Sunday, July 17, 2016

Lakefair Parade Float Denied Entry by Organizers


Above:  A float created by members of the Olympia Confronting the Climate Crisis group was not allowed to enter the Lakefair Parade. Instead, the group parked it on Percival Landing and educated the public about fossil fuels, recent oil train derailments, and provided a more sustainable, alternative vision of the future.

By Janine Gates

The carnival rides and games, food, parade, and fireworks are all highlights of Capital Lakefair, a five day festival which began 59 years ago in downtown Olympia. 

It’s gone through a lot of changes over the years, but maybe there’s room for just a little more change.

About 100 entries from around the Northwest for the parade on Saturday night were submitted, including flashy, motorized floats from Northwest area community festivals, school marching bands, drill teams, and a few groups advertising their for-profit businesses, but a modest, homemade, two piece float was not allowed to participate.

Designed by members of the Olympia Confronting the Climate Crisis group, an oil train derailment is depicted under the section titled, “CO2 = Climate Chaos, which features a lot of of black paint, train wheels that really move and flames made out of cardboard. 

The other section depicts a happy scene with children and families playing near clean water, raised garden beds, and a solar powered house under a rainbow.

After organizers could not get an explanation for the denial from Lakefair executive director Dennis Williams, group members reached out to local media to make their case.

King 5 News contacted Williams, who told that news organization that the floats were political in nature. Williams did not respond to an emailed request for information from Little Hollywood.

“The floats were made specifically for the Lakefair Parade - all stated limitations regarding the parade were related to politician limitations as stated on the Lakefair website,” Rod Tharp told Little Hollywood

In response to the denial to participate, members of the group quickly organized to place the float on Percival Landing near The Kiss statue, and staff it during Lakefair hours of operation. They explained the scene and climate change issues to passersby.

Tharp, a member of the climate crisis group, and a former small residential contractor and carpenter, designed the floats and worked with several others to create the two piece, educational, multi-media float. He has lived in Thurston County since 1975.

“If we don't solve the climate change issue, all the other issues - social justice, equality of all people, and peace, will become more serious. All these are related so we are working on all of them, but climate change is our top item,” he said of the group.

The theme for this year's Capital Lakefair is Community Hearts Fly! 

“We are an accepting community – that doesn’t make sense. We’re so progressive here. We line Fourth Avenue and Capitol Way with rainbow flags showing our pride and we can’t have a rainbow float in our Lakefair parade to show community spirit?” said one woman who saw the float and was told it wasn’t allowed in the parade.

Above: A passerby ponders the portion of the float depicting an oil train derailment.

“Hey, at least you get to be out here showing people this longer than being in the parade,” said a young man.

Above: Todd Davison is a new member of the Olympia Confronting the Climate Crisis group. He helped create the float scenes, and educated passersby about climate change issues on Friday.

“I’ve been concerned about pollution and the destruction of the environment for about 30 to 40 years and my parents built a solar powered house in the '80s in Maine. I used to work for Homes First! but now I’m retired and have the time and resources to help out,” said Todd Davison, as he staffed the float on Friday.

The group is part of the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation and has been active in Olympia for almost six years. It meets every third Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. at the Olympia Center, and is known for its colorful signs and props at peaceful protests and events.

Bourtai Hargrove, a member of the group who staffed the floats on Friday and Saturday, said the floats took about three weeks to make. She and other members of the group have also testified for divestment of state retirement funds in fossil fuels at meetings of the Washington State Investment Board.

“This float is about protecting future families,” said Sue Langhans, who was also helping to staff the float on Friday and Saturday.

Capital Lakefair is a non-profit, volunteer organization. It takes a tremendous amount of effort to pull it off, and many local organizations rely on the proceeds from their Lakefair food booths to fund their year-round community activities. To find out more information, go to www.lakefair.org.

Above: Using an oil train tanker look-alike semi, CrimeStoppers volunteers inexplicably threw toilet paper rolls featuring an advertisement for a local plumbing company to parade watchers, which was a real hit with the kids. 

