Monthly Archives: January 2024

For Climate Action, the best advice my mother gave me.

Brian Ettling with his mom Fran Ettling. Photo taken on his wedding day to Tanya Couture in St. Louis, Missouri on November 1, 2015.

‘All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother’ – attributed to Abraham Lincoln.

What should I do with my life? This is a question I have pondered my entire life. I am 55 years old, and I still struggle to answer that question.

This question was on the forefront of my mind when I graduated from high school in 1987. I attended Oakville High School, located in a suburb in the southern part of the St. Louis, Missouri. My senior year of high was extremely busy with going to school full time, including two college level classes. I worked part time as a cashier at a self-serve gas station. I played clarinet in my high school symphonic band and alto saxophone in the jazz band. I participated with my high school speech and debate program in extemporaneous speech contests, plus I was involved in the chess club. I don’t remember getting much sleep my senior year.

On top of that, I needed to pick a college to attend, and I had military and college recruiters frequently contact me. It was overwhelming to me. In the spring of 1987, I felt so stressed out that I decided to delay starting college for a year so I could catch up on life. Even more, I needed more time to try to determine where to go to college and what I wanted to study in college.

By the summer of 1987, I looked forwarded to a family vacation to see the western part of the United States. My parents had a Marriage Encounter convention to attend in Denver, Colorado. The convention took place on the campus of University of Colorado Denver. While my parents attended the convention, there was not much for younger sister, Mary Frances, and for me to do. I probably entertained myself by reading books and watch TV. I would soon be 19 years old in July and my sister was about three years younger than me. We always got along well, and we might have played card games while waiting for my parents to finish this weekend convention.

Like my parents, my sister and I stayed in dorm rooms on the college campus. I remember walking up and down the stairs from our room to the cafeteria for meals with a big window looking out into the world. The window had a great view of the front range of the Rocky Mountains that towered over the city of Denver. We don’t have high jagged peaks like that in Missouri, so I stared at those mountains a lot. I took photos to try to capture my first views of a mountain sunset. I wanted to see the mountains up close so bad that I wanted was counting down the days and minutes when we would go see them after the convention.

Photo by Brian Ettling of the sunset on front range on the Rocky Mountains taken in Denver, Colorado in the summer of 1987.

On the Sunday afternoon when the convention was over, we drove from Denver to Estes Park, Colorado to spend the night. Estes Park is the gateway community to Rocky Mountain National Park. It is located right next to the park entrance. On that Monday morning, my parents decided we would meet up with a retired couple who attended the convention, and they would take all of us to see Rocky Mountain National Park inside their massive RV. I looked forwarded to this drive because the RV was a higher clearance vehicle. We would be sitting higher than my parents’ blue wooded paneled station wagon. I was excited because this RV would give us a more bird’s eye view of Rocky Mountain national park.

Just one small problem. We woke up on that Monday morning to rain, dreary overcast skies with no views of the Rocky Mountains. After anticipating this day for months to see the Rocky Mountains, I felt crushed. The retired couple and my parents decided that we would still drive up to the visitor center at the top of Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road. The thought was, ‘You never know. It might just clear up at some point today.’

It never did clear up. It rained for the entire time. It was not an enjoyable day to see or experience the outdoors. The older couple, especially the woman, kept commenting over and over again about the blah weather by shaking her head and repeating, ‘I am so sorry. I am so sorry. What a shame.’

Her heart was in the right place since she felt how badly I wanted to see the mountains. However, she kept repeatedly saying that. I just wanted to yell at her to knock it off. I might have even told her to not keep saying that at one point. By the time we got to the Alpine Visitor Center, near the highest point on Trail Ridge Road, it seemed like a wasted day.

I asked my parents if the four of us could return tomorrow, since our itinerary on this trip was loose, and they agreed. The next day, we went up Trail Ridge Road again. This time, it was mostly cloudy and we had much better views of the mountains. We drove up to Alpine Visitor Center. For the first time in my life, I saw patches of snow on the ground in the middle of summer. It felt frigid and windy up there! I wore my summer wind breaker jacket and jean jacket over my summer shirts to try to stay warm.

From the visitor center, we hiked uphill on the Alpine Ridge Trail. The trail is around a half mile round trip and climbs over 162 feet from the visitor center to the top. At the summit, a wooden sign stated, “12,005 feet above sea level and higher than Oregon’s famed Mt. Hood.”

Brian Ettling at the top of the Alpine Ridge Trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photo taken in the summer of 1987.

I had never been to Oregon, but the sign still sounded impressive. We came from St. Louis, which is around 500 feet above sea level. Our family wondered what Oregonians thought of that sign. The sign seemed to mock Oregonians and Mt. Hood. Apparently, Oregonians didn’t like it. Years later, the sign was replaced to now read “Elevation 12,005 feet above sea level.”

I had to get my photo by this sign, wearing my fancy brown cowboy hat, cowboy boots, blue jean jacket and blue jeans. I looked like a wannabe cowboy from the St. Louis suburbs trying to blend in the west. Heck, growing up in the 1970s and 80s watching the TV show Dallas and listening to Willie Nelson on the radio, I thought that’s how people dressed out west.

I was ecstatic to have his panoramic view of the mountains from the Alpine Ridge Visitor Center. My excitement clearly showed because my mom leaned over and commented to me, “I think you should get a job working in a national park.”

I was floored when she said this. Up until that moment, I did not know that one could work in a national park, let alone me. I did not think I had the experience to work in a national park. At that time, my only jobs had been working at a Dairy Queen and as a cashier at a self-serve gas station. My mom assured me that I could work in a national park if I set my mind to it. I wondered then if my mom said because she wanted me out of the house and making my own way in the world.

When I recently shared this story with my mom, she remembered the story differently. She recalled giving me that advice not at Rocky Mountain National Park. Later during this same vacation out west, we stopped at the south rim of the Grand Canyon National Park for a couple of hours in the afternoon. I was astonished to the Grand Canyon for the first time. My mom insists that is when she recollected giving me that advice.

In between traveling from Rocky Mountain National Park to the Grand Canyon, our family made a big loop on this road trip. We drove through Wyoming to spend a couple of days in Salt Lake City, Utah. We spent a day in Las Vegas and visited Hoover Damn. During this route, we drove through Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in Utah. We were all amazed at the dramatic scenery in visiting these national parks. Even more, my mom saw clearly how delighted I was there and going for short hikes to explore these parks. By the time we got to the Grand Canyon, it makes sense that my mom may have given me her advice to work in a national park there.

Brian Ettling at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Photo taken in the summer of 1987.

In fact, I was so jubilant to see these national parks and this fabulous western scenery that I kept losing my sunglasses. I lost track, but I misplaced two to three pairs of sunglasses on this trip, to the chagrin of my mom and dad.

Regardless of where my mom gave me that advice to work in a national park, it stuck in my mind like super glue. During my four years attending William Jewell College in Kansas City, Missouri from 1988 to 1992, I kept thinking about my mom’s advice. Every year in college, I saw a recruiter from A Christian Ministries in the National Parks (ACMNP). The recruiters encouraged college students to apply through them for summer concession jobs to work in the national parks and then volunteer to lead interdenominational church services on the weekends.

Every year in college, I applied to work for ACMNP. Every summer they offered me a job working in a national park. Every year, I had some excuse to turn them down. I didn’t want to miss a family vacation, the national park was too far away, the park job needed me to stay until Labor Day and my college started before Labor Day.

Months before I graduated from college in 1992, I decided to work in a national park for the summer. I chose Crater Lake National Park in Oregon because I had never been there. To my surprise, they offered me a job in the gift store. The beauty of the deep blue lake and the surrounding mountains, hiking on the mountain peak trails, the friends I made, and the enjoyment I had working in the gift store were all an ideal fit for me in the summer of 1992.

Brian Ettling at Crater Lake National Park. Photo taken on November 3, 1992.

I ended up working 25 years in the summers at Crater Lake. For over 20 years, I was a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake. For several summers, I worked as a ranger collecting fees at the entrance stations. From 2006-2017, I worked as a naturalist/interpretative ranger at Crater Lake narrating the boat tours, leading guided hikes, and giving evening campfire programs.

In the winters, I ended up working 16 years in Everglades National Park from 1992 to 2008. I loved every minute of working in the national parks and giving ranger talks. My love of the national parks led to an interest in taking action to reduce the threat of climate change. However, I was uncertain what to do with this new passion for my life. In November 2009, a friend Naomi Eklund challenged me directly with the question “What do you really want to do with your life?”

I responded, “Fine! If I could do anything, I would like to be the climate change comedian!”

Naomi nearly fell out of her chair laughing. She responded, “That’s great! I want you to go home to grab that website domain name right now!” I then went home and did just that. A family friend helped me then build my website in April 2010.

I then had to figure out what I was going to do with this title and website to start marketing myself as The Climate Change Comedian. During the winter of 2014, I started creating goofy YouTube videos with my wife (then girlfriend) Tanya and my mom, Fran Ettling to promote me as The Climate Change Comedian.

I wrote the script for these videos. My Mom was hilarious playing the overbearing mother. I attempted to be funny in these videos, and my mom would say this tag line that I created, “You are not that funny!”

Friends and people that I barely knew would remark after watching these videos, “Your mom is so funny!” They did not seem to realize at all that I wrote these lines for my mom to say.

These short YouTube videos that I did with my parents and Tanya caught the attention of Comedy Central’s Tosh.o TV show. In April 2016, a producer of the show called me to invite my Mom and I to fly to Los Angeles, California to do a comedy segment with the show’s host, Daniel Tosh. Our comedy segment first aired Comedy Central on August 2, 2016, it was called “The Climate Change Comedian – Web Redemption.”

