Sunday, September 04, 2011

ancient art

We've spent the past couple of hours making our way up the channels etched in these ancient cliff faces, wedging arms and legs and backs in the long striations chiseled by centuries of desert rainfall. The reward of the challenging climb is a perch that's eye-to-eye with the thousand stone spirits of the Moab mesas, all standing silent and tall against the blanched blue sky, all watching us with ageless umber faces.

Now, we're assembled on a tiny sandstone bridge. The formation we're on approximates a pommel horse, wedged between a cliff and a caddywompus spire of blood-red rock. It's several hundred feet from our position to the sun-baked valley below.

There isn't enough room for the three of us, so I'm perched on a ledge a few feet down with my hands clamped around a chain that's bolted into the rock. If I don't engage my calves, I slide by millimeters towards the several-hundred-foot drop behind me -- so I switch from one to the other, an interminable slow-dance with a giant rock in the baking sun.

You're wrapped around the rock, clinging with everything you've got.

The soft curve of your back matches the curve of the well-eroded sandstone so perfectly, it seems as though you've been fit to it. I hear you whimper, but I can't see your face, hidden by a fringe of black hair that glints like obsidian in the flinty midday sun. I want to put a reassuring hand on your shoulder, but I worry that my touch would spook you even more. I can't think of anything to say, either to you or to the man beside you, calmly feeding a rope to Brett as he gingerly navigates the most technical part of the climb. Under the thick mantle of silence, I listen to your ragged breath. Our equipment rattles emptily with each tiny adjustment.

I'm not ashamed for you in the least; I'm amazed you made it this far. I'm proud of you.

Later, I try to tell you I understand how you're feeling -- like being pushed down a waterslide, drawn by an inexorable gravity of expectations, caught in a purgatory between things you know you want, things you think you might want, things you wish you wanted and things you find repellent. I know what it means to constantly balance fear with an ever-changing, endlessly contradictory amalgam of facts. I know what it feels like to have suddenly called into question everything you've ever believed about yourself. I know what it's like to face what feels like a daily tribunal.

I want to tell you that these people don't -- and won't -- understand the powerful and nuanced creature you are. You're on a different wavelength entirely. It's clear that your path is just as grand, and perhaps you're here because you're understandably nervous to begin such an epic undertaking. One fact is clear: your path doesn't start here.

Let go.

You're more protected than you think, and you'll be shocked at how short the fall.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

the valley of fire

We've driven hours to arrive here -- a barren nocturnal wilderness formed from time-worn heaps of jagged rock and the occasional struggling shrub. As we emerge from the car, the night air is startlingly warm. The moon is ripe and full, sketching unnerving shadows between the boulders and clefts.

From the approaching road, the tower appeared as a pinprick-thick line drawn from the earth to the north star with a massive ruler. It's actually a triangular cage with a ladder set against the vertex of its equilateral legs. My feet at the first rung, I look up. Inside the cage, there is no sky.

My two companions begin their ascent -- the first steps of a reverent pilgrimage back to the ground.

I tighten my harness.

I climb.

The blush of dawn has begun to pour through the lattice. The breeze carries no sound but the sussurus of the generator far below, throbbing as evenly as the breath of a sleeping giant.

At just shy of nine hundred feet, I choose a perch and flip to the narrow space on the other side of the ladder. I grab the chin strap of your helmet to pull your kiss through the bars. I watch the oranges and golds of the desert-morning sun bury themselves in your green eyes and wonder, as I always do, if this will be the last time I see them.

You and the other jumper rattle further up the ladder, sending quivers through the steel. Soon, you're too far to see clearly. Soon after that, you can't hear when I call for you.

I start singing to myself instead and, while I wait for the familiar battle cries from the jumpers above, I play.

I sit in lotus between two legs of the triangle.

I hang loosely back into the center of the tower from my harness, arms loose, palming the ebb and flow of air as it moves through the steel and over my skin.

I straddle the void, balancing, one foot propped on each side.

I clamber out to hang on to the outside of the structure, sending resounding clangs up and down the length of the spire as I explore new points to affix myself, watching far above for signs of an exit.