Speaking of fossil fuels, Olympia Mayor Cheryl Selby rode in the parade in a 1950 Buick. Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet rode in a 1957 T-Bird Convertible. There were also several cars with the Corvettes of Olympia club, several entries for the Horseless Carriage Club and the ever-popular fire trucks. Near the end of the parade, Olympia city councilmembers Clark Gilman and Julie Hankins were seen on foot, along with city manager Steve Hall and a solid waste recycling team, ready to collect recyclables from parade watchers. 

For more information about the Olympia Confronting the Climate Crisis group, the Washington State Investment Board, sea level rise, and other climate change issues of particular concern to downtown Olympia and the community, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and type key words into the search button.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Police Use of Deadly Force Study Underway


Legislative Committee Examines Use of Deadly Force Law, Issues

Above: Fe Lopez, representing OneAmerica, an immigrant advocacy organization, speaks at the first meeting of the Joint Legislative Task Force on the Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing in Olympia. She is also the executive director of the Community Police Commission in Seattle. The 26 member legislative task force met for three hours on June 28.

By Janine Gates

“I do believe that this issue is not an either-or…you can be a complete advocate and supporter of law enforcement as I am, and you can also be an advocate for community safety. I think the common ground we all share is to have a safe community. Everyone wants to go home to their families at the end of the day and I think if we keep that in mind as we go through this process, it would be very helpful,” said Gloria Ochoa-Bruck, Washington Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

Ochoa-Bruck’s words at the first meeting of a joint legislative task force on the use of deadly force in community policing on June 28 takes on new meaning as feelings of insecurity, tension, grief and outrage increased and challenged Americans this week.

Later in the meeting, Ochoa-Bruck said, “If you take away the badges, what does that look like? There are apparently two very different standards....

In response to the five police officers killed in Dallas and for the recent police shootings of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, the work of the joint legislative task force should be made all that much more urgent.

Task Force on Use of Deadly Force in Community Policing

A bill signed into law by Governor Jay Inslee in April, ESHB 2908, created the 26 member task force on the use of deadly force in community policing.

Above: Getting a bill through the Legislature and signed is sometimes only half the battle. Now the real work begins. Governor Jay Inslee signs ESHB 2908, surrounded by prime sponsor Representative Cindy Ryu (D-32) and a few bill advocates in April 2016.

The 26 member task force buckled down June 28 for their first meeting, which lasted three hours without a scheduled break, in a hearing room at the state Capitol Campus in Olympia.

About 35 people observed the proceedings, including members of Olympia area community groups such as the Faith Action Network, Interfaith Works, Unity in the Community, and the League of Women Voters. Local law enforcement observers included Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim and staff members of the City of Olympia police department.

The task force will review the history of Washington State’s law, best practices used by state and national law enforcement agencies, examine the wide range of reporting requirements, and current training curriculum and practices and use of force policies. 

Staff briefly reviewed ESHB 2908 and explained when police use of deadly force is justifiable under state law.

Goodman confirmed that one of the main reasons the task force convened is to examine the use of deadly force by law enforcement and whether or not the law needs to be changed and to look at ways in which law enforcement establishes relations with communities.

“….I’m here because our community depends on law enforcement and we’re all here interested in keeping the peace. We recognize that police officers have a difficult job and we all have a stake in law and order….This effort here today is not about good cop, bad cop, or placing blame, it’s about coming together to build and strengthen trust within our communities and within the law enforcement community….I’m here to listen and learn and come to a solution that works for everybody,” said Timothy Reynon, a member of the Puyallup Tribal Council, representing the Governor’s Office on Indian Affairs.

Conversation around the issues echoed their representative positions and issues discussed nationwide, leading one task force member, Gabriel Portugal, representing the Latino Civic Alliance, to be ready within an hour’s time to start making motions and move forward.

But task force chair Roger Goodman (D-45) was not to be rushed, wanting to hear thorough introductions and lay the issues on the table, making sure all were heard.

Goodman said the task force will be inclusive, respectful, and deliberate, for “as long as it takes.”

The committee has until December 31 to meet at least four times to discuss a wide range of issues related to the statewide use of deadly force in community policing and produce a report of their findings.