Tanya, my mom, and I had a blast taking that quick all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles to appear on a video sketch for the TV Show Tosh.o. The TV appearance paid handsomely. My Mom’s check was so big that she used it to pay for an expensive dental bill. We still receive random residual checks from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) or the full name Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA). They send us checks each time this episode of Tosh.o airs on TV in the United States or even other parts of the world.

I am so thrilled that my Mom got to participate with me in my climate organizing and to even get paid to be on television with me. My Mom and Dad worked hard and paid for so many things in my life. It felt like a blessing to me to help my Mom get this paid gig and receive occasional residual checks. Even more, after the August 2016 episodes aired on Tosh.o, my mom would go up to young men and women in their early twenties (the target audience for Tosh.o) and say to them, ‘Have you seen the TV show Tosho.o? I was on that show recently!’

The young people were surprised and impressed when my mom mentioned this to them. A few people, including her dentist, even recognized my mom on TV. That amazed me because my mom only had a brief 10 second appearance on the TV show! It seemed like more people spotted my mom on this TV appearance than me. I was so happy for her that she got to shine to be on national TV doing a moment of comedy at the age of 76 years old.

I think this path for me to become a climate organizer and The Climate Change Comedian started when my mom advised me back in 1987 to work in the national parks.

By 2017, I quit working in the national parks to become a climate change organizer, which I am still trying to do today. The national parks led to my passion for climate and now democracy organizing to try to make a difference in the world.

In recent years, my mom has encouraged me to write a book about my life. She even gave me a book a few years ago, On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. I have not read the book yet. For me, my highest priority is to write as much as I can right now so I have enough material to put together a book. I still planning on reading this book my mom gave me as I strive to create an autobiography or memoir about my life.

Who knows what I would have done with my life or would be doing today if my mom had not given me the best advice in my life to go work in a national park. It got me out of the house to see the outdoors and try to make a difference in world. Heck, I might not even be writing this blog on this website here today.

Thank you Mom!

Brian Ettling and his mom Fran Ettling in front of the British Columbia Parliament Building in Victoria, Canada on August 26, 2022.

For Climate Action, read Michael Mann’s Our Fragile Moment

Photo of Brian Ettling’s hardback copy of Our Fragile Moment by Michael Mann.

Deeply ingrained in all of us is a curiosity how we came to exist on this livable planet Earth. In addition, we want to know how we can continue to thrive on Earth with the daunting threat of climate change. Even more, with a certain amount climate change already baked into the Earth’s biosphere, we worry if it is too late and should we listen to the voices of doom. Climate scientist Dr. Michael E. Mann does an excellent job of answering these questions in his latest 2023 book, Our Fragile Moment: How Lessons from Earth’s Past Can Help Us to Survive the Climate Crisis.

Climate scientist Dr. Michael E Mann’s influence on me

For the past 13 years, I organized for climate action and I found Dr. Mann’s books to be informative to help me learn the basics of climate science, the threat it poses to us, and how we should respond. When I lived in St. Louis in 2011, I joined a local Toastmasters group to become a better climate change communicator. Immediately after I shared this intention with the group, some of the climate deniers demanded an answer to their question, “How do you know that humans are responsible for climate change?”

I grabbed Dr. Mann’s 2008 book of my bookshelf, Dire Predictions – Understanding Global Warming: The illustrated guide to the findings of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) to create speech to address their question. I specifically went to pages 34 and 35, “Couldn’t the increase in atmospheric CO2 be the result of natural cycles?” I attempted to show how the decreasing ratio of carbon-13 to carbon-12 pointing “conclusively to fossil fuels as the main cause of the rise of atmospheric CO2.” In other words, science robustly shows us the increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gases by humans burning fossil fuels caused the current climate change.

This explanation went over the heads of this audience, but it enabled me understand a vital fingerprint evidence how we know the present global warming is human caused and not natural. Regardless of how I presented this topic on climate change, I knew it would be contentious with this audience with around 30% climate deniers. It was obvious this topic would be so toxic to some of these Toastmasters that I even called this speech, “I am going to drop a stink bomb on you!” I had fun preparing and giving this speech. Dr. Mann’s books have guided me on my climate journey over the years.

In 2012, I reviewed and blogged about Dr. Mann’s book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars as a ‘Very Gripping Read.’ Just two months later, that same book inspired me to write a follow up blog about climate deniers, False Witnesses whose Testimonials Did Not Agree.

In 2017, I enjoyed reading the book Dr. Mann co-wrote with Pulitzer Prize–winning political cartoonist Tom Toles, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.

In 2022, I wrote a blog reviewing Dr. Mann’s 2021 book The New Climate War: The fight to take back our planet. On a personal note, Dr. Mann was gracious with his time responding to my emails about the best ways to communicate about climate science. He provided climate messaging tips before my November 10, 2020 appearance on Comedy Central’s Tosh.o. Sadly, I did not have a chance to share his messaging on the air, but I was very grateful that he took time to advise me. In addition, I very briefly met him at the American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference in San Francisco in December 2011. In was a chance encounter introduction, but he told me in an email that he remembered me.

Image used by permission by Dr. Michael Mann for my 2022 blog review, “Dr. Michael E. Mann says: ‘We need urgency & agency to solve the Climate Crisis‘”

With my deep admiration of Dr. Mann over the years, I was eager to read his newest book Our Fragile Moment when it was released in October 2023. In fact, I went to my favorite independent bookstore, Powell’s books, in downtown Portland, Oregon twice hoping to buy a copy of the book. Dr. Mann was scheduled to speak about his new book there on October 4th, but he had to cancel. When I finally received a copy of his book in later October, I enjoyed reading it.

Wargames, Dinosaurs, Sting, climate deniers, and my thoughts on Our Fragle Moment

Dr. Mann’s book is a fascinating focus on distinct geological moments in Earth’s history, such as
• Snowball Earth and the Faint Young Sun,
• The Great Dying or Permain-Triassic (P-T for short) extinction around 250 million years ago,
• The extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago – known as the transition from the Cretaceous period to the Paleocene period (K-Pg boundary).
• Hothouse Earth or Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) around 55 million years ago.
• The lesson of the Ice Ages from the Eocene-Oligocene transition from 34 million years ago to the current interglacial epoch known as the Holocene, starting around 12,000 years ago.
• The Holocene – the current interglacial period from 12,000 years ago to present.

In studying each of these distinct geologic events in Earth’s history, Dr. Mann explores the lessons from these events how they can apply and not pertain to present day climate change.

In reading Michael Mann’s books over the years, I like his cultural references. In the first chapter of his 2012 book, Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, he referred to the 1983 film WarGames starring Matthew Broderick. The movie is about a teenage video gamer and computer hacker who accidentally breaks into the computer system of the U.S. Defense Department and almost causes a full-scale nuclear war. We are both in our 50s, with Dr. Mann just a few years older than me. It was an entertaining film when I saw it in 1983. Michael was a teenager at the time hanging out with his buddies writing computer programs to solve challenging problems. The film inspired an adolescent Michael Mann to attempt a self-learning tic-tac-toe computer program.

At the same time, WarGames had a clear message about the futility of global nuclear war. The film had a very stark impact on me that humans can destroy ourselves with our technology if we are not careful. The idea that we could annihilate ourselves and our civilization stuck with me decades later as I learned about climate change. Younger generations may not know about WarGames, but I certainly relate to the cultural references in Dr. Mann’s books.

In Our Fragile Earth, Dr. Mann uses another 1983 reference from one of my favorite rock music albums of that time, Synchronicity, by the Police. He starts off chapter 4, “Mighty Brontosaurus” with a quote from the song lyrics from one of the songs off the album, “Walking in Your Footsteps.” The song was written by Gordon Sumner (AKA Sting), the lead singer, bass guitar, and primary songwriter for The Police. This was the quote that Dr. Mann used from the song:

“Hey mighty brontosaurus
Don’t you have a lesson for us
You thought your rule would always last
There were no lessons in your past
You were built three stories high
They say you would not hurt a fly
If we explode the atom bomb
Would they say that we were dumb?”

Dr. Mann wrote, “Do the dinosaurs, victims of a famous sixty-six-million-year-old mass extinction event, have a lesson for us? That rhetorical question was posed by the rock band The Police in their 1983 song ‘Walking in your Footsteps,’ which came out during my junior year in high school. What I and most listeners weren’t aware of then was that this evocative track off the album Synchronicity was actually a parable about the Cold War, nuclear holocaust and––though The Police themselves may not have intended it as such––catastrophic climate change.”

Chapter 4 analyzes what we can learn about the K-Pg boundary (the asteroid event that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs) in relation to present day climate change. This chapter was a key interest in me and will be an interest to others reading the book because of the popular fascination with dinosaurs and the asteroid event that caused their demise. Even more, Dr. Mann weaves a great story about the scientific debate about nuclear war in the 1980s and how that spilled into the ongoing scientific debate over the severity the climate crisis.

Dr. Mann referenced WarGames in Chapter 4 of seeing this movie with his high school friends at a movie theater in Hyannis, Massachusetts. A central character in the film is a NORAD computer, named Joshua. NORAD stands for North American Aerospace Defense Command. As Joshua “learns” in the film, there can be no winner in either tic-tac-toe or a full-scale thermonuclear war. The computer even comments about this lesson, “the only winning move is not to play.”

That same year WarGames was released, the ABC television network aired the film The Day After. This TV movie was about the aftermaths of a full-scale exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union on residents of Lawrence, Kansas with the collapse of civilizational infrastructure. To this day, it is the most-watched TV film of all time. I distinctly remember watching the film at home. That film profoundly impacted me, as well as millions of other Americans about the catastrophic damage of a nuclear war. President Ronald Reagan watched an advanced screening of the film. He wrote in his diary afterwards that it left him “greatly depressed” and motivated him to prioritize efforts to secure an arms control agreement with Russia.

