I recently visited Mt. Rainier for the first time. It was both exciting, but also a little bit disappointing.
I had heard that the poet, Denise Levertov had compared the mountain to God, a vast and massive presence that is often obscured from view from Seattle due to clouds and fog. She apparently wrote a number of poems about the mountain, but chose to never visit it, as she said she had come here “to live, not to visit,” in the poem “Settling,” the ending of which is below:
…having come here to live, not to visit.
Grey is the price
of neighboring with eagles, of knowing
a mountain’s vast presence, seen or unseen.
She felt that there was something to keeping the mountain at a distance, and I appreciated that as, as beautiful as it was being at the park, I couldn’t get the whole view of the mountain once I had gotten so close to it. Like the quantum physics concept of knowing something only as a particle or wave, but not both, I could approach the mountain and see its details, but I could no longer see its imposing presence.
Here is the whole of her poem, “Open Secret.”
Perhaps one day I shall let myself
approach the mountain—
hear the streams which must flow down it,
lie in a flowering meadow, even
touch my hand to the snow.
Perhaps not. I have no longing to do so.
I have visited other mountain heights.
This one is not, I think, to be known
by close scrutiny, by touch of foot or hand
or entire outstretched body; not by any
familiarity of behavior, any acquaintance
with its geology or the scarring roads
humans have carved in its flanks.
This mountain’s power
lies in the open secret of its remote
apparition, silvery low-relief
coming and going moonlike at the horizon,
always loftier, lonelier, than I ever remember.
Levertov calls this power viewed at a distance of Rainier, its “open secret.” I don’t actually have a photo to show what I was missing of this open secret, which I guess is fitting, as I went to the mountain, I forfeited that view of it. Still I am glad I went, to get up to the snow line and to take a hike in the woods, and to get some beautiful views of Narada Falls emitting rainbows…
I hiked along the river as it made its way down the mountain. I climbed out and did some rock hopping and saw a number of smaller falls.
While I did forfeit the vast open secret of the mountain’s power, I did get to see the wonderful play of light with the clouds of mist rising from its waters in this amazing photo I took from a little bridge.