“Molten Material” for MATERIAL


California College of the Arts’ Individualized major put out its first annual journal of student work that’s fit to print: writing, photo, thoughts, sketches. You can purchase this beautifully designed (thanks to Joseph Thomas!) little magazine from AlterSpace gallery in San Francisco. It’s $5, I think.

I published this piece about my relationship with Mt. Rainier from growing up in Seattle.

Molten Material

There’s a saying for when the sun shines and the view is crisp and the peak is visible from a glance southwest: we say, “the mountain is out.” I think our choice of words is funny because the volcano has never been out. All of it is still inside. We just call it that because our perspective only considers the duality between sunlight and grey light, and “out” is anything that isn’t hidden behind haze. When I go into the sun, does that mean I, too, am “out”? I feel like there’s still too much inside to use that word simply for when the sun shines. It would be wrong to forget that we’re still talking about volcanoes.

We see steady, stable glory in something as volatile and powerless as we are. The mountain seems as an emblem of the emerald empire, secure and shrouded in gray, crested in white, defined through persistent mist. It’s the distant anchor of our psychic landscape and we feel okay about our selves because we will always see it there. Still, just as we are, it is subject to inner rumblings that will someday lead to its own demolition and the flattening of life around it. There’s a day to expect when the color of the air will turn from gray mist to gray ash. Lava will melt the fields of wildflowers that draw visitors in the summertime and feed pika throughout the year. I wonder about the volcano’s consciousness, and how well we know each other after all.

Rainier and its stick-up, stick-out silhouette of my former every day views has made itself part of my mind, now, no matter where I am. My only true romantic relationship growing up was with this volcano, I think. I didn’t sweeten any person’s volcanic tendencies like I did with Rainier, perhaps because people seem too close, and there’s no physical reason for not visiting them in the winter. I wonder if my vision constituted Rainier as an object, or a place. I certainly perceived a soul there, but was Rainier a rock or a world? I’m unsure if that truly makes a difference. I made it mean so much because I solidified its symbolism by assigning it a feeling. That happens to be same exercise as inventing language: you make a nothing mean a lot and now you have something to clamp onto. I made Rainier a word in my psychic vocabulary that means a thing we don’t hold but grabs us. A thing that never moves but touches us powerfully. A thing that will always be higher than me no matter how much I grow up.

Regardless of what it was to me, Rainier was the premier object of my euphemizing adoration. I created a romance through my sunrise walks to school in cloudy winters, making wishes to it. I held my own hand sitting on a lake log trying to articulate my intimacy at it. My version of teenage romance was highly evolved: doubtful that any boy was worth my methodical overlooking obsession of hazards, because the only thing more cliché than glorifying nature is glorifying teenage hearts. The thing is, I could connect most to this enormous mass of risen rock just distant enough from me, because even beneath a sheath of gloomy mist, I could always point to its location. I guess people are too close and they are never where you expect them to be, unlike the mountain.

Rainier breathes, sweats, and acts proud just like any of us, even so. It may be a mountain but it’s still as powerless to nature as anyone else. I think of this, and I think of David Bowie singing, “inside every teenage girl there’s a fountain.” I think of boiling lava and of myself. I dreamed as much meaning into being seventeen as I did with the mountain, which is kind of funny when I realize that the thing they have in common is both an aesthetic charm and an earth-crunching volatility. The mountain will someday turn into a fountain and destroy it all with its historic eruption. I also think that I could blow my top off and smother everyone around me with my scorching liquid guts if I had a chance to erupt. I’m just not sure that it is my nature to do so.