Enter scientist Carl Sagan, a hero of Dr. Mann and mine. Both of us grew up watching his 1980-81 PBS series The Cosmos: A Personal Voyage about the scientific understanding on the origin of life and our place in the universe. Carl Sagan had a distinct way of speaking. As a kid, I entertained family and friends with my own impersonation of Carl Sagan saying, ‘Billions and Billions.’ That was a catch phrase popularized by TV host and comedian Johnny Carson poking fun at Carl Sagan, who was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Around the same time of WarGames and The Day After, Sagan and his collaborators researched the possible climate impacts of a global nuclear war. To the dismay of other scientists who thought Sagan became too public and political at that time, Sagan was vocally outspoken about the threat of a widescale nuclear war leading to a “nuclear winter” causing a planetary extinction event to life on Earth, like the death of the dinosaurs 65 million years earlier.

According to Dr. Mann, the models used by Carl Sagan and his collaborators in their nuclear winter work was “The same sort of model, in fact, used by James Hansen in 1981 to study future global warming scenarios.” Dr. James Hansen was then Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Using those models, Mann noted Hansen predicted back then that continued fossil fuel burning could lead to “potential effects on climate in the 21st century.” Dr. Mann points each of Hansen’s climate change predictions, “has since come to pass.”

Another hero of Dr. Mann and mine is climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University. Schneider was a role model and mentor for Michael Mann. When I became a park ranger narrating boat tours in Everglades National Park in 1998, park visitors asked me about global warming, which I knew nothing. Park visitors expect rangers to know everything. To answer their questions, the first book I found in the nearest Miami bookstore was Laboratory Earth: the Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose, by Stephen Schneider. Sadly, Carl Sagan and Stephen Schneider argued bitterly over the concept of nuclear winter in the 1980s.

Photo of Brian Ettling’s copy of Laboratory Earth: the Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose, by Stephen Schneider.

In Our Fragile Moment, Michael Mann wrote that the fight over the severity and the modeling of a nuclear winter “caused a rift between Sagan and Schneider that never healed.” Dr. Mann shared this story as a cautionary tale because it provided “a huge opening for Cold War hawks looking to discredit what they saw as the real threat–Sagan and his open advocacy for nuclear disarmament.” Even worse, those same Cold War hawks who mocked nuclear winter were basically the same ideological driven scientists who then went on to attack climate science. Dr. Mann named several contrarian Cold War scientists, such as S. Fred Singer, Frederick Seitz, and Robert Jastrow. They proceeded to impugn the scientific knowledge on the threat of climate change. Their deceptive efforts were highlighted in Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt.

It is another sad reminder that the search for scientific understanding to advise us to avoid nuclear war, dangerous climate change, and even understanding exactly how the dinosaurs went extinct can get muddled by misinformation, political attacks on scientists, and even bitter disputes between reputable and distinguished scientists. As Dr. Mann reminds in this chapter, “True scientific skepticism––as opposed to politically motivated denialism––is, after all, part of what Carl Sagan called the ‘self-correcting machinery’ of science.”

So, what can the K-Pg extinction event teach us about climate change? Dr. Mann writes of seeing “the charred remains Bastrop County Complex fire, the most destructive wildfire in Texas history. The fire began on September 4, 2011, following a summer of unprecedented heat and drought. It burned for fifty-five days, engulfing 32,000 acres.” He was visiting Texas in October 2012 to speak at a conference in Austin, Texas.

Sadly, like the dinosaurs, some things can permanently disappear on Planet Earth. Even worse, us humans can wipe out plant and animal species, even entire ecosystems, on our world because of our actions. He wrote, “The loblolly pine forest that was destroyed was an example of what is known as a relict forest–– a forest won’t grow back in today’s hotter and drier climate. It was a sobering example of tipping points and the phenomenon of hysteresis––a reminder that some things are lost forever. There is no going back.”

Dr. Mann concludes that chapter with this lesson of optimism for us from the K-Pg extinction: “There was nothing the dinosaurs could have done about their plight. They had no means to deflect the asteroid. They lacked agency. We do not. We are threatened with a catastrophe of our own making. And the primary challenge we face isn’t’ the immutable laws of astrophysics. It’s political will.”

Looking into Earth’s geological past should not cause us to fall into climate “doomerism”

If there’s a key audience Dr. Mann wants to reach in this book, I think it is readers who are potentially swayed by what he calls climate “doomers” or “doomists.” His previous book, released in 2021, was The New Climate War. I wrote a blog review of that book in 2022. In that book, Dr. Mann strongly criticized the climate “doomists” who believe it is too late to act on climate. These individuals and groups exaggerate the threat climate change, which ultimately does a disservice to everyone wanting a healthy planet for us to live. As he titles a chapter in that book, “The Truth is Bad Enough.” In that chapter, Dr. Mann makes a strong point that “doomism today poses a greater threat to climate action than outright denial.”

In his newest book Our Fragile Moment, Dr. Mann continues that thought by pointing to areas where “doomers” exaggerate evidence in previous extreme geological events on Earth. The “doomers” point to a past extreme geological event on our planet, such as Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) around 55 million years ago, to try to make their case we are “too late” or “doomed” to runaway ruinous climate change that will destroy all of humanity and our civilization. One example the doomers give are the “methane bombs” during the PETM. Their thinking is that the Earth warmed up so much during this “Hothouse Earth” period 55 million years ago that triggered huge amounts of methane releases buried under the ocean.

I have always been skeptical of the climate doomists, like Guy McPherson who believes ‘In the near future, all humans will die’ because of climate change. However, In October 2011, I read the National Geographic article “World Without Ice” by Robert Kunzig where he focused on the PETM. As a new climate organizer at that time, that article scared me that human caused climate change could trigger extreme conditions on Earth, similar to the PETM. He mentioned the alarming hypothesis of a mass methane hydrate release if humans keep warming the Earth with fossil fuel emissions.

Brian Ettling’s copy of “World Without Ice,” by Robert Kunzig in the October 2011 edition of National Geographic.

In Chapter 5 “Hothouse Earth” of Our Fragile Moment, Dr. Mann debunks the hypothesis of a methane bomb. He stated that during the PETM, “there was no catastrophic release of methane hydrates. Despite ongoing accounts even in the mainstream media that imply otherwise, there was no PETM ‘methane bomb.’ The methane hydrate feedback during the PETM appears to have been at most ten percent of the total carbon release.”

He went on to write that “There are caveats, of course. The rate of warming today is more than ten times greater than the PETM warming, and there is evidence that the destabilization of methane hydrates might be greater in a scenario of more-rapid warming…There is no evidence, however, that this is happening currently.”

However, we cannot dismiss methane as part of the climate change threat. As Dr Mann informs us the next paragraph,

“That does not mean that methane isn’t a problem today. It is. But it is not a climate feedback. Rather it is human-caused climate driver…We are witnessing a rise in methane concentrations due to natural gas extraction, livestock, and farming. The methane emissions appear to be from us, not some feedback cycle. Given that the rise in methane is responsible for about twenty-five percent of the warming is recent decades, reducing human methane emissions must be part of any comprehensive plan for addressing the climate crisis.”

Dr. Mann likes to use one of my favorite insights from his friend, mentor, and our hero the great climate scientist and communicator Stephen Schneider. He observed that the climate change debated is too often framed as “the end of the world” vs. “good for you.” Dr. Schneider considered those to be the “lowest probability outcomes. The truth is probably between those results. Schneider liked to advise that “the truth is bad enough.”

Thus, Dr. Mann sees a low chance of runaway methane driven warming or even a mass extinction as lessons we can take away from studying the PETM. But, he cautions us:

“Now the bad news: Even if PETM-level warmth is out of reach, a policy of total climate inaction could warm up the planet to the point where substantial regions would become uninhabitably hot for human beings––a hotter, more crowded planet with less food and drinkable water. It doesn’t take a Venusian runaway greenhouse to yield a dystopian future. We would be losers in that scenario.”

Final Thoughts

Over the past 13 years, I enjoyed reading Dr. Michael Mann’s books. As a climate change communicator, organizer, writer, and public speaker, I found his books to be useful and instructive. I like his writing style. He writes in plain language for non-scientist business majors like me to understand the science. Any layperson could read this.

I recently finished the 2023 autobiography My Effin’ Life, by Geddy Lee, the lead singer, bass player, and keyboardist for the rock band Rush. My wife gave me the book for Christmas, and I loved reading it over the holidays. Oddly, the book had several words I had to look up in the dictionary. Geddy is a high school dropout. However, he and his Rush bandmates, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart, liked to read books to kill the extra time on their road tours from 1974 to 2015. Neil Peart was such a bookworm that his bandmates called him “The Professor” or “Pratt” for short. The group wrote songs based on the prolific books read by their drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart. No doubt that Geddy Lee picked up a huge vocabulary by reading a lot and hanging out with Pratt.

On the other hand, Dr. Mann has a knack for writing climate books for the public where he does not lose the reader (me) in complicated words and intricate scientific concepts. He can hook his readers into climate science by referencing popular culture, such as the rock band The Police, movies like WarGames, and quoting Clint Eastwood in his books. Granted, his cultural touchstones are perfect for Generation X (his and my generation). Who knows if other generations would get his references, but they are perfect for me!

