In the waning days of this past July, a killer whale—soon to be known to the world as Tahlequah—gave birth to a calf in the waters off the coast of Victoria, British Columbia. The event was a cause for celebration for Tahlequah’s endangered pod, whose 75 members had not seen a live birth in nearly three years. But within less than an hour, the calf had stopped moving.
Like so many adolescents who reached their formative years in an era of grunge, my introduction to Seattle came through music. I first heard its beauty in the voice of Chris Cornell, and I felt its darkness and melancholy in Kurt Cobain’s anguished howl. The city was strangely captivating for a place I’d never been—sparkling blue in summer, misty gray all winter, and the source of so much that channeled my teenage emotions.
As the 18th century came to a close, the British explorer George Vancouver set sail to survey the wild coast of the Pacific Northwest. Among his findings was a narrow pass at the tip of Fidalgo Island, where the tides moved with such force that Vancouver believed he had found the mouth of a great river. It wasn’t until his lieutenant, Joseph Whidbey, explored further that he realized he had discovered a second island—one that stood on the other side of this confounding Deception Pass.
It’s been a difficult few weeks here in Portland. On the afternoon of September 2, a teenage boy tossed a smoking firecracker into Eagle Creek Canyon, igniting a blaze that quickly consumed more than 35,000 acres. As firefighters worked to contain the devastation, Portlanders were left helpless as the Columbia River Gorge went up in flames and ash fell upon the city like a terrible, unwelcome snow.
From the rocky spires of the Grand Tetons to the craggy shores of Acadia, the United States’ 59 national parks are as diverse as the nation itself. Where Death Valley holds a world record for the highest air temperature ever recorded (134 degrees), the slopes of Mt. Rainier saw an astounding 93.5 feet of snow in the winter of 1971. So what makes Olympic National Park stand out among these millions of acres of natural wonder?