Despite the tight timeline in which to conclude their efforts, the group was not split up into subcommittees, nor expectations provided or requests made to committee members.

Future task force meetings will be held July 26, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and September 13 at 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission in Burien.  Details for another meeting, scheduled for November, are to be announced. 

“I want Washington State to lead the nation in the process to help build trust and reciprocity between communities that feels underserved and the law enforcement that serves them,” said Goodman.

Above: Twenty-six year veteran Seattle police officer Kerry Zieger, representing the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs, speaks to task force members. Sitting to his left is Gerald Hankerson, representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

Zieger said he was recently involved in an incident on May 1st in Seattle. He and a couple of bicycle officers were surrounded by 50 – 70 individuals wearing masks and throwing objects. He said he was hit by a piece of cement or a rock and injured.

“At the time I was struck, that entire city block was unprotected because now it became a violent situation…all the officers could do was protect themselves and wait for others to come in and rescue the officers. A rock can be a deadly weapon. Another inch lower and I would have lost my eye….”

Zieger said he was out of work for six weeks and still suffers pain and headaches as a result. Use of deadly force against the protesters would have been justified in that incident, he said.

Only Washington State law provides a defense against prosecution when a police officer acts “without malice and with a good faith belief that such act is justifiable.” 
Malice is defined in law as “evil intent.”

Another police related bill heard during the 2016 Legislative Session, HB 2907, would have removed language from RCW 9A.16.040, which states that an officer who acts without malice cannot be held criminally liable. It did not pass out of committee. That bill, sponsored by Representative Luis Moscoso, (D-1) was spearheaded by members of the Black Alliance of Thurston County.

Amnesty International calls Washington State’s law regarding use of deadly force as the “most egregious” in the nation.

The United States has failed to track how many people are killed by law enforcement officers. No one knows exactly how many people are killed each year, but estimates range from 400 to over 1,000.

According to The Counted, an ongoing investigation by the Guardian into the use of deadly force by police, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15 percent of all deaths logged this year. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.

Paired with official government mortality data, this new finding indicates that about one in every 65 deaths of a young African American man in the U.S. is a killing by police.

Also according to the Guardian, 12 individuals in Washington State have been killed by law enforcement so far this year.

Task Force Conversations

Representative Goodman encouraged an open, freewheeling conversation between members. Feedback moved swiftly as participants articulated their viewpoints.

While Representative Goodman asked the group several questions that helped frame the conversation, some were quick to not allow him too much freedom in making assumptions.

Starting with law enforcement recruitment, retention, training, and disciplinary methods, and taking a critical look at data collection, Goodman said he wanted to learn more about how Washington State’s statute came about, and that as a result of their conversation, their “to-do” list will get longer.

“….Do law enforcement agencies have the diversity and reflect the community that they serve? You have to collect the dots before you can connect the dots….The use of force reports would help provide that information,” said Goodman. Goodman said that he heard that fewer than two percent of public interactions with law enforcement involve of use of force.

“That’s really a small percentage…they are really very rare,” said Goodman.

“That depends on the validity of the reporting,” responded Laura Daugaard, representing the Public Defender Association of Seattle. Daugaard explained how reporting systems vary widely.

Che Taylor and Zambrano-Montes Cases

Task force members also challenged Goodman’s direction when exploring their scope of work.

After the shooting deaths of Che Taylor of Seattle on February 21  and Antonio Zambrano-Montes of Pasco in February 2015 had been mentioned by committee members several times, Goodman said he didn’t want to hear those cases retried.

Several committee members responded, saying that the lessons of those officer involved killings must be discussed and analyzed and that there is much for the committee to learn by doing just that.

Zambrano-Montes, a farm laborer with a history of mental illness, was shot by police in February 2015.

“….Within five minutes and 15 seconds, he was shot 17 times with 45 caliber bullets. Eight of those bullets killed him. The prosecutor declined to bring charges…it’s real difficult for a prosecutor to take a case like that…Yes, there are times officers need to use deadly force, there’s no question about that. The concern we have as a community is accountability and so prosecutors don’t have their hands tied by language in the statute,” said Gabriel Portugal, Latino Civic Alliance.

