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.