Looking down for miles through high still air

Last week, my college room mate moved into my living room.

I live in a small, overpriced Seattle apartment with inadequate closet space, so we’re being a bit adventurous here. Hopefully we won’t kill each other before she finds a permanent living situation.

We’ve been doing all sorts of best friend things since she got here after driving across the country with her sister. Happy hour, ice cream, cooking, shopping…it all makes me miss college, except for that whole 10-page-paper-due-on-Monday thing.P1010282

Fire lookouts have fascinated me since high school, back when I read entirely too much obscure Jack Kerouac literature. Back then, I used to think spending an entire season in a spartan cabin on top of a mountain with no human contact for months seemed like a fine idea. I’ve since developed more refined ideas on vacation, but visiting one of Washington’s fire lookouts on a day hike seemed doable. I haven’t read the Beats in years, but their poems and musings, especially about wild America, stuck with me. So it worked out great that our hike on Saturday was to a fire lookout on top of Mt. Pilchuck in the Cascades.

Turns out this was a pretty tough hike, accessible some 7 miles down a primitive forest service road–oops. The guidebook failed to mention that part.

P1010284It also failed to mention the enormous boulders we’d have to scale to get to the ladder that led to the fire lookout. It was crowded, which is what happens on hikes less than 2 hours from Seattle on sunny weekend days, and meant that we had to perch uncomfortably on the lower rocks while those above us descended. Some people had their dogs with them, which is ridiculous because dogs can do a lot of things but they aren’t great at scrambling over boulders.

The view from the top was amazing. Fog and clouds obscured some of the peaks, but mostly we had a 360-degree view of the Cascades, the Olympics, Mt. Rainier, the valley below, and Puget Sound.

Here is a poem written at a fire lookout by one of my favorite poets, Gary Snyder.

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read
A few friends, but they are in cities.
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.

-Gary Snyder

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