Again, at the beginning of Chapter 4, I loved Michael Mann’s quote from song lyrics from Sting, “Walking in my Footsteps,” from The Police album, Synchronicity. That was captivating for me to want to learn more about the extinction of the dinosaurs (K-Pg boundary) around 66 million years ago. Even more, Dr. Mann was effective at relating how the sudden loss of the “Mighty Brontosaurus” does and does not relate to modern day climate change.

My only suggestion to Dr. Michael Mann is the same critique I shared in my 2022 blog review of The New Climate War. I would like to see Dr. Mann or another climate scientist write a book about how we can use our understanding of climate science to reach the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In 2018, the IPCC released a summary report that we must cut our global greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and down to net zero by 2050. But how? What are the best scientific solutions to get us to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050?

At the very least, I would like to see Dr. Mann in a future book or writing to point us to the solutions that we should be doing. Or, to be respectful of his position to not be prescriptive as a scientist, who can he point us to that can show us the modeling, range of solutions, or needed collective actions to get us globally to net zero by 2050?

Having said that, I believe other climate organizers, besides me, climate “doomers” or “doomists” and even climate skeptics should read this book to learn what Earth’s geologic past can teach us and not teach us how to respond best to the climate crisis.

These were the key lessons that I learned from Michael Mann’s Our Fragile Moment:

  1. We need agency and urgency to solve the climate crisis.
  2. Uncertainty is not our friend, especially with scientific uncertainty about climate change.
  3. We can reduce the threat of climate change, but the window is closing fast.
  4. The geologic past is not always prologue to future nasty surprises with climate change.

I hope Dr. Mann will continue writing books because I enjoy reading them. Writing a book can be a massive undertaking. If Michael Mann decides to write another book, I will look forward to reading it.

Brian Ettling at the Climate Planet temporary exhibit in Copenhagen, Denmark. Photo taken on October 20, 2017.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan inspires me to Act on Climate 

Photo by Brian Ettling. Photo of Mt. Shuksan by Picture Lake taken on June 1, 2009.

“The mountains are calling. Therefore, I must go.”
– Naturalist and conservationist John Muir

Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1970s and 1980s, I dreamed of seeing the snowcapped mountains in the western United States. Missouri has no towering snowcapped mountains, just the rolling mountains of the Ozarks. Ironically, St. Louis was the world headquarters for Anheuser Busch Beer, the largest beer company in United States. That was before it was bought out by InBev, a Belgium company in 2008. One of their flagship brands was Busch Beer. The slogan of Busch Beer was “Head for the Mountains.” As a child in St. Louis, that’s what I wanted to do. Forget the beer! I wanted to leave my hometown and head to the snowcapped mountains.

While in high school, I wanted to decorate my bedroom wall with a new poster. I asked my mom to take me to the nearby shopping mall so I could buy a poster of a majestic looking snow-capped mountain. The poster I picked was a broad sided jagged mountain with several glaciers resting on it and pockets of snow clinging to it. The mountain dominated the background of the poster. In the foreground was tall majestic bright green pine trees. A small lake was in the lower front reflecting like a perfect mirror the trees and the mountain. I stared endlessly at that poster after I hung it on my wall. I had no idea where that mountain was, but I was determined to see that mountain someday.

After I graduated from William Jewell College in May 1992, I took two different Amtrak trains Kansas City, MO to reach southern Oregon. I had a summer job at Crater Lake National Park in the gift store. I loved working and hiking at Crater Lake with the beautiful bright blue color of the lake with the snowy mountains that surrounded it. I ended up working at Crater Lake for 25 years during the summers. Crater Lake sparked a curiosity in me to see other national parks.

Brian Ettling’s first summer at Crater Lake National Park. Photo taken on November 3, 1992

While working at the Crater Lake gift store, I thumbed through the books about other national parks hoping to visit them sometime. One day while glancing through them, I noticed a photo of Mt. Shuksan in North Cascades National Park, in Washington state. I immediately recognized Mt. Shuksan as the same mountain I had on a poster in high school. Now that I knew where that mountain was located, I was even more determined to see it someday.

My visits with friends in Salem, Oregon and Grapeview, Washington in late May 2009

In 2009, Crater Lake offered me an opportunity to work a long season from mid-March to the end of September. I would lead ranger guided snowshoe hikes for school groups from mid-March to Mid-May for the Classroom at Crater Lake program. From the second week of June until the end of September, I would then work as a seasonal interpretative ranger leading the ranger programs in the park, such as the boat tours, trolley tours, guided hikes, etc.

The catch was that because I would work a long season doing those ranger jobs, Crater Lake had to lay me off for two weeks at the last week of May and the first week of June. This prevented the park from exceeding the number of hours and weeks I could work as a seasonal employee for the federal government during a fiscal year. For this two-week vacation, I decided to visit the national parks in Washington state. This would be my chance to finally see Mt. Shuksan!

Before traveling to Washington, I spent Memorial weekend with my friends Gary and Melissa Martin and their daughter Shelby in Salem, Oregon. While visiting them, I mentioned I had never seen Silver Falls State Park, which is less than an hour drive east of Salem. It was Memorial weekend, so the park was crowded with local residents and visitors from elsewhere. We hiked the Trail of the Ten Falls. This is a loop trail over 7 miles long, with four water falls one can hike behind. The waterfalls are stunning, ranging from 27 to 178 feet. This is a state park so beautiful that it should be a national park.

Photo by Brian Ettling of South falls at Silver Falls State Park, Oregon on May 24, 2009.

After staying with Gary and Melissa, I drove north to see my best friend, Scott Manthey, and his wife Nikki who live in Grapeview, WA. Their home is on top of a hill surrounding by other middle-class homes. On a clear day, they see Mt. Rainer to the east of them. The bottom of the hill has an inlet connecting to the southwestern end of Puget Sound. Scott and I had fun swapping music from our iTunes. Much of it was music we enjoyed listening to in high school in the 1980s.

Traveling to see Olympic National Park in late May 2009

From Scott and Nikki’s house, I started my Washington state national parks adventure. I camped for two nights at the Heart o’ the Hills Campground, just outside of Port Angeles and just inside of Olympic National Park. I figured it would be cold in late May and early June in Washington state, so I bought a cold weather sleeping bag at a nearby Wal-Mart. It turned out the I had sunny and warm weather for nearly all that trip. The next day, I returned that sleeping bag and stuck to my thinner summer sleeping bag for this vacation. I was basically by myself at this campground. The only people I saw was when I ate at a Thai restaurant in town that evening.

Later in the afternoon that day, I drove up to Hurricane Ridge to get a view of the Olympic Mountains. It was a clear day with lots of winter snow still on the mountains, which are all under 8,000 feet tall. Yet, they get hammered with snow during the winter since they reside close to the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The Olympics have a magnificent beauty with their snowy cragged tops. They look like the Greek Gods should be living there, not the Olympus Range in Greece, where ancient Greek mythology claim they live.

Brian Ettling’s photo of Hurricane Ridge at Olympic National Park on May 27, 2009.

The next day, I squeezed in as much as I could to see Olympic National Park. I stopped at Elwha Valley to see Madison Water Falls and get more views of the Olympic Mountains looking up from the deep valley. I drove two hours to see the Hoh Rain Forest. I was spellbound seeing the tall and impressive Douglas Red Firs and Western Cedar providing a dark cathedral canopy for the lush ferns and forest floor plants thriving in a welcoming place of natural peacefulness.

On the drive back to Port Angeles, I traveled down a long road to see the Sol Doc Valley in the park and hike to see the roaring Sol Duc Falls. When I reached it, the waterfall looked a large concentration white water that went into a chasm next to the overlook and under the bridge that it was hard to see it all as the water pounded further down this creek in this dark forest. My final stop as daylight was almost gone was going for a half a mile hike to see Marymere Falls. It had an impressive 200 feet drop into the mossy, fern-laden ravine.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan for the first time on May 29, 2009

The next day I drove an hour and a half from the Heart O’ the Hills Campground to the seaside town of Port Townsend, the most northeastern point of the Olympic Peninsula. I then drove my car onto a crowded ferry to be shuttled across Puget Sound. As the ferry went across the open water, it seemed like the Olympics rose in height with their white snow tops to give me one final view from the west. To the east, the distant white ghost of Mt. Baker still brilliant from its winter snow started to appear more visible through the morning haze.

The ferry dropped me off at Whidbey Island. I then drove north. I was surprised by the immense scenery driving on the high bridges above Deception Pass. I stopped my car for a while to admire and photograph the bridges, the spring flowers, and the distant Olympic Mountains. I walked on the bridges with heavy traffic driving by. I wanted to get a look at how the bridges separate the ocean waters of Strait of Juan de Fuca (to the west) to Skagit Bay (to the east).

I then east drove to Sedro-Woolley to say hello to a ranger I knew at the North Cascades Visitor Center. From there, I drove straight north on Hwy 9. Just south the town of Acme, Washington around 2:30 pm, I slammed on the brakes. To the east, I could see these majestic jagged snowcapped mountains of the Twin Sisters Range. I was getting excited because the weather might be clear enough to drive up to see Mt. Shuksan.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Twin Sisters Range just east of Acme, Washington on May 29, 2009.

I eagerly drove my car north to Maple Falls, Washington, which is just a few miles south of the Canadian border. I then headed east on Highway 540. Just outside of Glacier, Washington, I found a Forest Service Campground, the Douglas Fir Campground, nearly empty where I quickly pitched my tent for the night. I then drove up this very windy highway with some of the sharpest hairpin turns and switchbacks to the top to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

At 5:50 pm, the sky was bright blue with no clouds in the sky. I rounded the bend entering the Mt. Baker Ski Area, also known as Heather Meadows. No cars were in sight. Ski season was over. The only sound was the light whistle of the wind. I was completely alone. My first sight of Mt. Shuksan stunned me. It was the most beautiful natural wonder I had seen in my life.

