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The high meadows of White Pass: Grandma’s hangout
In the mid-nineteenth century, my grandmother’s great grandparents traveled along the Oregon Trail in search of a better life. My grandmother’s family settled in Camas, Washington. Poor but undaunted, they eked out a life as owners of a small flower shop. Evelyn, was the youngest of eight children. When she was in her 20s, she married a railroad conductor and moved to Yakima, Washington. In 1944, cancer, took her husband’s life. Suddenly, she found herself widowed with one teenage child to feed. Fortunately, a year earlier she landed a teaching job in Yakima. Twenty-five years and thousands of students later, she retired around the same time that I was born.

Grandma’s favorite leisure activity was flower collecting. Each summer she took me up into the hills above Yakima along the eastern slopes of the Cascades to walk the high mountain meadows, searching for the perfect blooms for her pressed flower collection. Under the bright summer sun, these meadows were a sunburst of color, with green, white, and purple hues. Bees floated lazily by, spreading the nectar of life everywhere they went. Snow-tipped peaks beckoned above us. She knew the name of every flower, every tree, every bird. Along the way, we would stop at a mountain lodge to feast on freshly caught trout. What a delicacy!

Like the glaciers, these fragile mountain micro-ecosystems are also under assault from climate change. Meadows supported by glacial runoff are drying up. Insect infestations are stressing the gorgeous but fragile wildflower blooms that my grandmother so loved. As the plants die, so too do the native insects and animals that depend on them for their survival. Grandma’s flower hunting days are over. She died a few years ago at the ripe old age of 102. But I know that if she were still around, she would be saddened by the fact that her favorite natural playground was under threat of destruction.

Essay written by Dr. Jonathan Harrington
Do not reproduce without expressed written permission from the author
2008 All rights reserved


More essays written by Jonathan Harrington on the environmental effects of global warming

Global warming effects on Northwest fish and wildlife

The high meadows of White Pass: Grandma’s hangout

A dying breed: The lodge pole pines of British Columbia