Che Taylor was killed by Seattle police in February and the case is still under investigation.

“To the data issue, we have to look at those cases…and the case in Olympia....because that's where we can learn statewide what's going on. We have to look at them critically...to see what's going on within those communities and what happened with those prosecutors and why they made those decisions,” said Fe Lopez, representing OneAmerica, an immigrant advocacy group.

“There’s a lot of passion in this room. If you don’t have a knot in your stomach, we’re not doing it right…I want to use the Che Taylor and Antonio Zambrano-Montes cases as a springboard to learn from each other,” agreed Cynthia Softli of the Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington.

Law enforcement representatives were often coaxed by Goodman to enter the conversation, but when they did, they represented their agencies well.

Snohomish County prosecutor Mark Roe, representing the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, said he has never felt like his hands were tied to not prosecute an officer if the facts warranted it.

“…I understand angst about “malice.” There is a huge continuum about use of force…between hands on them and everything in between.”

He described the procedures used by a multi-agency response team and their protocol for a major incident. He said a lot of the task force’s work will be about public perception and confidence.

“There have got to be better ways to avoid altercations,” he said.

Mason County Lieutenant Travis Adams, representing the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, responded that law enforcement is specifically called to go to the incident.

“We are thrust into a situation that a civilian is not….”

Showing that law enforcement protocols have changed, Rich Phillips, representing the Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, said that the science of memory, recall, action, and reaction is evolving very rapidly.

In the old days, the standard law enforcement reaction after a critical incident was, “no comment.” Now, they are out ahead of the curve to help with perceptions and provide what they know, but it is not an exact science.

Captain Monica Alexander, representing the Washington State Patrol, said it was important to establish trust before an incident happens.

“After an incident, everyone goes to their corners – let’s have that relationship before the incident.”

Jorge Baron of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, responded by saying there is a racial disparity as to the subject and use of deadly force.

“How do we avoid those situations?” he asked. Baron said he took a test and discovered that he held an implicit bias against African Americans.

The conversation was flowing at a pretty good clip until a comment by Senator Kirk Pearson (R-39), saying that as a man of faith, he did not have any bias against anyone.

The comment seemed to set the committee back two and a half hours and 200 years, as some members of the committee and many audience members audibly groaned.

Above: Andre Taylor greets members of the task force after the meeting. Left to right, nearest the camera, Gloria Ochoa-Bruck, Washington Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Fe Lopez, OneAmerica, Karen Johnson, Black Alliance of Thurston County, and Taylor. 

I-873 – Not This Time

Andre Taylor, the brother of Che Taylor, the man killed in February by Seattle Police officers, was present in audience, as well as Che Taylor's wife, Brenda. 

Andre Taylor moved to Tacoma four months ago from Los Angeles and is now working on Initiative 873 - Not This Time, which concerns the use of deadly force by law enforcement, public officers, or peace officers.

The initiative petitions to remove the “without malice and with a good faith belief” clause in state statute. Several state legislators have endorsed it and United States Congressman Adam Smith (D-9) endorsed the initiative in June.

After the death of his brother, Taylor said he didn’t believe in shutting down and now has a good relationship with Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. Taylor says he thinks it’s a problem if there are those on the committee who don’t think we have a problem.

“….What is our primary intent for being here? I think there is a lack of leadership within our police forces that allow certain things to go on where an officer can treat our citizens worse than a military treats our alleged enemies and that’s power....If we don’t recognize there is an issue in this country as Americans, then we have a problem. We have to fix it…. I believe that we have an opportunity in Seattle, Washington to do something and create a blueprint for the rest of the country…The more we inform people about the way our law is written, they are in shock. My job is to bring the information to the people. And I would hope, as we get this law changed, that this group we have here (the task force) is not being left behind because we’re moving forward and it’s going to get done,” said Taylor.