The heavy winter snowpack clung deeply to mountain. The late afternoon sun shining on the mountain made it nearly glow with illumination. The real sight of Mt. Shuksan was much more splendid to see in person. The deep dark rocks of the mountain that jutted out in between the to a pointy triangular top gave the mountain a towering appearance.

Naturalist and conservationist John Muir, who is known as “The Father the National Parks” wrote over 100 years ago, “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home.”

It felt like Mt. Shuksan said to me, ‘Welcome home, Brian! It took you long enough to get here. You had that poster on your bedroom wall over 22 years ago.’

Photo by Brian Ettling of his first view of Mt. Shuksan at the Mt. Baker Ski Area on May 29, 2009.

I could not stop staring at the mountain and taking photographs of it from every vantage point I could find at the Mt. Baker Ski Area. I ended up taking over 60 photos of the mountain that day. This ski area still had lots of snow covering the ground everywhere. It looked like a winter wonderland with Mt. Shuksan as the most iconic feature.

This was too beautiful a sight to share with myself. I called my mom and two female friends that I fancied at the time to share with them where I was and described to them what I saw.

The only thing looking odd was the reflection pond from my poster was missing. I then realized the pond was right in front of me. It was just buried under the winter snow and ice. A bit of the water was visible as the spring weather was melting back the frozen pond. Not seeing the reflection pond like my poster had me curious to return at some point to see Mt. Shuksan again.

The mountain ranges surrounding Mt. Shuksan wore impressive winter snowpacks. I marveled and took lots of photos of those mountains. I could see why North Cascades National Park was referred to as “The American Alps.” I never saw the Alps in Europe. However, these mountains were perfect to behold in my eyes.

Photo by Brian Ettling. View of a range of the Cascade Mountains from the Mt. Baker Ski taken on May 29, 2009.

Traveling across and back North Cascades National Park on May 31, and June 1, 2009

Around 7:30 pm I left the Mt. Baker Ski Area and started driving the switchbacks down the mountain. It was late May with still plenty of daylight, but I did not want to get back to my campsite in the dark. It was a 30-minute drive back to my campsite. I still found a way to visit the roaring and steep Nooksack Falls just after 8 pm with remaining daylight, located a few minutes’ drive from my campsite. I slept well that night with my dream come true of seeing Mt. Shuksan.

The next day, I drove south on Hwy 9 back to Sedro-Woodley. Near Acme, I had to slam on the brakes again and pullover to the side of the road to give another good view of the Twin Sisters Range. It was another clear sunny day to admire views of snow capped mountains.

At Sedro-Woodley, I headed east to drive on Hwy 20, which cuts through the bulk of North Cascades National Park. With many high snowy, jagged topped mountains, I thought this was one of the most spectacular national parks I had seen. By this point in my life as a seasonal park ranger, I had seen most of the U.S. national parks.

I spent the middle of the day hiking on Thunder knob Trail. It is 3.6 miles round trip and climbs 425 feet in elevation to a vantage point with scenic views of Diablo Lake and nearby snowy rocky top mountains. It surprised me to see visitors walking their dogs on this trail. I was on vacation, but I was still in my park ranger mode. I engaged visitors in a friendly way to let them know dogs are typically not allowed on national park trails. They smiled at me and kept walking their dogs. When I returned to the trailhead, I noticed they were correct and I was wrong. The trailhead sign said, “Pets are allowed but must be on a leash.” Actually, I was the idiot!

Photo by Brian Ettling of Diablo Lake and Davis Peak from the Diablo Lake overlook in North Cascades National Park. Taken on May 31, 2009.

I camped that night at park Colonial Creek Campground, located directly across the road from the Thunderknob Trailhead. It was Saturday evening Memorial Weekend. The campground was crowded with loud families, but I was very happy to get a campsite for the night. The next day I drove east on the North Cascades Highway with another day of perfect weather to see magnificent snowcapped mountains lined up along the sides of the highway. I stopped frequently to take photos and admire these splendid mountains.

At one of the pull outs, I encountered some friendly Grey Jays. Years ago,a fellow Crater Lake Park Ranger told me that if one reaches out their hand, a Grey Jay (also known as a Canada Jay) might land on it. For the first time in my life, I extended my hands. A friendly Grey Jay landed on my hand! It felt magical. Of course, it was probably fed by another tourist in the past and was simply looking for a food handout from me. From all my years of working in the national parks, I was not going to give this bird food. Thus, the bird soon flew away from my hand.

I would have never done this trick at Crater Lake National Park in uniform because it would have encouraged other visitors to interact with the animals and feed them. Nor would I have done this out of uniform because other park ranger would have probably scolded me for engaging with the wildlife. However, this was fun to interact with this Grey Jay away from Crater Lake and at a location where there were no other park visitors around at the moment.

I made it to Winthrop, Washington late afternoon. It’s a lovely old west themed town that thrives on tourists staying there on their way to the outdoors. The gift shops and restaurants are scrunched together like a set from an old western film. It has a fun mountain town themed vibe to get a cup of coffee, eat dinner or buy some artistic souvenirs. I found a comfortable motel to spend the night. It was my first shower after a week of camping. I felt bad for the people who encountered me the previous days.

The next day, I could go anywhere, but I decided to travel back through North Cascades National Park on another warm sunny day. Mt. Shuksan was calling me to visit again. As I approached Glacier, Washington, there was excellent visibility to see Mt. Baker. Thus, it looked to be another day with an outstanding view of Mt. Shuksan if I could make it up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area late in the afternoon. I found another campsite at the Douglas Fir campground near Glacier, Washington. I headed up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area by the early June summer evening.

A photo by Brian Ettling of Mt. Baker taken near Glacier, Washington on June 1, 2009.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan for the second and third time in early June 2009

This time, Mt. Shuksan looked more amazing. Picture Lake had no ice or snow on it. No wind was blowing. The mountain had a perfect mirror reflection, even better than I remembered from my childhood poster. Two other photographers were there to capture that perfect image of Mt. Shuksan with the mirror image of it reflected in Picture Lake. I once read that Mt. Shuksan is the most photographed mountain in the world. I saw why from this moment.

I got the ideal photo of Mt. Shuksan with my digital camera. Years later, my father-in-law helped me frame a large image of my photo. That picture of Mt. Shuksan is my Facebook banner photo since I joined Facebook in 2009. It is the most stunning image I have seen in my life. It is the first photo on this blog.

The next day, I rented a pair of snowshoes in Glacier, Washington to explore around on snowshoes in the Mt. Baker Ski Area. I hiked in the snowshoes up to Artist Point to get fantastic views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. Both mountains were absolutely shining in their winter snow white on clear early June day. Not a cloud was in the sky. Just the sun shining strongly with the bright light bouncing off the snow at the ski area to give me snow blindness late that afternoon. My eyes really stung from the intense daylight that day.

Yes, my eyes hurt so bad afternoon from the snow blindness. At the same time, I was surrounded by magnificent snowcapped mountains in every direction while I happily traversed around on snowshoes. It was one of the best days of my life! I was so lucky to be alive to experience the Mt. Baker Ski Area and all the mountains around me covered in deep winter snow. Except for a few other people, I had this area to myself. I loved taking numerous photos to capture the awesome beauty that day. I was very proud of my digital photos looking at them afterwards and today. At the same time, the photos could not capture my pure joy of being there that day.

Brian Ettling with Mt. Baker behind him at Artist Point in the Mt. Baker Ski area on June 2, 2009.

Visiting Mt. Rainier National Park in early June 2009

The next day, I left to explore Mt. Rainier National Park to camp there for two nights. During my stay at Mt. Rainier, the sky became overcast. I could still see Mt. Rainier because the clouds were high above the mountain. The overcast weather spoke clearly to me that I was very lucky to have clear weather for nearly the entire trip to this two week visit to Washington state. I had a terrific time hiking at Mt. Rainier to get views of this mountain in early May.

This was the era before smart phones and selfie sticks. It was the days when you would ask a stranger to take your photo at a scenic location. Well, I asked a stranger to take photos of me with my digital camera with Mt. Rainer in the background. This older gentleman did not listen to my instructions closely. He took good photos of me, but he did not know how to get Mt. Rainier in the background of my photos. Thank goodness, nine years later, I had an iPhone, and I could use it to take selfies of me with iconic scenery such as Mt. Rainier centered in the background.

When I strolled by the Paradise Inn, I had a good look at a Cascade Red Fox. It was standing there in the snow watching the visitors walk past him. This fox looked tame like a person fed it recently. It hoped someone else would give it some food. It stayed in the same spot for a long time allowing me to take numerous photos of it with my camera. It almost acted like it was posing for the cameras, like a fashion model, as if this was another tactic to get a free meal.

Photo by Brian Ettling of a Cascade Red Fox near Paradise Inn at Mt. Rainer National Park on June 4, 2009.

The next day was clear with an ideal blue sky and the mountain was totally visible. I choose to hike that morning on the Rampart Ridge Trail, which starts at the lower elevation Longmire Visitor Center. As I neared the top of the loop, I had terrific views of Mt. Rainier. There were still patches on snow on the trail now and then, which made it more challenging to follow. It created a sense of fun to locate the trail when it was obscured by the snow now and then.

Returning to the Longmire Visitor Center in late afternoon, I got sunscreen in my eyes somehow. Ir was stinging and causing a lot of discomfort. As I was headed to the men’s room to use the sink to wash the sunscreen out of my eyes, I ran into someone I knew. Her name is Jennifer. She used to work seasonally on the trail crew at Crater Lake. She was quite friendly when she saw me. I always thought she was very attractive, but out of my league.

