Archive for the ‘Marysville Pilchuck; Mt. Baker; Mt. Pilchuck;Lushootseed;tragedy’ Tag

Red Water   2 comments

Is it not hard to imagine your own language disappearing from the face of the earth?  So many have been the last to utter final words, with no one else to understand their meaning over the last 200 years and I am sure there will be more.  There are words in many languages that have very subtle meanings that are not neatly represented in English.  English does thrive, largely because it is so accepting of outside influences, incorporating the best of many other languages.  There are words that I wish were not there, recently added to the dictionary.  Gaydar, for example.  Which the dictionary defines as a skill only for homosexuals.  Heteros have radars, too!  We at least think we can detect gays in our midst though we are probably often wrong.  So what?! Well, there are people that like, um, burritos, so should we have burritodar in our vocabulary?  I think not!  It is way too awkward, anyway.  Hey! That guy has a very large belly hanging over his belt, big flabby arms and slurred speech.  I detect a binge beer drinker with my beerdar!  Golfer. Pardar.  Sushi eater?  Rawdar.  Kinda silly.  But there are others, as well.  Grrrl is now in the dictionary.  If the young woman is especially hypersexual I guess it could be grrrrrrrrl.  Not sure.  I wish there was no need for the term sexting.    Unfortunately, even though it has applied to me at times, should cyberslacking actually be in the dictionary?  Why not just “lazy at work”.  That covers it.  Some words should be banned, like frankenfood, often used to describe genetically modified foods, which have been genetically modified anyway since, oh, just after Noah started using seeds from plants that had higher production or resisted bugs, just the slow hard way.  The word is cute, sticks, and creates battle lines where science doesn’t support the distinction in terms of health.  So we have to label everything.  Meanwhile, other languages die.

Often when a language dies it leaves behind traces of its former existence, often seen with geographical features.  In the Pacific Northwest, native tribal languages have struggled to survive.  Lushootseed, along with other variants, has barely managed to survive, a language that had only about 100 speakers not too many years ago.  But the tribes involved, probably putting some good use to the tribal gambling casino proceeds, are fighting back and growing the use of the language among tribe members, part of the Salish tribes that once thrived along the coast of Puget Sound.  It is unlikely that much of their everyday vocabulary will spill over into English.  I won’t even attempt   to explain how to pronounce this: ƛ̕ux̌ʷƛ̕ux̌ʷ.  Saying “oyster” will pr0bably remain the dominant way we describe those little fellas!

The list of things that I have been told to do while living here by natives and other transplants is quite extensive.

Ice on a small pond.

Ice on a small pond.

Mentioned by almost everyone, however, was Mt. Pilchuck.  This is easily understandable.  It rises to 5324 feet and though this is not an impressive height, it accomplishes this over only a few miles and is close to Puget Sound.  It really stands out and is famous for having incredible views of the entire region, the sound, Seattle and environs, views of Baker and Rainier, and valleys below.  So wifey, Nana, needed a grandchild fix and was flying off to Southern California.  I decided one Saturday morning, with a weather forecast calling for partly cloudy skies, to climb Mt. Pilchuck.  This implies I though that my conditioning was superior to hers, which, as anyone could tell you that knows me, there is nothing physically obvious about me that suggests this is true.

Fortunately, for me, you do not actually have to climb 5324 feet to get to the top of the mountain.  You drive up a forest service road to a parking area that sits about halfway up the mountain.  The mountain itself is in a state park, but oddly, the trail to the top is still considered federal forest service land.  There is no Mr. Pilchuck.  I googled the name and it did not show up in the first few pages so there may be a Pichuck out there somewhere or a female Pilchick!  Don’t know for sure.  It is actually named after a Lushootseed term that means red water or stream.  I don’t know where that might be but on my travel up the mountain I did not see any red water.  At least the name has roots in the region.

Trail to Mt. Pilchuck.

Trail to Mt. Pilchuck.

The trail up starts out gently enough and actually only rarely becomes very steep, but it is a pretty continuous climb to the top.  The early path leads past small streams and waterfalls through typical Pacific Northwest forest with the older limbs of trees covered in that moss drapery so common in the region.  There had been quite a bit of rain lately so the trail itself was often a small stream but there were always rocks or edginsg of turf that kept me from sinking into mud.  After the trail turns mostly eastward there starts to be more frequent breaks in the trees that allow the opportunity for grand vistas.  But on this day, the view below was like looking into a giant bath with bubbles, oddly lined by evergreens.  There just had to be someone holding their breath under the water out of sight.  And so it was!  There was Mr. Baker!  Far to the north there was a nose protruding from the frothy bubbles.  Mt. Baker was just jutting out above the clouds.

