The Mountain

Whatever her name may be, she is more than just a rock towering into the sky. She is a living creature that opens your eyes to a whole new world.

She goes by many names. Some call her Tacoma. Others refer to her by Rainier. Less common are the names Talol, Tahoma, Tahima, Tacobeh and Pooskaus. The locals simply call her “The Mountain”. She is the tallest peak in the state of Washington and demands respect; flaunting 26 glaciers and taunting climbers to conquer her summit. She is impressive in every sense of the word and leaves you feeling almost heartbroken as you leave her when your time is over.

Our four days at Mount Rainier National Park felt like a month. Each day brought new spectacular sights. Ranging from waterfalls to glaciers, The Mountain was a world of its’ own. The first day we spent trekking up to Comet Falls. It was a rather exhausting hike, but I wouldn’t rate it as challenging. The inline was impressive; lined with beautiful pines creating intricate root pathways. Evelyn instantly opted for a bird’s eye view on top of Daniel’s shoulders while Alexander and I lagged behind in awe of the pace he established as he rucked with a forty-pound child sitting on top of his backpack that weighed at least another 30lbs. As that duo raced up the layers of rock and roots, Alexander and I took turns taking pictures of the water, trees, path and whatever caught our eye. When we grew tired, we talked about will-power, determination, and what a real winner was. I explained to him that giving up was the only way you would lose in life. You may not win a race or a game, but giving up was a guarantee that you would never reach that finish line. When we reached the falls, he knew that while he wasn’t the first person up that mountain, he still made it to the top. He was still one of the few who was able to sit on the ice while feeling the water mist over him as it plummeted into the river below. It was a victory in itself. A life lesson that would not be soon forgotten.

Day two was a bit simpler as we stayed in the wooded section. We started by stopping at Reflection Lake and letting Daniel get his cold water fix. Then we headed over to the Box Canyon and a section of the Wonderland Trail. As we walked through the forest, the lush greenery engulfed us. The trees took on new life as they grew in ways that seemed physically impossible. The flowers looked like they belonged in a Dr. Seuss book and the serenity was beyond description. The kids took off along the trail and discovered huge Red Cedar trees that had fallen during the winter. The giant beauties made one realize how small we are and how even the greatest, most powerful entities can come crashing down with the right combination of elements. The environment helped me realize just how small all of our problems are in relation to the world.

 

Day three is what I think of as my reward day. We drove towards Sunrise Visitor Center, looking for a great hiking spot with a spectacular vantage point. We got just that. We parked at the White River Campgrounds (all roads past that were still snowed in). We hiked on a trail that lead to a breathtaking view of Emmons Glacier. The trail was perfect for the kids as we meandered across one side of a mountain, over a river and to another ledge. While working our way up the ledge, a beautiful turquoise color glimmered through the trees on the other side. We soon caught a glimpse of one of the most beautiful and secluded alpine lakes I have ever dreamt about. It took us longer than expected to navigate a wildlife trail down to the water, but the event was worth it. The water was gorgeous and felt amazing. The first two feet of it was warm, reminding me of the Emerald Coast waters in Florida. Then, as my feet sunk down, the water turned crisp and cold. As I treaded, the water churned and the warmth gave in to the icy glacier water beneath. It made me want to stay in that piece of heaven forever. However, the trail still beckoned us towards the view of The Mountain and Emmons Glacier.

We made our way back up to the top of the ridge and walked along the cliff as far as the trail led. While it was simple, it gave one the sense of true adventure and conquest. The landscape was practically untouched and the glacier added so much depth and mystery to The Mountain. Cracks and crevices littered the untouched snow. Rocks struggled to emerge from the ice, even if just by a bit. It was almost as though the glacier was calling for us to dare attempt its assent. Showing us that only the most worthy opponents would ever reach the summit.

IMG_2257

After that third day, I didn’t think there would be anymore surprises that The Mountain had in store for me. Day four was meant to be a simple day that included the kids getting their Junior Ranger badges and a short hike. It turned out to be the most inspiring day of the trip; not because of what the mountain did for me, but what it did for my daughter. As we exited the truck, getting ready to start our hike, Evelyn became upset that she didn’t have a pack like the rest of us. Alexander had been carrying his own Camelbak with enough water for both him and his sister. I explained to Evelyn that she had to show us that she was big enough to hike trails all on her own, without asking to be carried. The fire in her eyes lit up and she instantly pushed ahead of us to be the “trail leader”. We first visited some mineral springs on a short and touristy path. That path led us to another that was said to have beautiful scenic view at a certain point. No one realized that by the time the day was over, we would have hiked over 1400 feet in elevation and nearly seven miles. The trail was serene and once again, we were nearly alone and isolated. We reached yet another section of the Wonderland Trail (it is a 93-mile trail around Mount Rainier) and finished right before the sun set. The entire trip was filled with laughter, chatter, and conversation. Not a single complaint left Evelyn’s mouth. She was determined to prove herself worthy. That she did.

While this may not seem so inspiring to most people, it left me speechless. She is only four years old and is by far the most stubborn, decisive and independent women I know. She showed me that it doesn’t matter how big you are, you can still make it in this world. She taught me that it only takes one step after another to reach your goal. She taught me that complaining isn’t going to help you get there. Now when I think about saying that someone (especially myself) can’t do something, I think of Evelyn and Longmire.