Jennifer had a sharp wit. She was a master of using a wide variety of manly tools. I had neither of those skills. She was captivating with her long straight blonde hair, enchanting smile, great buff figure from working on outdoor trails, and a very charming personality. We did not know each other well, but we enjoyed saying hello to each other when she worked at Crater Lake. She was someone you would want as a friend and would be honored to date.

Sadly, when I saw Jennifer, my eyes were super irritated with sunscreen. We said hello to each other and tried to strike up a conversation about what each doing these days. However, my eyes kept constantly blinking at her since they were feeling miserable in that moment. I looked like a complete loser with my eyes rapidly blinking at her. I was unable to look at her because it was hard for me to see and keep my eyes open. It was a very awkward moment. I had to cut the conversation short to run to the bathroom to flush out my eyes in the sink. When my eyes returned to normally, I went back outside to try to chat with her again. However, she was gone. She was probably onto her next trail work assignment for the day.

Fortunately, when I saw Jennifer months or years later, I was able to explain what happened. She laughed. Jennifer always looked for the positive and the goofiness in everything. She responded that she figured that I had something wrong with my eyes in the moment. She did not take it personally that I was constantly blinking at her. Whew! That was a relief.

Brian Ettling hiking above Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park on June 4, 2009.

After visiting Mt. Rainier for a couple of days, I stayed a couple of nights with Scott and Nikki in Grapeview again. Then I visited again with my friends Gary and Melissa Martin and their daughter Shelby in Salem, Oregon. I was so eager to show my friends my digital photos from my trip seeing the mountains of Washington.

That weekend, I returned to Crater Lake for the summer to start work on Monday, June 8th.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan together with my wife Tanya for the first time on September 2, 2018

I never forgot about Mt. Shuksan. My wife, Tanya, and I moved to Portland, Oregon in February 2017. I showed her my favorite mountain on Labor Day weekend 2018. She did not say much about Mt. Shuksan. She is not as chatty as me. She did give me the impression that she enjoyed seeing the mountain because she took lots of photos. She has been open to traveling to see the mountain again when opportunities happened.

When we saw the mountain together for the first time on September 2, 2018, a thin ban of clouds wrapped just underneath the summit and shrouded the top of the southern part of the mountain. The clouds blended into the mountain well on this partly cloudy day. I was a tad disappointed that the ban of clouds hid a bit more of the top. I wanted Tanya to see the mountain unobstructed by clouds, like the first time I saw it. However, she was fine seeing the mountain as it was that day and slightly annoyed with me with my frustration of wanting perfection.

The Mt. Baker Ski Area looked different in September 2018 than what I remembered in the beginning of June 2009. All the winter snow that I saw in June on the ground and clinging to the mountain was not there. Just the glaciers were clinging to the mountain. The summer green grass and exposed ground made a nice contrast to the blue sky and dark rocky mountain. The deep winter snow that I saw in June 2009 with all its bright whiteness made for dramatic scenery and stellar photography.

I said to Tanya that I hope we can go to the Mt. Baker Ski Area sometime in early June so she could see what I first experienced seeing the mountain for the first time. Again, she enjoyed what she saw that day. She did not want to hear about what I thought she was missing.

Tanya Couture and Brian Ettling at Picture Lake to see Mt. Shuksan on September 2, 2018.

Having said that, it was still spectacular to see Mt. Shuksan at the beginning of September and finally have the chance to show it to Tanya. The good news is that the clouds on the mountain dissipated by early evening. Thus, Tanya and I were able to see totally clear views of the mountain. Tanya got to see firsthand why this is my favorite place on planet Earth. She seemed to deeply appreciate this location and our time together there.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan with Tanya and her parents on August 11, 2019

Tanya’s parents, who live in St. Louis, heard me talk about Mt. Shuksan so much that they wanted to see my happy place. In early August 2018, my in-laws came to visit us in Portland in early August 2019. They then went to a folk-dance camp in near Tacoma, Washington for a week. After that week was over, they decided they would meet us at the Douglas Fir Campground near Glacier, Washington. This was the same campground I stayed when visiting the Mt. Baker Ski Area for the first time in 2009. Tanya and I stayed there on Labor Day Weekend 2018 when she saw Mt. Shuksan for the first time.

Tanya and I left Portland two days before meeting up with them. We drove up central Washington to spend the night in Winthrop, Washington. We then spent the day driving through North Cascades National Park so she could experience that national park for the first time. It was overcast driving through the park that day with the clouds covering the tops of the mountains. Still, some of the mountains on the east side of the park were completely visible to see.

As we drove through the park, we took lots of photos and did the short hike on the Thunder Knob Trail. The wind blew briskly that day, so the air had a bit of coolness to it. We hiked on this trail to see the light bluish green turquoise hue of the waters of the manmade Diablo Lake. This body of water straddles between the steep forested lower elevation mountains you see on the North Cascades Highway as it winds through the national park.

All four of us were happy to meet up at Glacier, Washington Forest Service Campground late in the afternoon on August 11, 2019. It was still very overcast, and Mother Nature decided not to burn off or push away the clouds that day. As we drove into the town of Glacier, we could not see Mt. Baker off in the distance behind the front range of mountains. The overcast clouds hung so low to block mountain views. From my experience visiting the area, my gut feeling was that if Mt. Baker was not visible, Mt. Shuksan would not be either.

My father-in-law, Rex, was like a kid on Christmas morning, eager to make the 40-minute drive to see Mt. Shuksan from the campground. It was almost 5 pm in the afternoon. I was not in a rush to see the mountain since the overcast skies indicated Mt. Shuksan was probably not visible. In addition, the three restaurants in Glacier seemed to shut down by 8 pm. I advised to eat dinner first, then drive up to see if the mountain was visible. Rex was still singularly focused on viewing the mountain and was resistant to my advice to wait until after dinner to see it.

Fortunately, Tanya and my mother-in-law, Nancy, were on my side. Rex was outvoted and Nancy made it clear to him that he was not going to win this argument. Thus, we had a lovely dinner at the Italian Restaurant in Glacier. We then made the 40-minute drive up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area, arriving around 8:15 pm. It was summer, so there was still plenty of daylight. However, my suspicion was correct. The upper half of Mt. Shuksan was covered in clouds. It was still great to see the lower half of the mountain with glaciers and patches of snow showing among the dark mountain face. However, it was not as fabulous to see as a clear day unobstructed by clouds.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Mt. Shuksan at Picture Lake on August 11, 2019.

The next day, Tanya and I drove from Glacier, WA back home to Portland, OR. It was a bright sunny day with a perfect blue sky. We did not have a chance to see Mt. Shuksan that day. We were good with that since we saw the mountain on previous visits. Tanya and I were anxious for her parents to see it. They had the time to drive up to the Mt. Baker Ski area on August 12th and they did get to see amazing clear views of the mountain.

Rex and Nancy had a fulfilling day hiking by the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. Rex took lots of photos of the mountain and wildflowers on the Bagley Lakes Trail. Nancy shared that she enjoyed the hikes, the views, and wildflowers in Heather Meadows. Tanya and I were thrilled they got to explore the Mt. Baker Ski Area on a clear day and see is one of our favorite places.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan with Tanya on Labor Day, September 2, 2019

For Labor Day weekend 2019, Tanya and I had fun visiting Vancouver, Canada. I played clarinet in my high school symphonic band in St. Louis, Missouri in the 1980s. In 1986, our band instructor arranged for our band to visit Vancouver, British Columbia to play at the Expo World’s Fair. This was my first time seeing the Pacific Northwest and I knew then I wanted to live there someday. The city looked magical with a density of high rise buildings nestled up to a wide harbor and towering snowcapped mountains rising above the other side of the water.

I always wanted to return to see Vancouver, British Columbia. Portland, Oregon is about a 6 hour drive to Vancouver, BC. Living in Portland gave Tanya and I an opportunity to drive up there on a long 3-day weekend, such as Labor Day weekend. We had fun walking all around the city on Sunday, September 1st. The city was even more delightful than I had remembered as we took in the most scenic spots. We wore ourselves out that day walking in Stanley Park, driving in the park to see the Lion’s Gate Bridge, going to the top of the Vancouver Lookout building to get a bird’s eye view of the city, and wandering around to find the old Expo 86 location.

Labor Day was the day for us to drive back from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland. However, we woke up to a clear day in Vancouver. With weather that optimal, we had to take a short drive out of the way to see Mt. Shuksan. We drove east of Vancouver to the Sumas, Washington international border crossing. Sumas is located an hour drive from the Mt. Baker Ski Area. The U.S. customs officer questioned us why were re-entering the U.S. through Sumas and not Blaine, WA, where we left the U.S. to go to Vancouver, BC two days prior.

My answer: “Because we want to see Mt. Shuksan.”

The U.S. Border Officer did not say another word and let us back in the U.S.

Tanya and I made it to Mt. Baker Ski Area in early afternoon to see at Mt. Shuksan at Picture Lake around 11:30 am. It was a glorious a mostly clear summer day with a small cloud rising over the backside of the mountain. We then drove to the end of the road at Artist Point to get splendid views of Mt. Baker and clear views of Mt. Shuksan.

A photo by Tanya Couture of Mt. Shuksan on the Artist Point Trail on September 2, 2019

At 2 pm, we left Artist Point to start the drive back to Portland. We made it back home after 9 pm that evening. We were exhausted from the drive, but high on seeing my friends, Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker, again.