The 26 member committee is composed of Representative Roger Goodman (D-45) and Senator Kirk Pearson (R-39), who will take turns chairing the meetings, Representative Dave Hayes (R-10) and Senator David Frockt (D-46) and representatives of  the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, Washington State Patrol, The Tenth Amendment Center, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Defender Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Association of Washington Cities, Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, Black Alliance of Thurston County, OneAmerica, Disability Rights Washington, Washington Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, Latino Civic Alliance, Washington Commission on African-American Affairs, Criminal Justice Training Commission, Governor's Office on Indian Affairs, Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys,  Black Law Enforcement Association of Washington, Washington State Association of Counties, and the Council of Metropolitan Police and Sheriffs.

For more information about the task force, HB 2907, HB 2908, Amnesty International’s report, “Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States,” City of Olympia police issues, community policing, Karen Johnson, the Black Alliance of Thurston County, race, bias, and related topics, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com and type key words into the search engine.

For more about the task force from the Washington State Legislative body, go to http://leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/DFTF/Pages/Members.aspx

The event was taped by TVW and can be viewed at http://www.tvw.org/watch/?eventID=2016061155

Editor's Note, July 13: Caption for top photo is now correct. The person speaking is Fe Lopez, not Gloria Ochoa-Bruck. I also straightened out a couple quote attributions. Thank you TVW.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Dennis Mahar Remembered


Above: A talented and articulate master of ceremonies, Dennis Mahar prepares to introduce Robby Stern of Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action (PSARA) at the Washington State Senior Citizens’ Lobby Fall Conference in October 2015 in Tacoma.

By Janine Gates

A determined advocate for all, Dennis Mahar will be remembered as someone who was a “go-to” guy, always going the extra mile for seniors, children, family, friends, co-workers, and dogs alike.

Hundreds were in attendance at a celebration of life for longtime community leader Dennis Mahar on Sunday afternoon at The Olympia Center in downtown Olympia.

Mahar, 63, the executive director of the Thurston Mason Lewis Area Agency on Aging, died of esophageal cancer on June 7.

Staying true to his well-known, meticulous attention to detail, Mahar organized his own service with friends and family.

In his own words, read by his friend Dale DeGabriele, Mahar asked that we “celebrate our lives together, make significant impact and pledge stronger engagement, do everything for the better, and always do what you know is right, based on what you know is wrong.”

Above: As Congressman Denny Heck holds the microphone, City of Lacey councilmember Virgil Clarkson remembers Dennis Mahar at the celebration of life for Mahar on Sunday. Heck, in his remarks, credited Mahar with pulling together the people needed to produce Washington State’s first ever written strategic plan for Alzheimer’s and other dementias. A culmination of numerous public and private partnerships, the recent report was developed by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services.

The afternoon was filled with music, slides, poetry, and stories, as family, neighbors, friends and colleagues shared their memories and told numerous stories about Dennis’ passion for life and genuine love for others. 

Through laughter and tears, the words and phrases used to describe Mahar included tenacious, wise, patient, loyal, organized, humble, articulate, respectful, visionary, “encyclopedic” smart, a true change agent, the “ultimate friend,” a mentor, an outstanding role model “at the ground floor,” a “natural born leader who possessed unbelievable negotiating skills and was able to find compromise in any situation that required it,” a second father to many who was often present at sporting events, birthdays, and holidays, and “someone who cared about how you felt, and tried his best to be for everyone.”

A world traveler, music lover and dog lover, Mahar was also a loving husband to his wife Lorrie, for nearly 40 years. A community member since 1979, Mahar actively served in a variety of leadership capacities with the United Way of Thurston County, the Thurston County Food Bank, Leadership Thurston County, and more.

“He paid attention to virtually everything that was important…and he always wanted to help in the background, with the physical work, even loading up the truck for events,” said Jack Kiley, coordinator for the Washington State Senior Games.

Lois Sauvage, who served as a past member of the Area Agency on Aging Council, said she knew Mahar as a devoted husband and public servant, financial whiz, music lover, and baseball fan. 

....He enjoyed service to others. His mind was a veritable operating system, always balancing, managing, and organizing. He could have managed any major corporation in the country, but to our benefit here in Thurston, Mason, and Lewis counties, he gave us the best leadership any citizen could ask for. Hats off to his moral integrity and boundless energy. I will miss him very much.

