Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Mountains Are Out

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, my mother gave me a mask with a Canadian flag design. Despite taking it on my walks with Bear, I’ve managed to go a whole year without losing my Canada mask. Or my Canada toque. 

On a recent walk through Boulevard Park, a young woman saw my mask and asked, “Excuse me, do you know the name of that crooked mountain across the border?”


Yes I do.   

During my first few years in Bellingham, we lived in a rental house on the other side of campus. My bathroom window faced north. On a clear day the first thing I could see was Canada. 


My eyes were always drawn to a pair of jagged snow-capped peaks – the same mountain that the young lady in Boulevard Park asked me to identify. It’s due north of Bellingham and visible all over town from vistas like the Boardwalk, or the lawn of Old Main, or when you’re stuck in traffic on Meridian Street.  

As I wrote in an early blog essay, Photographic Memories,” I tried to identify the double-peaked mountain from my viewpoint in our previous neighborhood. I got out a detailed topographical map of the region, but I couldn’t translate the images in my brain into the spatial information on the map. 

A couple of years ago I moved one hill further west of campus, to a mid-century ranch house that came with two Aussiedoodles. Bear and I began miles of daily walking therapy together, healing and thinking as we explored Bellingham’s historic neighborhoods and waterfront.


On a typical walk Bear and I can see four mountain ranges:  the Cascades to the east, the Olympics to the south, Vancouver Island to the west, and British Columbia’s Coast Range to the north. From the Boardwalk and Boulevard Park we have a particularly good view across the border to the peaks of the Coast Range. With the benefit of our improved perspective, I figured out that the jagged double peak is named “Golden Ears.” It even has its own Provincial Park


The snow-covered massif to the east of Golden Ears is named “Mount Robie Reid.” Originally the mountain was referred to as “Old Baldy.” But it was renamed in 1944 after Robie Lewis Reid, a prominent lawyer, historian, and educator with a full head of hair

Reid was born in Nova Scotia in 1866. He moved to British Columbia at age nineteen, and was one of the first candidates to pass the provincial teaching examination. After a couple of years as a rural school teacher, Reid ran away to law school at the University of Michigan. He then practiced law for a few years in Bellingham, just down the hill from us in Fairhaven, before finally being “called to the bar” in Vancouver in 1893. 

I’m still waiting for my call. 

The Coast Range continues west from Mount Robie Reid and Golden Ears to the familiar landmarks looming above Vancouver – twin Lions, Capilano and Lynn Canyons, 2010 Winter Olympic venues at Cyprus Bowl, Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour.


If you draw a straight line northwest from our house to the Lions, it will pass through both the Bellingham Yacht Club and the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club in Stanley Park. I’ve done the math.

At night, folks in Bellingham can see the ski slopes lit up like a beacon from the Promised Land:

For the last decade, the biggest annual fundraising event for Vancouver Men’s Chorus has been a musical revue entitled “Singing Can Be A Drag.” Each spring the queens and their vast retinue put on two shows a night at intimate theatres in Vancouver and New Westminster, wowing sold-out audiences of donors and other liquored fans. The key rule: No Lip Synching! Instead, the most talented individual soloists from VMC put on stunning performances of their favourite songs, live and in full voice, backed up by a band and scantily-clad dancing boys, all in fabulous outfits and stiletto heels. 


Last March I had a ticket for the final Saturday night performance of Singing Can Be A Drag. Here’s what I naively posted to Facebook on my way to attend what the men of VMC now refer to as “The Last Show on Earth”:


After a few extra questions, the nice folks at Canada Customs let me cross the border in my first attempt since coronavirus. I’m not sure I can face their hostile counterparts at US Border Patrol. So as soon as I finish my coffee I’m going to go apply for asylum in Canada as a refugee. In the meantime, please pitch in and help my parents take care of my kids until they go back to school in six weeks. Hopefully.


Instead, after the drag show I drove home to be with my family. The Peace Arch gates have been closed ever since. But the kids are finally back in school.

Folks who live in the Puget Sound area to the south of us can see only two mountain ranges: the Cascades to the east and the Olympics to the west. Their view is dominated by Mount Rainier’s massive volcanic cone, towering above the rest of the Cascades at the sound end of the Sound. The local tribes called the mountain “Tahoma” or “Tacoma.” When Captain George Vancouver charted the coast in the 1790s, he named the prominent peak after one of his British Navy buddies, Peter Rainier. 


In addition to appearing on our license plates, Mount Rainier also inspired a popular local expression. Whenever the sky is clear we say “the mountain is out.”

Before moving to Bellingham, I used to work with Washington’s bar, community, and nonprofit organizations that promote diversity and inclusion, particularly in the legal profession. A few years ago I was one of the speakers at a legal diversity event in the South Sound. 


Olympia is the nation’s third smallest state capital, a sleepy town at the foot of Mount Rainier. Several justices of the Washington Supreme Court were also in attendance, including now-Chief Justice Steven González. I spoke about the power of implicit bias and stereotypes – surprising many in the audience with the revelation that I’m not Jewish but Justice González is, and that he’s fluent in Japanese while I speak Korean. (Chief Justice González’s father is Mexican-American, his mother is a Jewish New Yorker, and he was majoring in East Asian Studies at the same time I was a Mormon missionary in Korea). It takes hard work to see clearly.


It also takes hard work to be seen clearly. Every LGBT individual is held hostage by the tyranny and lure of the closet. I chose to embrace liberty and honesty by coming out and staying out decades ago. Now I’m learning how to live openly with mental illness.


Our Olympia diversity forum happened to be on a cloudy day. So I ended my remarks with the reminder that even when the mountain isn’t out, Mount Rainier is still there. 

I moved to Vancouver when I was two years old, but moved away when I was a teenager. Although I've spent most of my life in nearby exile, I will always be Canadian. Even after one year, two months, and twenty-seven days of border closure. So far. 


Bear and I walk along the Bellingham waterfront every day. Usually we can see Golden Ears and Mount Robie Reid. Often we can see the ski slopes and the Lions above Vancouver. But sometimes all we can see are clouds to the north.


Fortunately, whether the mountains are out or not, I know Canada is still there.

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