As the Berry Becomes the Bird

The alarm went off at 3:00 AM and I was out the door at 3:45. I’m here this morning, after a three hour drive, to photograph life and death and evidence of the transition. Sunrise is not necessarily the place you come for an explosion of ground cover. What always screams to me here is the sky … 

There are meadows here quite alive with autumn colors but the real magic of this ever-changing season is happening on the other side of the mountain. At Paradise, there is the clearest evidence of an end to summer, while at Sunrise you are keenly aware of an advancing winter. 

In my quest to witness the transition between life and death  I am reminded that it is less about loss and more about transformation. Just as the fish becomes the heron, so too, does the berry become the bird. Nothing lost, everything transformed. 

The landscape, on and to, the Burroughs Mountain trail seems barren. The pasque-flower seedheads are falling away, the brilliant pink of the mountain heather giving way to a cool rust and the false hellibore is melting into the soil as it waits out another season of snow and ice. 

The wildlife are preparing, too. A stocking up that is in direct contrast to all that is falling away. As I walk through this landscape of boulder and rock, I’m not looking for anything in particular. I’m aware only of movement: birds, wildlife and often, just the copper grasses blowing in the wind.

I’ve seen just five people as I head for Burroughs. Two coming down from Mt Fremont, a ranger doing trail maintenance and a young couple heading down into the park before climbing back out to do the three-day Northern Loop. In this muted display of desolation there are signs of the coming winter. I never feel alone here, it isn’t desolate like that. It’s more an abundance of negative space. The beautiful bones. 

Walking this trail you get a sense of how fragile this place is. Move one tiny rock, and fifty others fall into its abandoned space. I imagine that even a relatively small quake at Rainier’s center could send this entire trail tumbling into Berkeley Park below. It is humbling. 

It’s cold here this morning. Not “I can see my breath in the air cold” but rather “I should have brought gloves” cold. Reaching the top of Burroughs Mountain the sun begins to warm things up and looking towards Second Burroughs and beyond, there is little in the way of shade or cover as I climb. 

Third Burroughs is over 7800 ft in the air. The trip is around 10.5 miles and around 2700 ft of elevation gain, although parts of it feel much steeper. From the trail you find yourself as one part of a triangle of peaks surrounding the Berkeley Park basin. Looking across, I see Skyscraper to my left, Fremont lookout to my right, and then, off in the distance, the flat known as Grand Park. (Is it possible I have still not been here ?!)

At Third Burroughs you come face to face with Her Majesty. As you are staring at this extraordinary mountain your eye follows the Winthrop Glacier down the belly of this beautiful beast. You can hear rock and ice falling in this otherwise eerily quiet space. At my lunch “sit-spot” I shared space with one of the largest ravens I’ve ever seen. I know ravens portend death to some, but for me, it’s more complex than that. It’s as if they are a mystical sort of symbol of transformation. A messenger from beyond, of metamorphosis and change. All the while I’m enjoying my lunch, I can’t help but feel the presence of my friend Di. She brought me here today. 

On my way back down the mountain I was joined by both a handful of people, a small herd of goats and one very fat bear ! If you’ve hiked with me, you know I am always looking … this beautiful cinnamon bear was just thirty yards or so off of the Burroughs trail very near the intersection at Frozen Lake. There was a lot of interest from her in the goats, but the people, not so much. 

The three-plus hour drive home felt endless. At the end of my day I was exhausted. I hadn’t seen news or listened to any of the noise on social media. It is such a nessesary respite from the emotionally charged news cycles and I need it like I need air. If the news and life are the inhale, this walk among the giants and in nature are the exhale. 

I can’t even find the words to comment on the news of the day. All I can say is, please vote. Vote your conscience. Vote your morals. Vote your heart. It isn’t a personality contest. It’s a test of the principles we’ve held dear for 244 years. We need a big, hard reset after these very eye-opening nearly four years. It will take all of us. 

Thank you so much for sharing this space with me. For those who share and comment, thank you. It’s so good to know you are here .