Meeting up with my friend Mark Deeter in Seattle, WA in late July 2021

In mid-June 2021, I received a Facebook message from my friend, Mark Deeter. I worked with Mark in the Everglades in 1993 and Death Valley National Park in 1994. Mark lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. He wrote he planned to travel to Seattle, WA at the end of July on a business trip and he hoped to meet up with me. I had not seen Mark in almost 30 years, so I wanted to catch up with him. On July 12th, I purchased my train tickets to rendezvous with him in Seattle.

Mark would be off work July 27th and 28th, so we then started brainstorming for what we could do on his days off work. Mark likes to scuba dive, so he was thinking about doing that when he came to Seattle. I had never heard of scuba diving near Seattle. I told Mark that I don’t like to scuba dive. I don’t like the thought of being completely submerged underwater. I explained that if he wanted to scuba dive, I would be happy to watch him do it, but I would not be scuba diving.

Mark then suggested renting an airplane instead of diving, since he is a licensed small aircraft pilot. I responded that “We could rent an airplane if you can reserve one. I would love to see WA state from the air. Keep in mind that there are forest fires in the northwest right now, so it might be hazy when you come out here.”

I was not sure about flying in a small airplane. I enjoy flying. However, if the weather is clear, my favorite activity is day hiking in a national park or wilderness area. For whatever reason, Mark did not bring up the idea of flying again.

I traveled by train in Seattle on July 26th. I love riding in trains, and I have been on that scenic train ride several times from Portland to Seattle. That particular day, it was clear with good visibility to see Mt. Rainier. I snapped a good photo of it just south of Tacoma.

Mt. Rainier taken from an Amtrak Train south of Tacoma, WA on July 26, 2021 by Brian Ettling.

When I met up with Mark in Seattle that evening, we had not figured out what we planned to do yet during our two days together. I had very clear ideas. I wanted to spend one day driving up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area to see Mt. Shuksan and spend the other day hiking in Mt. Rainier National Park. Mark and I enjoyed hiking and exploring the national parks when we worked together in the Everglades and Death Valley. Thus, Mark was open to my ideas.

On July 27th, we woke up mid-morning from the cheap motel he stayed at in Bellevue, WA with the intention to go to the Mt. Baker Ski Area. We ate breakfast at a place that caught my attention that we drove by the day before, Chace’s Pancake Corral. I thought the banana pancake breakfast was delicious. I ended up having that breakfast all three days of my trip.

Mark then drove us to a nearby REI where he bought a new backpack. He then drove us in his rental car towards the Mt. Baker Ski Area. I knew the exact and most scenic route to take to reach our destination. It was less than a 3-hour drive from Bellevue to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan with my friend Mark Deeter on July 27, 2021

When we reached northern Washington town of Burlington on I-5, the GPS wanted to route us a different way. It was after 1 pm and I did not have time to think about that then. Mark and I stopped at a Subway to use the bathroom, stretch our legs, and buy lunch sandwiches for the road. However, I routed us to take state Hwy 9 north of Sedro-Woolley to Maple Falls and then take state Hwy 542 to arrive at the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Around 1:40 pm, we reached the scenic pull off on Hwy 9 near Acme, WA. Just like I saw 12 years earlier, to the east, I saw the majestic jagged snowcapped mountains of the Twin Sisters Range with snowcapped Mt. Baker peaking out just to left of those front range peaks. Mark marveled at seeing this view. We felt lucky to snap pictures of this scene on this marvelous summer day.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Twin Sisters Range just east of Acme, Washington on July 27, 2021.

That jubilation only lasted for about a minute. When Mark drove a few hundred feet up the road, he slammed on the brakes. A giant barrier blocked the road announcing, “Road closed for construction.” No wonder the GPS would not guide us up Hwy 9! Mark and I backtracked and found other roads to take us to Glacier, Washington and onward to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Mark drove on backroads on Whatcom Lake, which lies directly west of Acme. Whatcom Lake looked like a mini-Lake Tahoe with fancy big homes and highbrow boats on the water. We ended up in the outskirts of Bellingham, WA. We finally connected with state Hwy 542 to drive east towards Maple Falls, Glacier, and then the Mt. Baker Ski Area. We got a peak of Mt. Baker by Maple Falls after 3 pm, so we knew this was a good day to try to see Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker.

I was anxious to get to our destination. However, Mark spotted the sign for Nooksack Falls, so we had to stop there. These are stunning waterfalls to see, so I did not blame Mark for wanting to stop there to check them out. After the brief waterfalls stop, we were back in the car to head to the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

We finally reached Picture Lake with fantastic views of Mt. Shuksan after 4 pm. We now had time and were relaxed enough to eat our Subway lunches while admiring the view of Mt. Shuksan. It was great to get a selfie with Mark there on my iPhone. This was the only selfie with him during this trip. We then got back in Mark’s rental car to drive to Artist Point.

Brian Ettling and Mark Deeter at Picture Lake to see Mt. Shuksan on July 27, 2021.

When we reached the Heather Meadows Visitor Center just a mile up the road, we discovered another barrier. The road to Artist Point was still closed for the season. There were still patches of snow on the road past that point that made it unsafe to drive.

Mark and I decided we were not going to miss Artist Point with the views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. The only option was to hike the Wild Goose Trail, which is over a mile long with an elevation gain of 800 feet to reach Artist Point. Oddly, I intended to go hiking on this trip, but I did not pack my hiking boots or trekking pools. I just had my comfortable blue tennis shoes that I use for walking in urban areas. The soles have no grooved trend on the bottom to grip elevated rocky, soft dirt, or muddy hiking trails. These shoes were very light weight though, which made me feel like a nimble mountain goat.

Hiking up the Wild Goose Trail quickly, I made it to Artist Point around 5:40 pm. I had to wait a while for Mark. He was not used to hiking, especially on a trail let with a higher elevation that was steep in spots. As always, the scenery at Artist Point was beyond words. It was late in the afternoon. The sun’s position put Mt. Baker in poor lighting. The best lighting for Mt. Baker is in the mornings where the sun in the east would cause the snow on the mountain to glow brightly.

On the other hand, the late afternoon sun had Mt. Shuksan perfectly lit. The dark mountain rocks and the glaciers with the patches of snow on top all shined brightly this time of day. As usual when I visit Picture Lake and Artist Point, I cannot take enough photos of Mt. Shuksan.

Mark was ecstatic to be at Artist Point among all this mountain scenery. We nearly had the area to ourselves, except for a few other pleasant tourists admiring the view from this location. Coming from Cincinnati, Mark was astonished to still see snow on the ground this time of year. He asked a friendly older couple to film us having a snowball fight. I immediately said “No!” and put an end to that idea. I worked at Crater Lake National Park as a park ranger for 25 years. It was not unusual for me to see snow on the ground at the end of July. I just wanted to take in the sacred beauty all around me and not play with snowballs at that moment.

We then started down the Wild Goose Trail back to where Mark’s rental car was parked at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center parking lot. It was Tuesday, mid-week, going into the evening. We encountered very few people that day at Picture Lake or Heather Meadows. The quietness of that area with the sometimes whisper of a summer breeze all felt so peaceful. This was another sublime experience to soak in the scenery at the Mt. Baker Ski Area. I was happy my friend Mark could join me. He felt bad he could not keep up with me hiking. On the other hand, Mark was as happy as a school kid starting summer vacation visiting that location. Both Mark and I are in our 50s but we felt as joyful as children to be there that day.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Mt. Shuksan on the Artist Point Trail on July 27, 2021.

Around 8 pm, we departed the Mt. Baker Ski Area to drive down the mountain. We still had daylight to guide us, but it was dark when we reached Bellingham around 9:30 pm. We were eager to have a late dinner, so we stopped at the Applebee’s located next to I-5. We did not leave Applebee’s until around 10:30 pm for the hour and a half drive back to our motel in Bellevue. After we reached our motel room after midnight, Mark immediately went to bed. I stayed up for a bit feeling elated from seeing my favorite mountain, Mt. Shuksan, that day.

Seeing the Sunrise Area at Mt. Rainier National Park on July 28, 2021

Mark was moving slow the next day after all the driving and sightseeing we did traveling to the Mt. Baker Ski Area the previous day. Mark was curious for what I had in mind for this day as he was waking up. I had my sights set for going to Mount Rainier National Park to do more hiking and marvel at this mountain. In the 1990s, Mark worked at Grand Teton, Everglades, and Death Valley National Parks. Thus, Mark was agreeable to drive to Mt. Rainier.

For the second day in a row, Mark and I had breakfast at the Chace’s Pancake Corral. Like the day before, I filled myself up on the banana pancakes. Mark and I then drove south to Enumclaw, where we stopped at the Safeway to get food items to pack for an eventual lunch. We then drove to Mt. Rainier National Park, reaching the park boundary sign by 2:15 pm. Without knowing our destination, we ended up at the Sunrise area in the northeast area at Mt. Rainier National Park at 3 pm. Mt. Rainier looks massive at Sunrise.

It is called Sunrise, because as the name suggests, is also one of the first places in the park to capture morning’s early light. Thus, it’s best to go there in the early morning to have the morning sun behind you in the east shine brightly on Mt. Rainier as you look west towards the mountain. Mark and I arrived later in the afternoon eastern part of the mountain faced away from the sun, making it harder to photograph.

The scenery at Sunrise was incredible. It was a love at first sight for me. I brought Tanya there in October 2021 before it closed for the winter. We returned two times since then, including my birthday in July 2023. After Mark and I arrived, he decided we would hike the Mount Fremont Lookout Trail, which was 5.6 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 900 feet. I was totally up for this adventure, but I was not sure about Mark. He admitted to me he had not hiked much in years, plus he hiked much slower than me the day before at the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Photo by Brian Ettling at the Sunrise area in Mt. Rainier National Park on July 28, 2021.

