Friday, September 7, 2012

A Mountain of Change

This morning I woke to another crystal clear Seattle late Summer day. The Mountain was out as they say around here, standing boldly in front of my morning commute. Unabashed by the pinks and purples the sunrise painted upon the Mountains facades its confident stature dominated my thoughts. Mt. Rainier is a daunting awesome spectacle. The size of the mountain distorts our since of scale because it starts its accent very close to sea level. It is one of the only mountains in the world of its size that does this, and is why mountain climbers from everywhere use it to practice oxygen support free climbs. The blood cannot adapt to its oxygen gathering task fast enough when one makes such an extreme elevation change in such a short time.

We are not going to be able to adapt to the extremely rapid changes the Mountain is confronted with by climate change either. Historically Mt. Rainier is one of the snowiest places on Earth. The Paradise Ranger Station holds the record for the most accumulated snowfall in a single year, 93.5 feet in 1971. In an average winter approximately 630 inches of snow falls at the ranger station. Snow pack has been decreasing though and flowers are growing were they once could not. Pines are overtaking meadow bogs and some scientists predict a thirty percent loss in snow pack in the Cascade mountain range by 2020.

Because Mount Rainier is a protected area it offers a different look at how temperature and precipitation changes alter the surrounding environment. Nisqually glacier is a great example of this. Measurements of the glaciers outer edge began in the late 19th century. Since the parks formation in 1916 the glacier has receded over a mile up the mountain valley. I can remember driving over the Nisaually bridge in the park in the 1980’s and having a clear view of the glacier. Now it can barely be seen from the bridge. In fact glaciers are very sensitive to atmospheric temperature fluctuations and more than any other piece of data the global glacial recession indicates the climate is warming. In 2005 out of four hundred and forty glaciers being monitored ninety percent were retreating.

The day remained clear and just like the morning it was a crisp cool evening.  Watching the sun set on the Mountain I was reminded of the time I followed the path of a giant orange full moon as it rolled behind the Mountain. I was with a friend who remarked, referring to the giant orange circle before us, that "our culture just doesn't get the circle anymore." I chimed in wondering if western science will ever really explain the universe, because we are trapped in the linear notion of a beginning and an end, but  that the universe is circular. To which my friend replied, “Yea, the universe may be circular, but returning to a specific past is not possible.” Does our expectation of restoration to a specific past inhibit our ability to see the future?

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