Where Balloons Go to Die

Writing and photos by Brian Mize, Central Cascades Forester

The east slopes of the Central Washington Cascades are a balloon graveyard.  

Happy birthday, to whom? Taken in Taneum Creek, October 2016.

Sailing eastward on the prevailing winds, balloons climb over the mountains and fall to their final resting places among the mixed-conifer forests of Central Washington.

Anyone who has spent significant time in the woods of Chelan, Kittitas or Yakima counties has likely discovered this fact — the cities of Pugetropolis are where balloons are born, and the lonely forests where I work is where they meet their end.

I have found balloons expressing love, loss, wishes, dreams, hopes and regrets. In the fall of 2011, I found a bundle of perhaps 100 red balloons tied together with handwritten notes inside.  These balloons had large white lettering, “WE ARE THE 99%! South Puget Sound Community College.” The messages were tinged with anger and optimism, some containing the shaky scrawls of young children.

The balloons fly and die with the seasons. 

Cold Hands, Warm Heart: Taken in Little Naches, March 2017

In February and March, I find large heart shaped balloons, some hanging from limbs 100 feet above me, articulating words of love and lust, “Will You Be Mine?” and “You’re In My Inappropriate Thoughts…” 

About a month later, the four-leaf clovers appear, “Kiss Me! I’m Irish!” and “You Look Like I Need a Drink.”

May and June bring congratulations for educational success, “Class of 2013!  I'm a Freaking Geneius!" During this time, I also see a scattering of gratitude directed toward those who gave us life, “Mothers, Even When They’re Wrong… They’re Right!”

The summer brings a streak of wedding balloons, lasting months, “We’re having an open bar… Oh, and a wedding!” and a picture of two entangled rings with the words, “World’s Smallest Handcuffs.”

July is a rash of red, white and blue.

Mickey, the Mouse King of Cle Elum Ridge. Taken in April 2017.

Birthday wishes, including those for wrinkled little darlings drawing their first breath, rain down throughout the year, “40 Isn’t Old… For a Tree,” and “I’m 525 Years Old, In Dog Years.”  I can also track the shifting trends of popular children’s themes and characters — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Barney, The Simpsons, SpongeBob, Harry Potter, Frozen and the steady classics like Winnie-the-Pooh, Mickey Mouse and Charlie Brown.

Things slow down a little in the winter. But the sad balloons, the ones purchased in hospital gift shops — their season has no beginning or end.

This might come off as the hyperbolic fulminations of a lonely forester, but if I had a nickel for every one, I could buy my own “back 40” to collect a pile of more balloons. Seriously, tie them down, save your children the protracted agony of watching it float away and let us celebrate our joys and sorrows without a rain of latex and Mylar from above.  

Maybe, just maybe, I can get Katharine Hepburn’s voice out of my mind, “The [bal]loons!  The [bal]loons, Norman! They’re welcoming us back!”

Explore the Central Cascades Forest