We ate our late sack lunch/dinner at 5 pm halfway along the trail. I reached the fire lookout tower at 6 pm. Mark was a half a mile behind me when I reached the Lookout Tower. I was there for around 15 minutes enjoying the view of Mt. Rainier and eating a granola bar before heading back down the trail. I ran into Mark on the way down the trail as he was making his way to the lookout tower. While I waited for him at the base of Mount Fremont, I saw a herd of mountain goats in that grassy valley. I pointed them out to Mark when he finally caught up to me.

We then hiked back to the Sunrise parking area around 8:40 pm. It was dusk with the sun getting ready to set anytime. As we drove away from the parking lot to head down the mountain, we saw a young male Black-tailed Deer that photographed .

We arrived in our motel room in Bellevue around 10 pm. The next day, I took the train home from Seattle to Portland. I will always be grateful to Mark for this great adventure to see the Mt. Baker Ski Area for my fifth time and discovering the Sunrise Area at Mt. Rainier for the first time.

Seeing Mt. Shuksan with Tanya and her Danish relatives on September 13, 2023

In September 2023, my wife, her parents, 8 of my mother-in-law’s Danish relatives, my in-laws’ best friends from St. Louis, and I met in Seattle so all 14 of us could see Glacier National Park, Montana. I shared details of this trip in a separate blog I wrote weeks after the trip, “Seeing Climate Change when I visited Glacier National Park.”

Towards the end of the trip, our group went to the Mt. Baker Ski Area to see Mt. Shuksan. I love seeing family and friends’ reaction when they see my favorite mountain for the first time.

We arrived at Picture Lake at 6 pm on September 13th. The late summer sun was low in the sky. As the sun was getting ready to set soon, it shined on just the upper half of Mt. Shuksan. As we gazed at the mountain, the sun’s path or a cloud moving out of the way, caused more direct light to appear on the mountain. The setting sun gave the mountain an amber hue. The orangish reddish glow on the mountain looked like it was heating up and going to catch fire any minute. Then the sun set and the dusk colors on the mountains slowly faded away.

Photo by Brian Ettling of Mt. Shuksan at Picture Lake on September 13, 2023.

As we were losing daylight, I entertained the group for a few minutes by inviting a Grey Jay to land on my hand. As the group was hanging close to the vehicles waiting for some of the hard core photographers in the group to wrap up their photos, I noticed a group of Grey Jays fly in to check us out. I then stretched out my hand to see if one would land on me. One Grey Jay did land on me. However, it got impatient expecting free food (which I did not have), so it bit my thumb. Sharp beaks these buggers have! It was painful for a moment and Tanya caught the bite on film. The Danish relatives thought it was funny. I was glad to bring more joy at that moment.

The next day, all 14 of us went to Artist Point to walk on the trails and get radiant views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan. Not a cloud was in the sky that day. With the sun shining brightly on these mountains, these wonders of nature looked like they wanted to show off how pretty they were on that day. Like any movie star wanting to be photographed, those of us who love to take pictures obliged these gorgeous mountains by taking countless photographs of them.

After lunch, half of the group returned to the giant rental house where we stayed in close to Glacier, Washington. The other half, including Tanya and me, hiked the Bagley Lakes Trail by the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. This loop trail is in a valley and follows the creek between the Bagley Lakes. Can’t see Mt. Shuksan or Mt. Baker from this trail, but it provided lovely views of a running creek with some colorful waterfalls along the way.

We finished this trail around 3 pm. It was time to start driving down the mountain so all 14 of us could have dinner together at our rental house. Before leaving the Mt. Baker Ski Area, Tanya and I made one last stop at Picture Lake to get final views of Mt. Shuksan.

The afternoon sun at 3:30 pm showcased the mountain in an exquisite way. If this was my final view of the mountain until a future visit, I left Picture Lake a very happy man indeed.

I now have lost track of the number of times I have seen Mt. Shuksan. I just need any excuse to go back there. So, now I am asking you: Would you join me on a trip to see Mt. Shuksan?

Brian Ettling and Tanya Couture at Picture Lake getting their last view of Mt. Shuksan on September 14, 2023.

Mt. Shuksan inspires me to act on climate change and protect our planet

When I was a seasonal interpretative ranger in Everglades National Park from 2003 to 2008, I often shared this John Muir quote in my ranger talks, “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread. Places to play in and pray in where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul alike.”

Over 1.3 million acres of Everglades National Park is designated as a wilderness area. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The purpose of this federal law is to preserve and protect the natural ecosystems and wild areas, provide opportunities for solitude, and retrospective or primitive recreation.

I used that John Muir quote and the definition of wilderness from the Wilderness Act of 1964 as a park ranger to stress that most of Everglades National Park was wilderness. Many of us don’t think the Everglades as wilderness. We tend to think of the old growth forests and the western jagged mountain ranges as wilderness. I wanted to expand their idea of wilderness and share the federal definition of wilderness for their understanding.

I am happiest in nature. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, I loved hiking as a child in nearby Bee Tree and Cliff Cave Parks along the Mississippi River. My passion for nature led me to work as a park ranger for summers at 25 years at Crater Lake National Park and winters 16 years in Everglades National Park. I never tired of hiking the mountain peak trails at Crater Lake. In the Everglades, I relished the amazing canoe trips and bird watching hikes.

Brian Ettling leading a ranger led canoe trip in Everglades National Park. Photo taken around 2004-2007.

Working in the national parks allowed me to visit other national parks. I made friends with rangers at Crater Lake and the Everglades who moved on to work in other national parks. Thus, I stayed with friends in Yellowstone, Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. One ranger friend invited me to hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon twice. Another ranger friend, Pete Peterson, invited me to give a climate change presentation at Grand Canyon National Park.

Besides staying and visiting the national parks I listed in the previous paragraph, I had a life dream of seeing Glacier National Park. I finally saw it on a family vacation in September 2023. All these places make my heart sing and give me a spirit of renewal. I feel most alive in these places. Tanya and I have been married for over 8 years and together for over 10 years. She loves hiking, nature, and photography. Thus, it is fabulous to visit these places with her.

I love all the national parks I visited. I would jump love to visit any of them again. However, my favorite place is the Mt. Baker Ski Area to see Mt. Shuksan, as well as seeing Mt. Baker.

As I blogged previously, I started giving ranger talks in Everglades National Park in 1998. Back then, visitors asked me about this global warming thing which I knew nothing. I then started reading about the impacts of climate change on the Everglades and it scared me. By 2008, I quit my winter seasonal ranger job in Everglades National Park to start organizing for climate action. I then discovered that climate change impacted Crater Lake National Park. I started giving my climate change evening program there in 2011. In 2017, I stopped working my summer job at Crater Lake to try to transition to be a full-time climate advocate.

Even though I stopped working in the national parks, I still delight visiting those nearby. In 2017, Tanya and I loved visiting Mt. Rainier National Park together for the first time. We stopped by there on the way to visit friends in Washington state that weekend. The next day, Tanya dropped me off at a Climate Reality Training where I was a breakout speaker. It was a beautiful clear idea summer day in June with the sun shining very brightly overhead. In our excitement to see the mountain, we forgot to wear sunscreen. We planned to be there for a couple of hours.

Brian Ettling at Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park on June 24, 2017.

When I arrived at the Climate Reality Training the next day, my face was beat red like a lobster. My face hurt so bad that I had to keep applying aloe vera jell to my face. Fortunately, the redness of my face seemed to go down several notches by the time I spoke at the conference several days later. Even with that bad sunburn incident, Tanya and I returned to visit Mt. Rainier National Park several more times, especially to see it for my birthday in July.

In October 2021, Tanya and I visited Olympic National Park to see a ranger friend Steve and his family. In August 2022, Tanya and I, plus her parents, explored different areas of Olympic National Park while we visited my mother-in-law’s cousins in Sequim, Washington. As I wrote early on this blog, we had a big family trip to see Glacier National Park in September 2023. During this trip, we drove through North Cascades National Park to go visit the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

Since I stopped seasonally working as a ranger at Crater Lake in September 2017, I travel now to national parks for inspiration, relaxation, and renewal from my full-time climate organizing. Sadly, the national parks continue to remind me that they are negatively impacted by climate change. When I visited Glacier National Park in September 2023, I was saddened I could not see any glaciers in Glacier National Park. I wrote two blogs about that experience, including “Glacier National Park’s fading glaciers calls for Climate Action.” More recently, I read documented evidence the snowpack and glaciers have receded on Mt. Baker in recent years.

From working in the national parks years ago to traveling to them to vacation now, I can’t escape from the reality that climate change is negatively impacting our national parks.

All these natural places inspire me to be a climate advocate. They continue to motivate me to protect the natural world from climate change harming these sacred places.

In October 2023, I wrote a blog, “For Climate Action, advice from a former park ranger.” In that blog, I shared about a pocket-sized card that I would give to park visitors at the conclusion of my Watchman Peak Sunset Hike. It was called “Ranger Brian’s Wisdom.” The card contained the combined advice of my mentor, park ranger Steve Robinson, and me.

If I could boil down the message from “Ranger Brian’s Wisdom” to this blog, I would say,

‘Find your Own Sacred Place –
For me, that’s the Mt. Baker Ski Area, with the views of Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker.
Keep visiting your sacred place for inspiration and renewal
as I keep going back to the Mt. Baker Ski Area when the opportunity presents itself.
Then do what you can daily to take climate action to protect your sacred places and all humanity from the threat of climate change.’

Brian Ettling at Picture Lake with Mt. Shuksan on September 14, 2023.

Who knows how my life would have been different, if I had not put the poster of Mt. Shuksan on my bedroom wall when I was in high school in St. Louis, MO in the 1980s.