Above: Dennis Mahar, in just one of his best elements, at the podium.

For more information about Dennis Mahar’s involvement and advocacy for senior rights and issues, read “Senior Group Examines Statewide Progress, Challenges,” written by Janine Gates in October 2015 at the Washington State Senior Citizens’ Lobby website, http://www.waseniorlobby.org/senior-group-examines-statewide-progress-challenges/  The article was also reproduced in the January 2016 issue of the Thurston-Mason Senior News, a publication of the Thurston County Council on Aging. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Two-Alarm Fire in Downtown Olympia Destroys Warehouse


Above: City of Olympia deputy fire chief Greg Wright was still on site early Tuesday morning at 227 Adams Street in downtown Olympia after a two alarm fire destroyed the one and a half story, rectangle shaped, wooden building, which was built around 1920. Wright said the cause of the fire was still undetermined.

By Janine Gates

A building at 227 Adams Street in downtown Olympia was already heavily involved in fire by the time firefighters arrived within three minutes from the call to dispatch at 1:14 a.m. Tuesday morning, said City of Olympia deputy fire chief Greg Wright in a press release.

Aided with units from Lacey, Tumwater, and Thurston County, there were approximately 35 firefighters at any one time working on the fire. The main fire was out after about 90 minutes and there were no reported injuries to firefighters.

In what could have been a far worse situation, the area between the fire building and the adjacent structure, an alley, was filled with new and used propane tanks and a propane delivery truck. Those tanks were kept cool and remained undamaged. The building is owned by Acme Fuel Company. 


Above: Evidence will be analyzed for a possible cause of the fire. The structure was a total loss, including two fuel oil delivery trucks and two other trucks inside at the time of the fire.  A tea wholesale business and a wood shop in the building were also destroyed. Preliminary damage estimates are $350,000 for the building and $500,000 for the contents. 

The building was built in 1920, according to the Thurston Regional Planning Council historic property inventory database, and did not have a fire alarm system or fire sprinklers. 

Above: Washington State Department of Ecology spill response employees lower absorbent booms down a storm drain early Tuesday morning near the corner of Thurston and Adams Streets in downtown Olympia. 

Heavy run off from the fire covered several streets and briefly blocked access to the downtown Intercity Transit bus facility, but as drains were cleared by Olympia Public Works, the water receded. An undetermined amount of runoff from the fire went into nearby Puget Sound. Ecology is also in touch with the building owners about products stored in the building.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Breathing Spaces: Mt. Rainier National Park


Above: Mt. Rainier National Park at Paradise is a winter wonderland this week. In celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service, master storyteller and author Terry Tempest Williams spoke on Tuesday at Paradise Inn about her new book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. She calls our national parks,“breathing spaces.”

By Janine Gates

MT. RAINIER NATIONAL PARK – TUESDAY…SHOWERS…CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS IN THE AFTERNOON. SNOW ACCUMULATION OF 4 TO 8 INCHES. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 4500 FEET.

PEOPLE CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN TODAY SHOULD EXPECT BLIZZARD-LIKE CONDITIONS WITH ZERO VISIBILITY AND BLOWING SNOW ABOVE CAMP MUIR. TEMPERATURES WILL BE BELOW ZERO ON THE SUMMIT. IT IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO MOVE AND NAVIGATE IN ALPINE TERRAIN IN WINDS THIS STRONG.

The official National Weather Service bulletin posted earlier this week at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center services desk at Mt. Rainier National Park is clear.

Despite these warnings, unprepared visitors arrived this week thinking they would see alpine flowers, all because the calendar marks this coming week as the beginning of summer.

Dressed in shorts and flimsy footwear, they soon turn back when they realize that the snow indeed continues the farther they go up the 14,411 foot mountain. The weather changes by the minute. 

Tuesday evening, snow is falling as predicted.

Inside Paradise Inn, the fire roars, pops, and crackles in one of the historic, massive fireplaces while pianist William Powell plays romantic pieces, as he has for seven seasons, May through October.

The music fills the Inn while folks from all over the United States and the world relax, often with their favorite beverage, sitting deep in cozy chairs and couches, reading books, chatting quietly, or playing games.