I run my fingers over the inscriptions impressed on the quickdraw clipped in front of me. In one succinct, sentence-like diagram, the carabiner explains the math behind cross-loading. I'd never stared at one long enough to notice the engraving, so I take the moment to ponder the little miracle of engineering that holds me here. I scratch the multiple embroidery that holds the central web together. I think about microcracks.

The carabiner shivers under my fingers as the boys move into position four hundred feet above. As I move my hand back to the ladder, I brush a small fabric tag attached to the web. In tiny letters: "CLIMBING IS DANGEROUS." I see the words framed by the sacred grey geometry of the tower beneath me, its vanishing point sliding into darkness.

It's time.

The crack from the first jumper's canopy splits the silence. The gunshot retort is soon followed by a whoop of victory, and I watch him settle to the ground with the ease of a dandelion seed.

I drop my head through the lattice to crane my neck upward, squinting my eyes at the stark blue canvas behind what I can see of the zenith. Soon, you emerge. Arms and legs long and even, you spring into the void as smoothly as a launching albatross. When your canopy blossoms from your back directly in front of me, I throw a cry of triumph across the space between us. You cleave a path down, down, down to a dirt road and I see your nanoscale figure touch lightly to the earth.

I breathe, watching the pink slowly return to my whitened knuckles.

Time to go down.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

nine months


Last week, I had every reason to be stoked: the skies were promising to be warm and blue, I'd just had a slider pocket installed to soften my rig's crackin' openings and I knew I had several jumps left on my account at Elsi.

These things, of course, meant that I spent much of the past seven days in a state of white-faced, sweaty-palmed terror.

Why?

Two words: recurrency jump.

We've been either overseas in an unjumpable country or otherwise inconvenient to a drop zone for nine whole months--which pressed the big ol' "reset" button on my ability to blithely eject myself from the door at 13k. There was so much apprehension, I felt like I was an AFF 1 again, sitting with my hands folded in my lap in Lodi, watching an ancient VHS tape creak out images of malfunction after malfunction and asking myself what the hell I was doing.

There's something remarkably resilient about two aspects of human capacity: to protect itself, and to override that protection. In airsports, we learn to love the fire of ultra-stimulation that flashes through our veins. After all, the path it clears through the mind is blessedly empty of the overgrowth we build up in our daily lives.

We love our bodies for working so hard to protect us--and sometimes, the body wins the fight. But not today.

Today, I realized my two choices: face it, or walk away forever.

I wasn't gonna do that.

Spinning through the crisp morning air, I sang to myself all the way to the ground.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

quietude


Today, as we ambled along the trail that rims the high ridges at the extreme south of the Salt Lake valley, I felt a profound sense of peace settle over me.

Don't get me wrong; I'm overstimulated and bone-tired from the past several months. We've handled near-constant movement, production overdrive, the training of a stable of new vendors and, now, the prospect of closing the sale on our new base of operations while we're in the States (a daydream-perfect loft downtown). The peace is coming from knowing that we've made the right choices, and that they're paying off in spades.

The Wasatch front seems lit from within, the caps of its white peaks subsumed in high-elevation snowstorms as the setting sun blanches its western angles. As a deer darts down onto the path and, for a moment, faces us--furry ears fluffily upright--you turn and smile. Your eyes brighter than all of it combined.

Peace.

Friday, February 18, 2011

sailing
I.

Like a politician and his decoy, no one has ever seen my two halves standing in the same room. You'll either meet the expressor or the muse - the dreamer or the actuator - the poet or the sharpener of pencils.

I've been in a firmly pragmatic mode for a handful of months, manhandling my way through a morass of short-term goals. Suddenly, I have the sense that I can relax that iron grip and start letting myself slip into poetry. The feeling was long-awaited.

II.

It's raining in Los Angeles.

I've always loved downtown in the rain. It makes the florescent interiors of the noodle shops beam with appeal, and it forces pedestrians out of tank tops and jeans and into tidy-looking coats, hats, and bobbing umbrellas.

From my perch in the stone-swathed apartment complex that looms over Grand Central Market, the charcoal of the wide night sky and the water on the streets makes me feel as though I'm captaining a slow-moving ship, surrounded by a sister fleet, following a chart built on this constellation of multiply reflected streetlights.