seeing the bear was thrilling for me, too. Nobody, but nobody offered to shake hands with the bear cub. I had a feeling that the cub's mama wouldn't appreciate strangers talking to her baby.

I tooked my nervously thrilled bunnies back, listening to their excited chatter about the bear, and how cute it was, and how big its claws were. We met back up with the others, and headed for home, tired and happy. Which is pretty much how an ideal-day trip should go. No bear-maulings, great scenery, thrills without harm, and tired happiness at the end.


Bee said...

This post made a lovely circle -- from your childhood bear story, to this latest meeting with a bear cub. I can just imagine how scared/thrilled you all were!

I got lost in some NH woods recently, and when my walking partner reminded me of bears I started feeling really paranoid about being surprised by one!

Also, the intense blue of the sky in your pictures is a nice antidote the thick, gray cloud we are having. Sun AND snow: how perfect!

the italian dish said...

Loved the photos. It's such a beautiful area.

Meg said...

Bee- thanks. I think I would have been happier seeing the cub (with mama in sight) from a little further away.
There's nothing like being a bit lost in the woods to really give you the creeps, is there?

Italian dish- thanks- it sounds like you had a great trip out here.