Above: The original parts of the Inn were finished in 1917, built without nails from dead standing timber of Alaska yellow cedar harvested near Narada Falls. It took a little less than a year to build. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Cellphone reception is non-existent or sporadic at the Inn. Thankfully, one has to get some elevation and climb the mountain to send a message or check email, so making new friends, without the isolating distraction of electronic devices, is easy.

I went to Mt. Rainier this week for a few days of much needed rest, relaxation, reflection, and rejuvenation. I met individuals from Ft. Meyers, Florida to Olympia, Washington and everywhere in between.

The faces of individuals, families, and staff became familiar as we traipsed past each other in pajamas and robes and serious mountain gear, going to and from our rooms, the dining hall, the gift shop or the mountain. It became a little village.

A man from the San Francisco Bay area of Walnut Creek, California sat down in front of the fire one morning with a new book called, Jesus Called, He Wants His Church Back: What Christians and The American Church are Missing by Ray Johnston.

The catchy title provided the impetus for a friendly, brief discussion.  

Earlier, I had sat down in front of the fireplace near a man and a woman who were sharing some cinnamon rolls.

The simple, inclusive question of, “Where are you from?” lead to finding out that the woman was from Michigan, here to summit the mountain on her third try.

The man said, “Olympia.”

Quickly drilling down to the Eastside, “near Ralph’s Thriftway,” to specific streets, it turned out, absurdly, that we live less than 10 houses away from each other. We listed off our mutual neighbors who bridged the gap between our homes and gladly exchanged contact information. 

Above: Crevasse and sky on Mt. Rainier.

Breathing Spaces

What is the relevancy of our national park system in the 21st century?

Congress passed the National Park Service Organic Act in 1916, creating the National Park Service under the U.S. Department of the Interior.  It manages 59 parks and 84 million acres, 78 national monuments and 407 other sites. The first national park was Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

The spiritual and recreational need for designated wilderness and our parks is increasing despite the pressures of population growth, development, usage, and budget shortfalls. 

Mt. Rainier National Park is not immune to these pressures inside and outside its borders.

Created in 1899, the park had 563 recreation visitors in 1904, the first year of recordkeeping. In 2015, there were 1,237,231. Centennial or not, that number will likely be topped in 2016.

The meaning and definition of wilderness has been debated for years but is defined by law as an undeveloped landscape retaining its primeval character. 

Development regulations in national parks vary, with some allowing ski lifts and mining. While real estate development pressures just outside Mt. Rainier’s borders continue, the park has improved the internal conditions seen by past development.

Rope tows and skiing in the Paradise area lasted from the 1930s until the 1970s, nearly 300 cabins and a nine hole golf course were built in 1931, and car camping was allowed in the 1960s in the Paradise meadows. All these are gone and the areas are still being restored.

On Tuesday evening, Mt. Rainier National Park Superintendent Randy King introduced master storyteller and author Terry Tempest Williams, who was speaking as the first in a series of speakers at the park to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service system.

“It’s a different June today, but it is Paradise,” he laughed.

Several inches of snow was dumped on Mt. Rainier and access roads, as promised, making it look like a mid-winter wonderland instead of the week before summer. But everyone knows that the mountain makes its own weather, and King said it was not unusual.

Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the environmental classic Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, and When Women Were Birds, An Unspoken Hunger, The Open Space of Democracy, and many more, continues to eloquently share her life experiences and latest research in her new book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.

In The Hour of Land, Tempest Williams weaves her personal stories and experiences about 12 national parks - some were new to her, while others were old friends, like Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

She said she approached each park profiled in her book with a beginner’s eye, even those that are like her “second skin,” like Grand Teton. Not a year of her life has gone by, she said, without her being at the park.

She spent five years researching for the book, and calls our national parks “breathing spaces.” Her voice warm and soothing, Tempest Williams read passages and invited the audience to discuss their thoughts about and experiences within our national parks.

Mt. Rainier National Park is not featured. Indeed, this was her first visit to the park and Tempest Williams said she was overwhelmed by its magnificence and sense of scale. 

