An Ode to Mount Rainier

It sits on the skydome like a giant rendering artifact.

A mountain? More like a cartoon sketch of one, or the kind of thing you might find in the map on the inside cover of a bad fantasy novel.

It is too far away (100 miles) and yet too big (14,000 feet) for the brain to truly comprehend it.

An aside:

14,000 feet may not sound like much (Iíve been that high myself in Nepal, while stood at the base of far taller peaks), but consider that most mountain ranges take time to psych themselves up ready for the stratosphere. In the Himalayas, the "lowland" city of Katmandu is already at 5,000 feet, and most trekking routes start around 8,000. From there you pass a multitude of peaks, each one slightly higher than the next, until you reach Everest Base Camp at 18,000.

Rainier cares not for such dilution. It stands alone, and Iím observing it from sea level. In relative terms, that makes it a quarter again higher than the biggest mountain in the world!

Because it is so implausibly big, the eye assumes it must be nearby, but then when you move around, there is a disturbing lack of parallax. Itís been drawn on the skydome when it should have been modeled in.

Because it is so far away, it tends to intersect the far clip plane: you can only see it maybe one or two days a week. This can lead to surprising results. Often there will be somewhere you find boring and familiar, but then one day you look up and all of a sudden there is Rainier looming over the horizon. You must reevaluate, knowing this too is a place that can see the mountain.

(Or maybe someone just screwed up the visiboxing that day).

Even when the rocky spurs are fogged out to nothing, the glaciers reflect so much light they are sometimes still visible. It looks like a smudge of strangely glowing cloud, but then you look more carefully and realize this is the top of the mountain floating over a background of sky. Or in the evening the ice may be glowing red even though there was no sunset in Seattle that day. Itís like a faceme thatís been gourauded wrong, or a piece of cell-shaded pop art, drawing the glaciers directly onto the sky and leaving you to deduce the rest of the mountain from the spaces left behind.

I find myself obsessed by it. Can it be real? It is too substantial to be an illusion, yet seems too excessive to be genuine. All I know is when I wake up and see Rainier on the horizon, I think yeah, this is going to be a good day. In fact this would be a good mountain to worship: a pagan god of rock and ice and strangeness.

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