Here is a mountain that clearly does not have a Lushootseed based name.

It is actually named after a 3rd lieutenant in the British navy that had been aboard the exploration focused HMS Discovery.  He was  acquitted after a court martial, having run his ship aground, in later years.  Though acquitted, it does not appear that he was forgiven as he never sailed under any command again.  What a lousy name for such a beautiful, spectacular even, mountain that is at least reasonably accessible and often visible from 70 to 80 miles away.  Well, this mountain was not ignored by the tribes in the area.  They had their own names.  Prominent among these was Qwú’mə Kwəlshéːn.  While perhaps harder to remember and pronounce it at least has connections to the people who discovered it first!  It sorta means white sentinel mountain with a puncture wound.  At least one would have an idea of what type of mountain was being talked about.  Volcanoes clearly have puncture wounds, craters, and even this early in the fall to winter season, this mountain is pretty much covered in snow and ice.  It is also known as Koma Kulshan which evens out some of the phonetic issues when pronouncing its name.

So onward and upward.  As the trail round to the south, small lakes and forest appearing below, the peak of Mt. Pilchuck becomes visible.  Between the top of the bathtub and the peak there were no clouds.

View into the bathtub.

View into the bathtub.

The nose.  Mt. Baker in the distance.

The nose. Mt. Baker in the distance.

One could see into the very far distance nothing but blue past the steep vertical drop on this side of the mountain.  The peak itself was wearing a white feather cap.  Winds were clearly pushing and pulling on the relatively thin layer of clouds there.   While a sight to see from below it foreshadowed a degree of disappointment for the future as the view from above might well be highly compromised.

The trail steepened, often offering the opportunity to look back down the path traveled as one switchbacked up to the ridgeline.  Hitting the saddle yielded another view of the bathtub as bubbles completely occluded the view below.

Mt. Pilchuck-5From here on the trail often became a rocky scramble.  As I climbed, the clouds forming along the ridge began to surround me.  The twisted and weathered branches of trees closer to the top held mantles of snow and ice.  The temperature hovered around 40 Fahrenheit.  Steep cliffs offered nothing but frothy views only to a hundred meters or so.  And then, I was at the top, more or less.  As something of a final taunt, the last yards to the ladder that led to the fire observation tower on top were mostly an undefined workout over steeply angled rock.  But then you were there.

First view of the peak.

First view of the peak.

Mt. Pilchuck-8

The forest service built the lookout in 1918.  To do so they had to dynamite the top of the mountain to have an area flat enough to build.  It was used for over 40 years.  On the way up, and near the top as well, you can see remnants of a ski area that was shut down in 1980 due to issues with the amount of snow produced here.  Mr. Baker, Qwú’mə Kwəlshéːn, to the north does not have a snow problem.  In 1999 that mountain set a world record for recorded snowfall over the winter season.  1, 140 inches.  That is, 95 feet of snow or 29 meters!  Poor little Pilchuck just can’t compare but can win on accessible views as it is far easier to obtain the peak than on Lieutenant “court marshall”  Baker.

So where is it?!  I climb the ladder, fingers freezing, legs aching, look to the south and… nothing but white.  I move around the tower for a more easterly view and can at least see the cliffs in that direction,Mt. Pilchuck-3 looking like a giant ship sinking into cotton candy.  As I move around to the north side, there, finally, the sky in front and above opens to a perfect Carolina blue sky!  (Sorry about that, Washington, that description is going to stick).  At least the cotton candy or bubbles below glisten with occasional breaks.  But, alas, no view of Puget Sound, Seattle, Rainier or much of anything else down below.

But perhaps what was down below was not to be the issue that day.  As I looked at the flag that had been hoisted to the top of this mountain, mere miles from the scene of great tragedy, my thoughts moved inward and upward.  I could only wish that the whiteness of the clouds below represented a certain purity and innocence.  The wind stood the flag straight out.  “Look at me and remember”.   Though only my physical plane had been raised by the hike up, I now had to fight to raise my emotional plane away from the sadness and pain represented by the flag of Marysville Pilchuck High School.  It had only been days since the shootings and young students were still dying from their wounds.  Sadly, the meaning of Pilchuck, red water, seemed a little too appropriate.

Abandoned fire observation tower at the peak.

Abandoned fire observation tower at the peak.

But the flag was put there as a soaring remembrance, and perhaps an act of defiance.

There will be those that cannot now, in their grief, move forward with clear purpose or even contemplate joyful times, but for others, and it is hoped someday for all, there will be an end to the long trail upward, rising above, to seek the crystal, azure skies,  the fog and clouds clearing, for a view of something better.

Marysville Pilchuck High School Flag.  A memorium.

Marysville Pilchuck High School Flag. A memorium.