Loss, Clarity and Her Majesty

The road to Paradise (for me) passes straight through Eatonville. It’s usually the point where I can breathe again after holding my breath through Puyallup and Graham … the cities of a thousand headlights. Eatonville has just under 3000 residents according to the 2020 census. A small town camouflaged as gateway to a huge mountain. 

Having read a little history about the town, I realized there was a connection between Thomas C. Van Eaton (the founder of Eatonville) and Indian Henry (the Nisqually native named for the epic hike I did a couple weeks ago). Seems Indian Henry led Van Eaton to this beautiful spot nestled in the foothills of Mount Rainier. I love coinkidinks!

My personal history of Eatonville began in 1979 when I attended the funeral of one of my mentors, Shelly Morrison. She took me under her wing my first year of high school. We played basketball together and she was one of my first (s)heroes. I was a shy, awkward introvert of a kid. I gained some popularity in school through athletics but I always struggled to fit in. Shelly was a year ahead of me and the attention she showed me back then made me feel like someone special. I never knew how deeply conditioned I was to crave that kind of acceptance. 

Shelly died the summer after her graduation in 1979. A year that would be my worst. She was on the back of her boyfriend’s dirt bike in the Elbe State Forest when they hit a stump and she went flying off the back of the bike. She had been wearing a helmet but the impact was too great. I remember attending a church service with another friend as she lay unconcious in the hospital. I needed something … anything to help me understand. Church that day didn’t do it for me. Within days she died, never having awakened.

Her family was from Eatonville and it was there she was buried. I remember both the church and graveside services like they were yesterday. Mostly because it was the first real loss I had suffered and I’ll never forget how it felt not being able to hold back the tears. It’s been over 40 years. I marvel a little at how loss continues to bring clarity. Losing something, whether a prized possesssion or beloved human, sets in motion both memory and longing. Longing reminds us of what we loved and miss deeply. Loss builds appreciation. Memory softens the heart. I think of Shelly every single time I pass through her town on my way to climb up that mountain.

But I digress. Yesterday, sunrise at Reflection Lake and then a short, sweet climb through a magical passage. Another gateway.

The hike up to Pinnacle Saddle is just 1.3 miles but don’t be fooled. It’s a rocky 1000 feet up and you’ll definitely earn the great reward at the top. Heading up before 7am, I see only a handful of people. A young man on his way down and a young woman who easily passes me going up. I take my time. I’ve earned this pace. 

The view from the trail is beautiful. Beyond the gentle dirt path is a staggering amount of root and rock making it nearly impossible to take a full stride. I step and climb and turn around. It’s like a trail dance. Past the first talus field I hear a familiar screech and then a couple “meeps”. I’m not alone and my furry little friends are sounding the alarm. 

The wildflowers are mostly done and change is happening. It’s slowly drying/dying out though there are a few flowers clinging to life. The butterflies are circling in the small pockets of daisies and the mosquitos are persitent everywhere else. 

Arriving at the saddle is like a gateway. Mount Adams rises opposite Rainier and the sprawling fields before you seem other-wordly. In just a few short weeks this landscape will explode with autumn color. And I’ll be back to see it in all of it’s glory.

Heading toward Plummers Peak there is a small tarn between two rocky ledges. The robins and dark-eyed juncos had a quick bath as I stood by watching. 

The trip down is easier on the lungs but harder on the knees. More in-your-face Rainier time makes it more than bearable. Trade-offs matter. 

I drove home the same way I came, this time stopping at the cemetery to pay my respects. Over forty years. It doesn’t seem possible. 

“We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun. But the hills that we climbed were just seasons out of time”

I wonder what she might have made of her life? She was one of the kindest, funniest people I ever met and the life ahead of her seemed so vast. I’ll never forget her. I’ll never forget what she gave to me.

I left a small heart rock. 
Next time, flowers. 
I think she would like that. 

17 Comments on “Loss, Clarity and Her Majesty

  1. One of my classmates died in a car accident, car driven by her boyfriend, when we were HS juniors. She was neither pretty enough nor popular enough to be a shoe-in for cheerleader, but she made up for it in kindness to all people, and won a spot on the team. Hers was my first experience with death. I frequently drive by her home now, and never fail to wonder how her parents and sister survived her loss; how we in her class did. It’s been 53 years, and I remember that shock like yesterday. The end of innocence. We are all vulnerable.

    • Ah, so maybe you wonder the same thing I wonder: where do all the stories go that die with a person? And also, I find myself imagining the stories that never were. I’m suddenly extra grateful for my rather reckless youth.

  2. What a lovely tribute to your friend. Losing special people hurts, and it’s something you never forget. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. Yes I have!
    I like how how you draw this out to extend to so many orher things. I use to think that we have the face we deserve at 50 (which is also true, though I’m less enamored with that) but I like the idea that all we have endured and accomplished has earned us the respect to set our own pace. I practice attentiveness every day and I can’t even begin to count the benefits. Thanks for writing, Crystal.

  4. “I’ve earned this pace.” Yes, you have. And gosh, I love that expression. I can apply it all over my life; to the speed at which I think through challenges, the speed at which I get around to vacuuming, the speed at which I gulp up new life experiences even if it can get stressful. I’ve lived long enough to have earned the right to do it exactly my way. Wow. Thank you for that perspective. The photos here and the trail are outstanding. You have this connection to the plants and animals that comes through in the images. I am so sorry about the loss of your friend Shelly, and especially glad that she showed you early on that you are valuable. I felt your grief with you (your writing always gets through), and the views of your majestic mountain helped ease that for me, which of course it also did for you. <3

  5. I am facing the loss of a dear friend… and contemplating the size hole she will leave in my life and many others… this makes me weep. And thank you for that.

    • I am so sorry to hear. Even as our capacity for love and kindness grows as we do, there is still the unmistakable sadness that comes with absence. I am with you in spirit, my friend 💕

  6. This one really packs a punch, Bon. Such a sweet compelling story, of loss amid all that grandeur. The juxtaposition threatens to rend my heart, and she’s a stranger to me. Thus is the power of Story. Your Superpower, Babe…*

    • Thanks. Mare * When I visited the cemetery as I do every few years, I am struck by two things: the tree near her headstone that was a sapling back then and is a maker of shade now. And how the memories flood back so vividly. I remember the rose her father handed me and the Bread song her boyfriend cried through as he played it at her service. Memory is such a gift. Kindness matters.

  7. Beautiful Bonnie. Your words and visits are a wonderful tribute to your friend. Great captures too. Thank you for sharing. Joyce aka njoychase 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Joyce. I truly believe we are changed by what and who we love. And we never really know the distance a kindness can travel.

    • Thank you BR, for your thoughts on hiking and challenges and loss. I love it all, and of course your photos are stunning. Tattoo’d on my brain: “I’ve earned this pace.” Keep on playing!

      • Yes, I think it’s true that we earn the pace we keep as we slip into the autumn of our lives. I’m always amazed by what this body of mine allows me to do. Thanks for being here. It’s the people in my life that give it width and depth.

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