“Whether we see the mountain or not, its presence is felt,” said Tempest Williams.


She told the story of seeing, outside her cabin, a doe and her two little fawns “the size of chihuahuas,” looking as though they had just been born. 

She wants to come back.

Tempest Williams said that when she set out to write the book, she thought it would be joyous, easy, and not complicated. A celebration of love.

“…(The book) is joyous, and it is a celebration, and it is about love – we’re here because of love – but what I didn’t realize is how complicated our national parks are ….and how much I didn’t know....It’s been an exercise in humility, as there is so much more I don’t know. My authority is one of love, and I come to you as a storyteller.”

Above: Grand Teton National Park, 2014. “Our national parks are memory palaces where our personal histories reside....What are we searching for and what do we find?” writes Terry Tempest Williams in her new book, The Hour of Land.

Our national parks have special meaning to Tempest Williams for many reasons. She described her first memory at Canyonlands National Park in Utah and met her husband, Brooke, who was a park ranger, at Zion National Park.

Reading excerpts from her stories, she spoke of the many animals that live in our parks.

“We are not the only species who live, love, and breathe our parks….and I’ll tell you right now, my heart is being broken. The national parks are underfunded and overcrowded. Forty of our parks are threatened by oil and gas development, 12 have development already inside of their boundaries, and 30 more are pending. What do we want our public lands to become?” she asked.

Listening to the stories told to her during her book signing opportunity, she said she heard stories of love.

One couple was celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary and had spent their honeymoon here. One man is on a quest to visit all national parks. So far, he has visited 52. One young man said he was a ranger in Arches National Park.

Another couple in the audience, Bill and Mary Jane Brockman, of Centralia, has a long, personal history with Mt. Rainier National Park, and of volunteering for the park service. It too is a story of love.

Mary Jane Brockman, 88, an early member of The Mountaineers, said she first summited Mt. Rainier when she was 17 years old. She was amazed that her mother allowed her to do so. She recounted her vivid memory of that first summit.

“There’s a sound of the mountain that’s awesome...it’s so vast. It’s silence,” said Mary Jane.

Bill Brockman, 89, was on that same climb and they have been together ever since. 

He and Mary Jane spent the first ten years of their marriage working together in the parks, the first one at the Walnut Creek National Monument in Arizona, the last one at Glacier National Park in Montana. They worked it out so they worked northern parks in summer and southern parks in winter.

Above: The Longmire Museum in Mt. Rainier National Park


Bill Brockman’s father was C. Frank Brockman, one of the first original naturalists for the national park system. He became Mt. Rainier’s chief park naturalist in 1928 and finished out his career at Yosemite and the College of Forestry at the University of Washington. 

The elder Brockman also saved the Longmire Museum, which served as the park’s headquarters from 1916-1928, from demolition and created many of the exhibits that are still in use today.  

Born in Spokane, Bill Brockman came to the park as a two year old and lived as a child in the 1920s in the building that is now the Guide Services building and dormitory for staff. The family then settled in several places at Longmire from1933 until his father was transferred to Yosemite in 1943.

Bill Brockman joined the Navy in 1944, and later became a high school biology teacher. He and his wife operated a ski school for 35 years in Snoqualmie, with 70 instructors at one time, serving hundreds of students. He was a board member of The Mountaineers and REI.

The Brockman's continue to contribute to the park by sharing their experiences, knowledge and stories.

Tempest Williams asked each of us to think about how we can contribute to our parks.

“The national parks are made up of many stories. Think about what you can do to contribute to make sure our national parks continue. Visit them with an open heart to remember what it means to be human….”

Above: The Nisqually River from Mt. Rainier, in June 2014. There are 25 major glaciers on Mount Rainier that support several major river systems, including the Nisqually. The rivers and their tributaries drain down the flanks of the mountain directly to Puget Sound. 


Editor's Clarifications, June 21: The name of the national monument the Brockman's started volunteering at was the Walnut Creek National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona. Also, the Brockman's did not own the ski school at Snoqualmie, but operated it. For more information, see Mary Jane Brockman's comment under this story.