Growing up in the Shadow of a Mountain

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Burroughs Three, Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington State


This is the year of my own story. It begins at the Wonderland Trail. I plan to spend 10-12 nights in the backcountry of Mt. Rainier backpacking.

You will find many helpful tips on my blog because everything I have accomplished in my life so far has led me here to my own backyard.

My family came to the Pacific Northwest over 100 years ago. It was a family who respected all people, and who were above all else passionate about nature, service minded, and hardworking.

My name is Lisa Elliott. I have been a wife, teacher and mother most of my life now. My friends say I’m badass but, I am really a big woosy. I have some major fears with being outdoors at night and alone in my own home at night by myself for that matter.

Our family has grown a new generation of grandchildren now. Having my own grandchildren has brought back memories of when I was little. Memories that include what I hoped and dreamed for and what continues to matter the most in my life as an adult today.

In the very least I hope to inspire a strong generation of men and women who are fearless, compassionate and serving.

A Life of Purpose

I recently retired as a public school teacher but just because I gave up a paycheck doesn’t mean I’m done with life. As of late, I applied to be an Ambassador for Washington Trails Association in Pierce County, WA. It was quite the interview process too. The mission of the WTA is access for all. That means they take it very seriously when it comes to diversity, equity and access. Their mission to connect people to trails, to provide access and grow and nurture a lifelong appreciation for the outdoors, really fit me. So if you see me know on the trail, I might look more like this.

How My Purpose Changed

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When I was a very young girl, my grandmother on my mom’s side used to tell me of when she lived on the mountain at Longmire, Washington. That mountain was Mt. Rainier, located in Washington State. The mountain and the community of people she encountered had such a tremendous impact on her as a young girl.

As a young child I began to know the mountain because my grandmother would take me on long nature walks and teach me the names of all the plants in our back forest of 10 acres. This brought her much happiness and joy because she frequently would speak about those times with a smile.

Grandma’s Life on the Mountain

Our own home was a small farm with an immense dense forest within the Fruitland area of Puyallup, pronounced Pew-all-up. Sometimes it felt like you could reach out and touch the mountain but we were still 30 miles away as the crow flies. We have a saying around here, “Live like the mountain is out.” With my grandmother’s encouragement and living like the mountain was out each day by being outdoors, climbing trees, and building forts, it instilled a lifelong appreciation of nature and for the environment that surrounded me. An appreciation that my grandmother passed on to me through her hand to mine.

My hope throughout the remainder of my life is to be able to do the same with my grandchildren and live a little speck of time on the mountain in order to conquer some personal fears of mine.

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Stories and a Man they Named a Glacier After

My grandmother also had many stories of adventures from living on the mountain. One of my favorites was of when she lived at Longmire and would be stalked by a cougar at 11 years of age. Then there was the story of the raiding bears of Longmire Campground who came for dinner each night. Finally the stories of following Professor J.B. Flett around the mountain as he cataloged plants. Today there is a glacier named for Dr. Flett, Flett Glacier.  Her first love was more than likely the mountain first, but I could tell she had a place in her heart for Dr. Flett, too.

Summers on The Mountain

The following is a part of my grandmother Ruth’s stories…

Most of my summers when growing up were spent at Longmire Springs in Rainier National Park. They were happy, healthy, carefree days and also very educational. My family all worked at Longmire and we lived in a tent community with all the other employees of the park. The tent frames would sort of remain there, year round except that they would usually need repairs in the spring. Everything else would be stored over for the winter in a large warehouse.

Living with the Bears

by Ruth Lillian Knoll

Bears were our constant companions and garbage cans could be heard being ransacked all night long. Days we swam in the sulphur plunge and drank the soda iron and sulphur water from the springs. No wonder we were healthy. Most wonderful of all were our days spent with our dear teacher.

Every morning when we would see him start out, every kid in tent city would be ready to follow him, to have unfolded to them the beauty and marvels of the universe. Especially those around Mount Rainier. The Pied Piper of Hamlin couldn’t have had more entranced followers.

Nearly everyday we would follow him up a different mountain trail and he would tell us all about the fishes and bugs in the creeks. All about the rocks and the mosses. We would gather flowers as we went along and he knew all their botanical and common names. He knew the names of all the animals and birds, and it seemed to us that he knew and loved everything and also loved all of us. And never seemed to tire of imparting his great knowledge to us.

The mountain and its pungent smells, meadows, streams and glowers always bring back a fond memory of this most wonderful man. What a privilege to have known him, not knowing who he really was or even caring, but later learning that he was Professor Flett, a renowned botanist teaching at Pacific Lutheran University and was classifying all the flora and fauna of Rainier National Park for the United States Government.

Professor Flett was a pioneer of Pierce County, Washington, and the Flett Dairy family are a part of him. His work on earth was very well done.

A bit more about my grandmother. My grandmother, Ruth Lillian Sharpe was born in Buffalo, New York, April 8, 1904. She came west with her family, when she was 2. Her family consisted of her older brothers, Carl W. Sharpe, and Clarence Sharpe. Her mother, Isabelle McPherson Sharpe (Belle or Bella) was born in Canada, Her father, Charles William Sharpe was born in Wateringbury, Kent, England.  Her grandfather, Alexander McPherson also moved here, born in Scotland and buried not too much longer after coming here in The Old Tacoma Cemetery.

