Sunday, April 11, 2010

holds and exits


I just set down Steph Davis's book - 'High Infatuation' - after devouring it in just two sessions. Steph is a full-time, sponsored, professional rock climber. A friend lent me the book on spec, so I read it without knowing much about Steph; as I read, I was struck by the covalences between her experience and mine. She was raised in an academic setting, coming to her sport later than the people around her. She's vegan. Her adventures are dissimilar, but her approach is not. Even if I never meet her (which is, considering her proximity in the six-degrees scale, unlikely), I'm grateful for the quiet sense of not-entirely-aloneness that gives me.

There are lots of stories about Yosemite in the book. Having spent a couple of weeks there in the recent past, earning my Wilderness First Responder certification in the damp bower of a northern-California winter, it made me think a lot about the place.

Yosemite is two worlds, and they exist at perpendicular angles. There's the flat world, with its theme-park circle of road that runs along the edges and the uniformed tour directors that move the ever-flowing stream of families along mile-and-a-half nature walks. The flat world is a place of exacting regulation and martial law; of crowded camps and constant enforcement presence and sluggish rental minivans.

Steph's world is the other world - the vertical world. Parents wrangling disinterested children along the endlessly trodden trails in the flatlands don't see it: the swan-bodies that dash off into the void above, the crack of a canopy echoing like a slap against the cliff. The symphony of hundreds of hands sliding at once, curling, tightening, rubbing oil and sweat into scores of curving routes as they snake up to the sky. They don't hear the furtive joy of the jumpers landing in the meadow, nor do they see the climbers die on the wall in the hard first storms of October. They stay steady, heel and ball of foot anchored to the dirt of the valley floor.

Cooing over 4x6 photos of their weekend flirtation with nature, they might not see the tiny dots suspended in the sky or hanging, pumped and terrified, from the wall.


And here am I.

I nuzzle a foot down onto a hold, the resin catching the rubber of my rock shoe. My mind empties of everything but the color of the route I climb and the mechanics of moving up - green, left toe, thigh, green, right hand, pinch, push, green, wrap, stretch. There's a faith in this work; it's not the same faith that fills my leg muscles at the door of the plane, or the faith that turns me around to face the edge and run under a wing. There's no explosiveness to it.

As my hands strengthen and my mind sharpens around the moves of these projects, I hope my heart does the same. I hope to find a space beyond my mortification at my clumsy newness; beyond my obsessive compulsion to magically match the skill of my talented and experienced compatriots; beyond my egoistic desire to be Amazing. I hope to find a place where I can leave my ego sitting dejected on a ledge behind me as my soul travels slowly up or flies ecstatically away, an uncrowded passenger in my body.

I push with my right leg, reach with my left fingers, brush the bar that the toprope curls around. It's a little better every day.

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