black diamonds

It was last Sunday when I detoured briefly in the Cascade Mountains above Seattle at Snoqualmie Pass so my oldest could hop out of the car to schuss, swish and whatever else winter alpinists do on a snowy mountainside for all of an afternoon (this used-up body doesn’t schuss which is just as well considering the pastime requires substantial, nay obscene outlays of greenbacks). We stuffed his pockets with salami, shatter-prone crackers, chocolate bar, iPod (an exception to our usual rule since none of his friends were free to get out of town for the day on such short notice so he was thrilled about skiing to his own meticulously-curated soundtrack), extra gloves and other small essentials before he hobbled away like a rusty robot in plastic boots with skis and poles slung over his shoulder, this twelve year old aimed for the nearest elevator to the sky. You would have seen me shaking my head and smiling at my baby boy, tackling the hardest black diamonds in his second season and starting to ask about Alpental (the hill across the Pass where the bigger kids show off). It’d be disingenuous to deny feeling a little wistful about skiing with the boys but mostly that biz is too much like roller skating at the playground. I’m glad when the snow melts and a lotta those other kids take their doo-dads and go home. It was brilliantly azure over the Pass but I descended to the eastern, hazier side of the crest and that’s where I headed for a quiet walk in the woods on the edge of a former coal town.

November 2017 - Snoqualmie Pass Snow-33

Later on, the pull of the tall, century-old slag heap was irresistible, the views called my name through wind whistling the boughs of Ponderosa and Grand Fir but I regretted my decision halfway up the cindery-pile of coal and pumice when my choice of walking surface revealed itself to be a slippery, congealed strata of toxic poopy mush. The metal roofs of the scrappy town below reflected brightly in the early-afternoon sunshine and blue-green ridges extended in several directions, it’s no wonder Hollywood filmed a hit television series here. The appealingly rustic village isn’t as hardscrabble as it used to be judging from the sporty Volvos and Land Cruisers parked in some of the driveways of tiny miner cottages-turned-second homes but in the 1920s coal was absolutely king here. Our house was even built by coal, but that’s a different story. At any rate, it was a slippery, black diamond (over black diamonds) on the way down and the bottom of my shoes accumulated several pounds of sedimentary paste that left me feeling positively magnetic-attached to the ground but, most of all: No jesting, behind me for nearly a mile in the slippery snow were those coal-goop footprints seemingly extending to infinity.  That jolly cross country skier whisking along behind three humongous hairy white dogs chuckled and pointed behind me: Sure ya betcha I nodded on my merry way to various points of historic interest including concentrators and whatnot (did I say no adrenaline?). It was a nice walk.

Five hours later, Adam joyously menaced me at forty to zero with a mischievous smile on his face, skidding to a devilishly-too-close-for-my-comfort stop on vanished corduroy, his flowing locks framing apple red cheeks. He pleaded for a few more runs since the lift lines had dwindled to practically nothing so I admired a pretty sunset before carrying on a humorously shivery FaceTime with Uncle Eric.

There’s a winter storm warning for tonight so you can imagine Adam was fairly excited when I dropped him off at school with his skis, he rides a bus up to the Pass in the afternoon and gets hours of turns into the night. After school this afternoon, Oliver Fern and I will listen to the sounds of humpback whales on the stereo. Yesterday, we did that for more than an hour because this week he wants to be a marine biologist.

8 thoughts on “black diamonds

    • This time it was sort of two-adventures-in-one……a person could say. Though I suppose clumsily scrambling up a coal slag heap isn’t much to write home about, is it? Hope this finds you well on the other side of the pond. Sending a friendly ripple your way, Dan…..

  1. Really striking photo, Jason – – I guess because I’ve spent the biggest part of my life only a few hundred feet above sea level, being up above the clouds in those craggy-looking mountains looks kind of intimidating, and the empty chairlift against a dark sky, might be an update on Charon’s ferryboat. 😊 I enjoyed skiing the tame trails in high school, then mostly time/money has kept me away. Your son sounds like he’s got impressive skills for 12-yr-old.

    I didn’t know they’d ever done coal-mining in the NW, my paternal grandparents were originally from the anthracite region of PA, so I’ve seen those huge slopes of tailings, although I never tried walking across them, everybody told me the slate was so slippery, it was a great place to break an ankle. And my great uncle mentions that tanker trucks from Jersey used to drive up there at night, dumping god-knows-what chem waste, so not a healthy hiking situation.
    But I enjoy the image of your trail of black footprints, getting bigger on sunny days, and reinforcing the Sasquatch stories. There’s a bicycle trail going north from Ithaca, on what used to be the Black Diamond line – the Lehigh and Pennsylvania RR’s ran from where my grandparents lived, up to Lake Ontario, where they had a trestle sticking out over the lake, so the cars could dump directly into ships. I’m not an advocate for burning coal, but I’m sorry that trestle burned down, it was somehow rigged up to shake the hopper cars, which must’ve been fun to see.

    • Speaking of railroads, that’s kinda neat Finger Lakes Railway headquarters was next to your grade school. Was it only the headquarters or were there also literally trains rumbling past your classroom windows? Adam’s junior high is next to a big bakery and there are bright yellow eighteen wheeler bread delivery tractor trailers parked all around the school. The smell of fresh-baked goods travels for several blocks around!

      • I’d love to have an apt over a bakery, I’m traveling right now, Guadalajara, and there’s one next to the hotel, I love the good smell.
        Yeah, the tracks went right by the school, and right through Waterloo and Seneca Falls. They aren’t doing any passenger runs now, but talk about rebooting that, and keep pretty busy hauling fertilizer, scrap metal, etc. and potash/lime/silica (I think?) for a big glass factory in Geneva.
        The school was great, a “multi-age” experiment that we all loved (some idiot administrator shut it down a few years later). The school was between two towns, so it was called “Border City,” which I always thought was an excellent name.

  2. What was the show? Northern Exposure? Twin Peaks?

    Happy hour has been replaced by helicopter hour on the Hill. I meant to make a note of when I first heard the sound. I forgot to. Was enjoying reading this too much. I wanted to scroll back to find something pre-COVID, before we really knew what was about to hit us. This didn’t disappoint. Hope there’s skiing this season for your boy.

    And marine biology sounds like a wonderful field. I’m a climate change believer, so it’s without exaggeration that I say Oliver Fern might witness the last days of aquatic wonders.

    • Northern Exposure (in Roslyn). It ran essentially during my undergrad college years when I didn’t have a television so I completely missed out on it though I’ve heard frequent local pop culture references to it over the years so I knew of it. I could just be remembering wrong but didn’t you post pictures from there a few years ago on WordPress after you’d day-tripped there? I think the reason I specifically remember that is because it was when I first started acquiring a real interest in your blog. Or I really I’m just getting a bit senile. For whatever reason, my memory isn’t as good as it used to be.

      On the bright side regarding aquatic wonders and marine biology, I’m pleased to report we saw a ton of sea stars on the beach this morning (it was an exceptionally good minus tide). I don’t know what the official word is on their recovery from the mysterious wasting disease that began to impact starfish population numbers around the Sound a few years ago, but anecdotally speaking they’ve been pretty incognito. So it was good to see so many of them. Of course, the minus tide probably has something to do with it.

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