Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier in Washington. (AP Photo/The Seattle Times, Bettina Hansen)

In 1993, when I was a bachelor who could easily do such things, I flew to Seattle and spent a week there alone, eager to see what there was to see. The city’s legendary rain dampened every day of my stay, but not uncomfortably so.

I ate breakfast atop the Space Needle, the city spread out before me like a private gift. I roamed Pike’s Market, committed to honor my Louisiana roots by scouting out decent seafood. Light showers deepened the winter sky with an extra shade of gray, and mist refracted the glow of street lamps, each evening adorned by a thousand crowns of light.

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Or so it seemed to me, since I had recently fallen in love. Like anyone who’s given his heart to someone else, I saw brightness everywhere I looked, even in the somber clouds of the Pacific Northwest. At week’s end, I went home and proposed to the woman who’s shared my life ever since.

Time by myself in a cool, green place had helped me see what I truly wanted. Maybe, at some point in our lives, all of us have sought some calm corner of the world where we can find our way. The Northwest gave me that respite when I needed it.

I’ve thought about this a lot recently as so much of the Northwest languished in flames. Wildfires have consumed forests and homes, thickening the air with smoke. Political turmoil in Portland and Seattle compounded the misery. This year’s headlines haven’t squared with the cool, green place of my memories.

With age, perhaps we inevitably come to understand that the earthly Edens of our imagination all have their share of troubles. That painful reality was underlined when we saw the Gulf Coast, a popular getaway for Louisiana vacationers, battered by Hurricane Sally. I felt relieved when my daughter’s move to California took her away from Hurricane Alley, but her newly adopted state’s wildfires have brought their own worries.

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This year, calm corners of the country and the world seem in short supply. I was mulling this over the other afternoon when, by happy accident, the mail brought a wise voice from the Northwest. It came within an advance copy of “Earth’s Wild Music,” a new book by Kathleen Dean Moore, an Oregon writer, that will be published next year.

Moore’s book is about a great many things, but it considers how we can keep and grow hope when the world seems deeply broken. Her answer defies easy summary here, but she makes the point that the Earth’s fragility is part of its beauty. “When we live humbly in full awareness of the astonishing fact that we have any place at all in such a world,” she writes, “we live richer, deeper lives, more fully realizing our humanity.”

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Maybe that will be the hard-earned wisdom of a season few of us are likely to forget.

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