Aid Climbing and Red Rocks (mostly)
The last two weeks have felt longer than the final two months that I spent working in Flagstaff. Time seems heavier when traveling to new places and seeing old friends, packed with long conversations and amazing views, both of which slowly push your soul into a different shape than it was before. Staying in one places and spending a lot of time by myself allows me to get comfortable, and makes me spend a lot of time in my own head. The best way to stop over-thinking things, I think, is to give myself something else to think about. Perspective is everything.
Here’s a bit of what’s happened so far:
In Red Rocks I met up with my very dearest friend, Shahmeer, and we taught ourselves how to aid climb. The processes and systems behind aid climbing were (surprisingly) very straightforward once we replicated them for ourselves. Leading, following, building anchors, and hauling all follow the same basic rules that I’ve been learning over and over again during the past few years since I started climbing. The processes are methodical - to lead: place a piece, clip, clip, test, move up the ladder, hook into the piece, then unclip from the previous piece and clip it into the rope, and repeat ad nauseum (or until you get to the top of a pitch). Moving up is excruciatingly slow compared to free climbing, but I was thrilled at how easy it was to lead and how all of the things that are considered “cheating” in free climbing (like pulling on gear) were not only fair game, but exactly what you’re supposed to do! Following was my least favorite part to learn. Jumaring up a rope is, at best, boring (on a vertical wall) but fast and, at worst, a herculean feat (on a bulge/roof/overhang) requiring skills in strength and balance that I haven’t found yet. And hauling only seems confusing until you set up your haul anchor, after which it becomes the most straightforward process in the world. I think the biggest challenge in big wall climbing will probably be not getting sick of doing the same thing over and over and over and over again. And again.
We practiced these skills on single-pitch routes a few days in Red Rocks, then climbed a two-pitch route to test ourselves in a multi-pitch situation. That day involved a 4 hour (at least) round-trip hike to base of the climb, 6 hours on the wall, and some creative problem solving to prevent what promised to be a horrifying pendulum swing. The temperature was a soothing 104 degrees and by the end of this very long day, I was happy to leave the verdant desert valley. Lying on the floor of Shahmeer’s aunt’s house, we both lamented about how we had never been so exhausted in our entire lives.
Unfortunately for us, rain was threatening to soak the desert for the next few days, so our plans to put these skills to use on longer routes in Red Rocks and Zion were shot unless we wanted to wait around. So instead we headed west, away from the rain, to Death Valley. During the very long drive I saw some absolutely beautiful views and experienced heat that made the temperatures of Red Rocks seem sultry and appealing in comparison. The highlight of the drive (for me, at least) was Shahmeer carving into a watermelon and spoon-feeding me while I drove us over the road through the valley that seemed like it would go on forever.
[to be continued…]
Leaving is a funny thing. There are more and more places that I have left pieces of myself in; the space in my heart has become crowded with the people who have made these places feel like home. Life in these places has not been perfect, and I each time I miss the far-away people that I love. But leaving makes frustrations fall away. In the moments before leaving a place, that’s when I am the most in love with it. Isn’t it always that way?
This summer has been no different. In Flagstaff, the sun pulled freckles out of my skin more easily because I was up on a mountain closer to the sun. The rain here was always a storm - intense and dangerous, but beautiful and short-lived. The trees are gentle giants, whispering quietly in the hot, dry sun and perfuming the breeze with a warm sweetness, like the scent of liquid brown sugar simmering on a stove.
Surely I will come back to this place again, just like the other places I have called a home (for a time, anyway).
The memory of the smell of winter in Red Rocks pulls air in through my nose to the back of my brain, convincing me that I can almost smell the snow and the sand in the cold winter air, if only I could breathe just a little deeper I’d be there again.
The most encompassing memory of Moab is always visual. Nothing creates such a grand sense of awe as the geology there: sharp, clean lines suggesting something absolute; and the colors - pink, orange, aquamarine, lime - more brilliant than anyone would consider putting on a palette of earth-tones. Each visit reveals that the images in mind are always duller than the reality of the desert.
Panama - what a cacophony of senses. Breathing in felt like you’d choke on the air, it was so humid. It was never quiet, there was a soundtrack for everything: bullfrogs chirped as you fell asleep, monkeys howled at the crack of dawn, cargo ships bellowed from the Panama Canal during lunch. Walking by a a Spondias tree inspired me to linger when it had ripe fruit that infused the air with the most enticingly sweet scent, but a few days later I would hurry past the same tree to escape the rotting, sickly smell in the air from the yellow, goopy fruit dropped to the ground. And every time I feel rain on my skin, I am reminded of the rain in the forest in Panama. There is nothing like it, it’s nearly constant but not strong, the warm, soft droplets slide through countless layers of canopy before falling to the ground in the understory.
The memories Columbus are sweetened by of the friends I have there. The memory that describes this best is leaving a party and riding South down High Street on a cloudy fall night towards home with. The road has just enough of a downgrade so that you can stop pedaling after you gain momentum - it feels less like riding and more like flying. Moisture hangs in the night air, it is cool and refreshing and the breeze whips into your face, seeping in into your pores and making your eyes widen. Suddenly you are alert after beers and background noise have dulled your senses for a few hours, and there’s a promise that you will soon be snuggled in a bed warm and content, dreamlessly sleeping as soon as you close your eyes.
It’s always a struggle for me to accept the new things at first. As if somehow, loving the someplace new will mean I love the other places less. Like there’s not enough room inside me to contain everything I want to remember. But each time I find a bit more room to squeeze the memories of a new place, a new home, a new person into my brain or my heart or wherever memories and feelings reside.
His spine: like stones in a line
stones washed smooth by a river’s flow
slick like the black of a lake at midnight
under a sky with no moon
Only the pricks of stars.
Her stomach: soft as water
soft like fingers touching the surface
of the cool, motionless lake.
the fluttering, the
that we crave to catch,
understand, feed upon.
For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered. But for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command or faith a dictum. I am my own God.
We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state and our educational system.
We are here to drink beer.
We are here to kill war.
We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.
We are here to read these words from all these wise men and women who will tell us that we are here for different reasons and the same reason.
If I never see you again I will always carry you
on my fingertips
and at brain edges
and in centers
of what I am of