Although we were only on The Mountain for four short days, I have a different perspective of this life I was given. Lately I have been told that I haven’t had the best of luck. I understand how someone on the outside could say that when they see the black and white. Words like blindness, autoimmune, disability seem to make a person feel helpless. It is frustrating to not be able to do the same things you know that you are capable of doing. It is hard to face it and even harder to accept it. However, The Mountain changed that.

Mount Rainier. Mount Tacoma. Whatever you choose to call her, know that she is not just a mountain; she is an experience. She gives you a way to challenge yourself, discover your possibilities and face your fears. She taunts you to push yourself to another level and then rewards you in ways that only she can conjure. She showed me life in a different light. Even if the cards I have been handed recently aren’t the greatest (according to some people), I still know that I am the luckiest woman in this world to have such an inspiring family and a life that enables me to appreciate all this world has to offer. She showed me how blessed I am, no matter what life has in store for me.

IMG_1911

The Mountain.

Claustrophobia and the Grand Canyon

Claustrophobia and the Grand Canyon. How one saved me from the other.

Claustrophobia. The fear of tight spaces. It is a very common fear and well known. Up until recently, I thought that it was a fear that a person was born with. I had never had this fear. I could crawl in the tightest spaces, unafraid of anything. However, a couple months ago, I learned what claustrophobia was… the hard way.

I was laying in an MRI machine again. With the rapid progression of my visual loss and the way my body has been attacking itself, it was no surprise that yet another MRI was ordered. I’ve had several and tried to approach this one on the light side as though it was another well-deserved nap since my body was continuously running on empty lately. I laid down on the cold, hard table and the technician placed the face mask over my head. In my mind, I remember thinking not to comment about feeling like a hockey player and just relax. So I did. I fell asleep quite quickly since lately my energy levels had been nonexistent. All of a sudden something happened. I think I went to swallow some saliva and ended up choking instead. Worst possible thing to happen in the middle of an MRI. With a face mask tightly secured, I couldn’t sit up. Frantically, I hit the panic button. Again and again and again. My eyes popped open and all I could see was this shield blocking my face; immobilizing me. Keeping me from fresh air… from breathing. I reached for the mask, trying to rip it away. The technician came into the room and retracted the table as slowly as I thought was humanly possible.

When I finally was able to sit up and gasp for breath, the technician looked at me in amazement. She asked me what happened and all I could tell her was that I started choking. When she asked me if I wanted to come back to redo the MRI, I told her that I was able to finish and that it was just a random occurrence and that I was ok to complete the procedure. Turns out: I wasn’t. That simple occurrence made me develop this random thing that is called claustrophobia. I was terrified of that mask being secured over my face again. I laid down and the moment it went over my head, I freaked out and jumped up again. My heart raced. My anxiety was through the roof. What happened to that nice nap I had expected? Now, it had been replaced by fear.

I knew that if I was going to make it through this procedure the way things were progressing. I had to calm myself. I didn’t want her to know what was going on so I asked for a drink. I knew that seeing that mask cover my face would elicit the panic I felt. So I took a drink and closed my eyes. I laid down and took deep breaths. The sound of the mask clicking into place raised my heart rate but I knew if I opened my eyes, the panic would take control. I too a deep breath and pictured a place I had never been. A place open and wide. A place bigger than life: the Grand Canyon.

The remainder of the MRI, I took myself to a place I had only seen in pictures. The Grand Canyon. It was a place that was deep and vast, open and wide, free of anything confining. I felt myself standing on the edge of a cliff with my kids as the wind flowed through my hair. Nothing held me back. Inside, there was still fear that everything would cave in and that I would choke to death, but I made my mind believe that there was a place that this could never happen.

That is how I made it through that day. Even after the radiologist ordered contrast and I had to endure another thirty minutes of deep breaths and my imagination taking me to a far away place. The Grand Canyon saved me from claustrophobia.

Today, I finally made it to the Grand Canyon. While my imagination did a pretty good job letting me know the freedom it brings, my mind did not do it justice when it comes to the depth and magnitude it holds. While sitting on the edge of a cliff, my husband said it perfectly “you can feel it’s silence”. In fact, it is so large and powerful; you feel as though nothing can escape its’ greatness. It is deafening. Frightening. Calming. Tranquil. For the first time since that MRI, I felt as though everything was okay. I was just a dot on this Earth that existed in such a small amount of time. My panic and fear was not even an blip in history. The greatness of the canyon was almost too much to take in; a counterbalance of what the mask felt like in the machine.

Now as I sit writing for the first time of that new fear, I feel a sense of relief and gratitude. Maybe I was meant to know what it was like to feel constrained and fearful so then I understood the relief of being free and grateful. Maybe I would not feel the greatness that the canyon holds if I had never felt the restraints of being out of control.

I would love to sit here and describe the Grand Canyon to you. I would love to tell you about the way the layers of rock and earth delicately fall upon one another. How the stone is older than the dinosaurs and how water and wind eroded the land to form the beautiful landscape. However, the Grand Canyon can’t be described. It can only be felt. Lived. Seen. It is a monument that pictures can only capture the surface of the power that it holds.

While I sat in that MRI, imagining myself at the Grand Canyon, I saw a beautiful canyon with an open horizon before me. Freedom and solitude that I needed to get through a procedure. Today, I saw time. Evolution. Peace and serenity. Today, I saw Mother Nature in all her beauty. Today I witnessed the power of the Grand Canyon.