Guest Author - Phyllis Doyle Burns
For years I have wandered
In other lands to roam
Searched for peace and pondered
Will I ever find my home?
White Mountain stands calm there
No longer will I wander and roam
She knows the heart is still aware
Tahoma is calling me home.
- Phyllis Doyle Burns, August 2011
The ancient ones called her Talol, Tahoma or Tacoma. The Puyallup tribe gave her the Lushootseed word Talol which means Mother of Waters. To some she was simply called White Mountain. I grew up knowing her as Mt. Rainier. To be back once again in the presence of her beauty is always a part of my thoughts. Mt. Rainier is calling to me to come home.
West of the Cascade Mountains stands Mt. Rainier, beautiful, majestic, looming over all the land. She is in a beautiful setting where oceanic waters are fascinating to watch -- peaceful and serene in some areas yet wild and treacherous in others. Here coastal rock formations provide natural caves and areas to explore. The 14,411 foot high pyramid shaped mountain has stood sentinel for over 500,000 years to watch over the entire scenic view.
For over 10,000 years this has been the home of the Klamath, Nez Perz, Puyallup, Nisqually, Muckleshoots, Yakimas, Chinook, Chehalis, and many other Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest. The heritage of these people is rich and colorful. Life was good for them and they had an abundance of food and natural supplies for clothing, masks, ceremonial objects, plank homes, and canoes. Their legends are as rich and memorable as their culture and their land.
There is one legend about Sluiskin, Mount Rainier's most famous Indian, which reveals much about the complexity of the Indian relationship to Mount Rainier. In 1870, Sluiskin served as guide to a party of white men who were intent on climbing Mount Rainier. As this early climbing party approached the lower slopes of the mountain, Sluiskin grew more and more despondent. Finally, on the eve of the ascent, he warned the white men not to attempt the climb or they would be punished by demons. He told his white companions of the angry spirit that agitated Tahoma and inhabited a "lake of fire" at the top. Sluiskin stopped at the camp and refused to go any further up the great mountain. The white men, undaunted, successfully reached the summit the next day where they took shelter in the warm steam vents that Sluiskin had apparently alluded to, and returned to camp on the day following. Sluiskin, who had given them up for dead, greeted them with cries of "Skookum tillicum! Skookum tumtum!" ("Strong men! Brave hearts!")
The Native Americans who lived near the mountain had many legends about it which they passed down from generation to generation. The legends spoke of the "Lake of Burning Fire" near the summit of "Tahoma" which was the Chinook Nations name for Mt. Rainier meaning "snow or ice peak."
To many tribes, mountains were the home of supernatural and sacred beings. The "tomanowos" caused avalanches and volcanic eruptions on Tahoma. The Indians did not attempt to climb high above the snow line. Tahoma became associated with mystery and danger. Tatoosh, the Thunder Bird lived in the mountains. He shook the mountains with the flapping of his wings and the flashing of his eye was the lightning. In order to soften his anger his picture is painted everywhere. Often he is represented by a single eye which is woven or painted on their possessions.
A Klamath belief is about Kemush, Old Man of the Ancients. Kemush had sprung from the ashes of the northern lights and made the world at the call of the Morning Star. At first, Kaila, the earth, had been flat and bare. Then Kemush planted the grass and roots and trees. He added the ducks, geese, deer, fox, sheep and bear. But Maidu, the Indian, was not yet created. Kemush, with his daughter, Evening Sky, went to the Place of the Dark. For five nights he danced in a great circle with the spirits of the dark. The spirits were without number, like the leaves on the trees. But when Shel, the sun, called to the world, the spirits became dry bones.
On the fifth day, when the sun was new, Kemush rose and put the dry bones into a sack. Then as he followed the trail of Shel, the sun, to the edge of the world, he threw away the bones. He threw them away two by two. To Kta-iti, place of steepness, he threw two. To Kuyani Shaiks, the crawfish trail, to Molaiksi, steepness of snow, and to Kakasam Yama, mountain of the great blue heron, to each he threw two bones. Thus people were created. The dry bones became Maidu, the Indian; Aikspala, the people of the chipmunks; and last of all, Maklaks, the Klamath Indian.
Then Kemush followed the trail of Shel, the sun, climbing higher and higher. At the top of the trail he built his lodge. Here still lives Kemush, Old Man of the Ancients, with his daughter, Evening Sky, and Wanaka, the sun halo.
Once one has lived in the profoundly beautiful area in sight of Mt. Rainier, it becomes a part of you. It is always 'home' in the heart.
Mt. Rainier Over Tacoma
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