When viewed from a distance, Mount Rainier is a lovely thing, a source of pride for many and identity for all. Perhaps no other landmark is such a timeless icon of the Pacific Northwest. Our mountain is recognized around the world as the symbol of a natural wonderland that is unique yet wholly accessible.
As it was with Captain Vancouver in the beginning and long distance viewers today, Mount Rainier on the horizon is indeed a thing of beauty, but it lacks an emotional connection.
When an observer climbs onto the mountain's petticoat, however, that person will more than likely stand awestruck by the scale of the beauty at hand.
A modern pilgrim may visit Mount Rainier once, twice, or a thousand times, but the bond between man and mountain is timeless. The more closely we approach the more she grips the heart.
Moreover, Mount Rainier provides for her myriad lovers generously and in measures often forgotten. The mountain, you see, is at once a playground for the tiniest of wonders and a pulpit from which to view those unthinkably large.
In the latter instance, Mount Rainier is the perfect platform on which to be reminded that the stars are countless in a universe that stretches beyond any concept of time and distance.
Witnesses from whirlwind cities and farm villages are bludgeoned equally by the sheer magnitude and splendor of Mount Rainier's canopy. An astonishing opportunity to experience the mountain's role as a springboard to infinity occurs just past midnight on the twelfth day of August as Earth passes through the tail of comet Swift-Tuttle. It is the focal night of the Perseids meteor shower, and this one may prove to be a classic.
Explorers of the universe may want to be at Mount Rainier for that event. They may choose to enjoy the meteor shower from the luxury of the Summit House Restaurant at Crystal Mountain (for reservations; see calendar of events) or from the clarity of a campsite above society's lights. Some may choose to spend the wee morning hours at the eastern park boundary at Chinook Pass, from which the northeast parade of meteorites may best be seen.
Viewing meteorites is something akin to a fireworks show. The observer is advised to snuggle down in a folding camp chair or lie back on a sleeping bag, feet pointed southwest. The position should provide the hopeful viewer a horizon-to-horizon periphery from which to see the maximum number of tiny meteorites or "shooting stars" from about midnight until first light from the east.
The 2009 Perseids shower is expected to produce from 50 to 80 such flaming displays of celestial flotsam per hour.
The midnight starting time to the adventure is rather arbitrary, but a waxing gibbous moon on the evening of August 11 will keep the smallest meteorites hidden until a bit past the witching hour.
Bring along a blanket to mitigate the high-elevation evening chill and a supply of snacks and cocoa or coffee. Most of all, come share the small hours with friends, family, and engaged strangers as the fabulous Perseid shower unfolds.
There will be sunny afternoons to scour the wildflower meadows for the tiniest of insect eggs and next summer's flower seeds, and mornings to count the Clark's Nutcracker and warblers around the campgrounds or along the Ohanepecosh.
For now, think big. Visit Rainier for the biggest wonder on Earth--the universe!