                                     Great Aunt Mildred McPherson 

Early Years

In the early 1900’s the Sharpe family purchased a 10 acre plot of land in Puyallup between Fruitland and Woodland avenue on 104th and south to 112th. The trolly came down 104th and turned at Fruitland and headed down Fruitland Avenue and also flowed the opposite way allowed them access to Tacoma. During this time my great-grandparents mostly raised chickens while my great-grandmother and great Aunt Lil worked in the Elite Restaurant in downtown Tacoma at 26th and Pacific.  I was told my grandma Ruth as a toddler used to sleep under the counter while my great-grandmother worked in the restaurant.

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While working in Tacoma my great-grandmother, and her two sons, Clarence and Carl, who also worked in Tacoma came upon a grand opportunity. The opportunity was to move to Longmire at Mt. Rainier National Park and help run and work as the park was becoming more developed. There had been some debate over how the Longmire’s ran the current property as they were a private family who profited from their business. Eventually the park purchased all the property from the Longmire family.

Longmire Hot Springs

Sometime around 1910 my grandmother’s brothers Clarence and Carl, ended up managing the Longmire Hot Springs Hotel. Perhaps it was just Clarence because Carl worked as a postal worker in Tacoma. They were both handsome, full of energy, outgoing and hardworking. At Longmire, my great-grandmother worked at the store, my great-great grandfather, her father, built the rock fireplace in the store and community building across the Nisqually river. I believe big dreams eventually caught Uncle Clarence as there was mention of MGM studios and he ended up living in Los Angeles and married to my Aunt Edie who was a beautiful professional singer.

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Longmire’s Gas Lanterns and Tents

The following is a part of my grandmother Ruth’s written stories…

My brother Clarence worked at the Rainier National Park Inn which is across the road from the only one Longmire now. My brother Carl drove the bus that carried the passengers that had come from Tacoma and Seattle by train to Ashford and then from Ashford the bus brought them to Longmire and up to Paradise. That was the way nearly everyone came to the mountain at that time. There was no electricity in the park yet and I can still see my father lighting all the gas lamps or lanterns they were called, and putting on new mantels so that they could be lighted before dark and the guests could see where they were going. I remember how he was always worrying about the plumbing that was always breaking down. Many of the guests sleep in the tents and the lanterns were spaced along the wooded walkways between the tents.

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Longmire Sulphur Pool

by Ruth Lillian Knoll

At the back of the Longmire Inn was a sulphur swimming pool, called the plunge, that the hotel guests used but, we had use of it too. It was so buoyant that it was impossible to sink or drown in it and the sulphur water was wonderful for your skin. When you came out of the water you felt great. Longmire Springs was considered a health resort during those years.

The Longmire Family was Gone

by Ruth Lillian Knoll

The Longmire family, who had by now gone from the park and now lived in Yelm and Roy, came up every summer with their pack horses taking tourists in every directions, all over every part that wasn’t too steep for an animal. I managed to make a lot of these trips too, as one of the Longmire girls was a close friend and there were always horses that needed exercising. I guess I earned the trips tho, as I can remember washing an awful lot of dishes for a very large Longmire family that were in their own camp over by the Nisqually River. One of the other privileges I had was inviting any of my friends to have a milkshake or soda or sundae at our local confectioners anytime and my father or two doting brothers would pick up the tab. You can’t do better that that. Although they were a lot cheaper then, then they are now. We consumed a lot of them. Also a lot of candy won on a punch board.

Being Stalked by a Cougar

by Ruth Lillian Knoll

As a young child a hair raising thing happened to me. My parents were always working, and seemed to trust that I would take care of myself, which I usually could do but by some hook or crook, I managed to attach myself to a group of mountain climbers who were going to climb the Ramparts, a rather short climb out of Longmire Springs.

They were a group of doctors and their wives, about either or ten people, I did not know one of them personally and how they agreed to take me with them has always been a mystery. We left Longmire rather late in the afternoon, and had an uneventful climb up. After reaching the top and admiring the view with Longmire below, we were all sitting on a log resting. First we heard a cracking noise, and about 25 feet from us was a cougar sitting and looking at us, and absolute panic struck everyone. By this time it was beginning to darken and we hastened to start back. We were walking single file down a narrow mountain trail and the cougar was following us through the woods, not behind us but opposite us at what seemed a very close range. The men were saying that if the cougar attacked it would be the child (me) that it would go for so they put me in the middle of the line between two men. Some of the men carried flashlights and kept them turned on as it was getting darker every minute. No one had a gun.

That cougar followed us every step of the way back and it became dark and all we could see was its eyes.  When we finally saw the lights of Longmire, we lost the cougar, much to to the relief of everyone.

I have often wondered what that big cat had on its mind.

Later On

Years later during high school in the 70’s, I became a member of our hiking club at Puyallup High School. We hiked much of the trail system at Rainier. At that time you could drive all the way in on Westside Road, now closed, clear up to the Tahoma, St. Andrews and Klapatche trailheads. You could also drive into Ipsut Campgrounds and access the Carbon Glacier, an easy day hike, or bust your butt on Ipsut Pass and onward to Mowich. My friends know this story.

In many ways getting around the mountain used to be easier when you could just drive up. I became familiar with and got around the Wonderland by day and could easily come home to a comfy bed and shower at night. In this way the mountain became a map is in my head like a walk in your own neighborhood might be however I never got to see it at night and for me that was a real good thing.

Today I see myself there, this year. This is my year. I am doing it.

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