Thoughts on “The End of Nature”

The Snows of Mount Rainier

A series of articles inspired by Bill McKibben’s “The End of Nature.” The real world consequences of humankind’s permanent altering of the physical nature of the only home we will ever know in this life.

Mount Rainier, Wash. State, before the snow and ice melted.
Photo by Jordan Steranka on Unsplash

In the year of Our Lord, 2021, the snow and ice on the northwest side of The Mountain has disappeared.

The peak I gaze on now is not the friendly, snow-capped peak I recall from even a few short years ago. What has replaced her is an ugly, grayish-brown hunk of rock. Unstable. Scary. Unfamiliar.

I gaze every now and then at the picture I took of The Mountain six years ago, on the edge of Lake Tapps near my house. The picture that has long been the home screen of my cell phone and serves as the background on my Twitter and Facebook pages. That’s The Mountain I know. My Mountain.

I gaze longingly at this picture, knowing that her peak once held the largest continuous glacier system south of Alaska. Whether this is true today, I’m uncertain. Because we altered nature, we changed my Mountain.

We changed the face of my friend.

The new face, I know, is permanent. I know that I will never see the snow covering the surface of my Mountain. A face that has greeted me since my youth. After a year of extreme loss; of my father, my aunt, and so many friends and influences; and a continual fear of my own demise, this loss cuts to the core of my being.

I felt this coming at the end of June, when our altering of the chemical make-up of the planet itself resulted in a record-breaking series of 100 + degree days. A record for much of the Pacific Northwest.

It was the second day of the extreme heat that I walked the half block from my house to the edge of the lake, to check on the health of my Mountain. I knew that the year before had stripped more snow from her face than I could recall in my over thirty years as a Washington State resident. I feared the worse.

As I stood across the street, standing near the edge of the lake, with a full view of my Mountain, the early morning’s heat a harbinger of the swelter that was to come once again; my worst fears had been realized.

The snows from the northwest flank that had nearly disappeared the previous August had already melted. And summer was just starting. I felt a pain of sadness at the loss of my friend. Of anger, at my years of complacency in the face of the truth of climate change; and my enabling of the selfish, spoiled voices who had taken one of the most precious things from me.

I knew it was only going to get worse.

Reports from local and some international outlets would later echo my concerns, but few would admit the reality of why: we changed nature.

I thought back to why my Mountain was so precious to me, and how, after a year and a half of mind-numbing loss, did I feel such pain for what was little more than rock, fire and ice.

It’s emotional for me, because like most things, it’s connected deeply to my life.

I turned five in Tucson, Arizona; three days after The New Yorker magazine published the landmark essay, The End of Nature, by a young author, named Bill McKibben.

I wasn’t aware of Bill McKibben’s piece, or that, in the span of a few short months, we would trade our Cold War obsession for the cult of Self, and the gospel of More.

But, in November 1989, the world did change; and so did my life. That’s when my family and I moved from the deserts of Tucson, to the forests of Kent, Washington.

For the first few months of my life in the Pacific Northwest, I lived in an apartment not far from the Kent-Des Moines Road, just a short walk from the Green River. I found the woods of the Kent Valley so different from the heat and dust I’d left behind. To me, this world was new; it was cool, refreshing, and to me, exciting.

It was from this vantage point that I first saw my Mountain.

I never forgot the first time I saw the snow-capped peak of Mount Rainier. She towered over the surrounding peaks of what I later learned were the ancient volcanos of the Cascade Range. I’d never seen anything like it before. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

Every day, when we left on an errand in Kent, Renton or Des Moines, or drove along I-5, my Mountain was there. I spend several minutes just staring out my car window, amazed.

By the time we moved to Federal Way, I had learned that my Mountain was, in fact, a volcano. An active one. I was obsessed with National Geographic, and would be glued to the TV, as the images of Hawaii’s volcanos spewing red, hot, fiery lava from their flanks.

As I stared at my Mountain from 320th, just behind K-Mart, I would imagine the same red hot liquid erupting from her summit, as well. To this day, I can still see that image in my mind.

My Mountain, with her white, snow-capped peak, followed me when I moved to Bonney Lake/Lake Tapps, when I was twelve. I wasn’t prepared for the greeting I would get when I crested the top of Eli Hill on Highway 410.

My Mountain appeared right in front of me, as if I could just reach out my hand and touch her snow.

In the years since, I have been to Paradise Inn, and hiked the trails surrounding my Mountain; her presence real and tangible among the trees, rocks, and birds that surround her flanks.

It’s an image that greets me today, only now, all I see is the face of a stranger.

Years ago, as I was weaned on the cult of Self, and the gospel of More, I was told that environmentalists, like Bill McKibben, were closet socialists. Obsessed with destroying America, Christ and capitalism; selling it to the demonic hordes of paganism, nature worship, the UN, and the dreaded One World Order.

There stories of rising seas and melting glaciers, exaggerations to keep their sheeple in line and afraid; willing to sacrifice anything to this new, ancient god. The seas would never rise, and the glaciers would never retreat.

This wouldn’t happen, I was assured, over and over.

God was in control, He wouldn’t never let that happen. God would take care of us. After all, we were the chosen, the saved; the elect. There was nothing our God wouldn’t save us from.

I think back on these words as I gaze at the stranger that was once my Mountain. I also think of the warnings I read from Bill McKibben, Bill Nye, Michael Mann and other scientists I was told to ignore, but somehow, never could.

I look back in regret and sadness, knowing that we should have done more.

We can still do more, but I know, that in my lifetime, I will never again gaze upon the face of my friend, of my Mountain. Like my father, my aunt, my friends and influences, she will be, for as long as I live, just another memory.

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Tiffany Elliott

Writer with 15 + years experience; journalist, editor, freelancer, and play write. Advocate for the arts and rights of expendables. tiffanyelliott84@gmail.com