In the Presence of Old Friends

 

Places are some of my very best friends.

When I return to a beautiful location that I’ve connected with in the past, it feels like showing up at a dear friend’s front porch who swings open wide the door of warm hospitality, eagerly welcoming me in with genuine laughter, refreshing food and drink, palpable love.

One of these treasured friends is Mount Rainier.

 

 

I first met The Mountain as a five-year-old boy, glimpsing its snowy white broad-shouldered girth from a distance as my mom held me up to see out the kitchen window of our rental house in Washington state.

It would be decades later that I finally encountered 14,409-ft Rainier face to face, in all its shocking glory. It did not take but a single visit to form a bond, and this friendship resulted in years of wide-eyed wonder and the making of many cherished photographic portraits.

 

A summer sunset casts spectacular light on clouds above Mount Rainier at Reflection Lake

A summer sunset casts spectacular light on clouds above Mount Rainier at Reflection Lake

 

Pink and yellow monkeyflowers decorate a tributary of the Paradise River

Pink and yellow monkeyflowers decorate a tributary of the Paradise River

 

In the presence of this majestic mountain 15 years ago I met another friend. I was exploring a forest service road just west of the National Park boundary and somehow managed to navigate a Ford Taurus sedan up a sketchy dirt road and onto a platform overlooking Mount Rainier. As I set up the tripod and camera for a sunset shot, a 4WD truck clambered up this hill and pulled in next to me. The blue-eyed, blonde-haired young man with a slight Polish accent exclaimed, “How did you make it up here in that car!?”

And so began a most amazing connection with a guy who became one of my best friends ever, fellow landscape photographer Slavomir Dzieciatkowski. For a decade and a half we have journeyed together in this life, through many joys and a fair share of sorrows. We’ve grown close in the way I always imagined real brothers would.

When I moved clear across the country two years ago our friendship remained strong thanks to regular emailing, but hanging out in person has become a rare once-a-year treat. This summer we coordinated a camping and photography retreat for the two of us, joined by our very special companion, Rainier.

Driving toward our rendezvous this week, my first glimpse of The Mountain elicited a loud gasp as my heart leaped for joy to be back in the presence of this old friend. And so too when I arrived at camp, my heart leaped for joy as I embraced my old friend Slavomir.

 

 

Summer glacial melt creates a lush grotto in a rugged boulder-strewn ravine on Rainier's slopes

Summer glacial melt creates a lush grotto in a rugged boulder-strewn ravine on Rainier’s slopes

 

I spent three grand days getting reacquainted with my comrade Rainier, hiking high up on his flanks above treeline, discovering sublime compositions along the glacier-fed Paradise River he births, witnessing the spectacle of pink sunset clouds highlighting his noble presence at Reflection Lakes. All the while soaking up great conversation and photographic craft with my sidekick Slav.

One is a very special place. The other a beloved man. Both, I’m quite certain, will remain loyal companions the rest of my days on earth.

 

Swirling water and granite rock are nature's art on the Paradise River

Swirling water and granite rock are nature’s art on the Paradise River

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