Local resident releases “Tahoma,” tells of Mount Rainier’s natural history

It took six years to write the book, and another four to publish.

Enumclaw resident Jeff Antonelis-Lapp was gearing up to teach a course on Mount Rainier, but couldn’t find a current book addressing the natural history of Washington’s iconic peak.

The solution? Prodded by his collegiate colleagues, Antonelis-Lapp stirred up a recipe of personal experience, combined with the expertise of others, and produced “Tahoma and its People.” The paperback offering, spanning 274 pages, was made available in early March by Washington State University Press.

The effort was near and dear to the author’s heart. Antonelis-Lapp spent two summers working on the mountain during his younger years and has continued making treks to Rainier. He has summited Rainier once and has completed the 93-mile Wonderland Trail five times.

For his family, Mount Rainier has “basically been our extended back yard,” the author said.

So, prodded in 2009 to tackle the book project, Antonellis-Lapp stared at a computer screen, roughed out ideas and started his book-writing journey. It was essentially a six-year project that wrapped up in 2016.

Many hands contributed to the work, which eventually needed a publisher. Antonelis-Lapp admits to a handful of rejections along the way, but in 2018 was pointed in the direction of WSU Press. It was, he says, “a perfect fit.”

The final product “moves well beyond traditional guides to offer the only comprehensive, up-to-date natural and environmental history of Mount Rainier National Park, its watersheds, and its present and past human communities,” according to the Pullman-based publisher.

Traveling with binoculars, notebook and field guide, Antonelis-Lapp spent countless hours in direct observation and study. He’s quick to point out the huge contributions of National Park Service staff, who welcomed the educator to join their mountain adventures.

The NPS employees working at Mount Rainier “were so generous, so helpful,” he said.

On one occasion, Antonelis-Lapp joined park archaeologists at an excavation site, sifting dirt and searching for clues to past indigenous use. He assisted a master weaver as she harvested cedar bark strips that would become vests, hats, and mortarboards. He hiked alongside a research crew and helped them snare an elusive Northern spotted owl. And on one wet autumn day, he headed to the upper White River watershed with a fisheries biologist who uses radio signals to track the passage of bull trout through Mud Mountain Dam.

The resulting book includes everything from Mount Rainier’s origins (geologic history and the science of plate tectonics) to the rivers that cascade down its flanks; from Longmire to Sunrise and everything between.

Along the way, Antonelis-Lapp looks at archaeology, indigenous villages, climate and glacier studies, alpine and forest ecology, watershed dynamics, threatened wildlife, geological hazards, and current resource management.

Antonelis-Lapp started his education career at White River High School but soon moved into the world of adult and continuing education for the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. He spent 10 years teaching on western Washington reservations for The Evergreen State College and, after moving to the Evergreen campus, he taught environmental education, natural history, and writing.

Now retired, he is keeping busy with the book (“it has a life of its own”) and living an author’s life. A series of personal appearances have been turned into live Zoom sessions. He looks forward to days when he can share his book in person.

“Tahoma and Its People” is available through independent bookstores nationwide or Amazon, direct from WSU Press at 800-354-7360, or online at wsupress.wsu.edu. Personalized copies are available at https://jeffantonelis-lapp.com.

A nonprofit academic publisher associated with Washington State University in Pullman, WSU Press concentrates on telling unique, focused stories of the Northwest.

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