climbing… mostly

I’m conflicted.

I promised to talk about climbing and why it is I love high places, lonely places. But part of me wishes I could tell you about MomShe’s my hero and, over in thinking out loud-land, I‘ve gone on a bit about her. She’s fighting dementia these days and, so far, is holding her own. If that’s possible. And she’s all sorts of amazing. I could have spent all week talking just about her.

But I promised and she deserves more than one post anyway, so I’ll leave it to you to go check her out if you want to in tol-land.

As for climbing

I was 33 when I took up the sport. That’s a bit late, if you’re counting, and I’m afraid that I’ll never be a great climber the way people can be amazing at something when they start doing it as a kid or teen. I watch the youngsters climb at the gym and suffer a pang of jealousy from time to time. By the time I started I’d shattered hips and legs and stuff, and there are things that my body just won’t do.

So I’m a solid, mediocre climber, to be clear. And I’m actually very okay with that (except when I’m working on a problem and hip flexibility is an issue).

I’m almost always okay with being mediocre at climbing because, like so many truly great things, the point is not to “win”, or “compete”, but merely to do.

Most of the time, these days, I climb indoors. We have a funky little gym here in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia that is mostly set up for bouldering. Bouldering, if you’re unfamiliar, is the discipline of climbing that never requires ropes because one rarely climbs over ten or twelve feet off the deck. The climbs tend to be harder to make up for how short they are, but there’s very little fall danger. With bouldering, I can go crank without a partner, enjoy the social milieu of the gym, and still get a great workout.

When I started, one of the things that I noticed first was the people who the sport attracts. If the idea of hanging out with fit, adventurous, laid back, and non-competitive people appeals to you at all, find some climbers. I’ve never been around such helpful and supportive people.

But that’s still not why I love climbing, not the imperative reason anyway.

Here’s the thing: When you’re on the wall or rock, everything else in the world recedes. It’s like a forced and painfully enjoyable meditation. For the time that you are off the ground there is only the climb and the climber. There are roughly six square feet being inhabited at any one time. Think about the dog or the looming project at work or the new tires for the car or the fence you have to build or what’s on TV tonight, and you won’t be on the wall for long.

But, if you do pay attention and stay in the moment, focused on that six square feet, then it’s magic. It’s a dance with gravity. A game of hide and seek with fear. A stark confrontation with how much our doubt holds us back. A celebration of movement and possibility and perseverance. And that’s on the bad days.

On the good days, when every neuron is firing, and every muscles does what you want, when the routes seem as fluid and natural as breathing, on those days the climber becomes one with the wall or the rock and, well, they transcend.

This isn’t about the difficulty of the climb, although completing a new problem, one that was beyond you a month or a week or a day ago, is electric. It’s more about the poetry of balance and strength when they can conjoin into accomplishment.

Yeah, magic.

Also, though I want to do it much more, and though I need to still expand my skill set to get the most out of it, I love actually climbing mountains. I love getting up high, above the trees and into the alpine. I love the self-reliance it requires, the being alone and far away from help and above everything. Imagine the feeling of all that kinetic wonder I mentioned above combined with the exposure of a three-hundred foot fall instead of a ten or thirty foot fall. And imagine the vista stretching out forever. Imagine air as clean as a baby’s smile and as crisp as an apple off the tree. Imagine standing on top of something and knowing that you’re higher than anything you can see.

It's a spliced picture, summit, Mt. Tsuius, 2009

There’s this “I did that” sensation that beats just about anything else I’ve ever felt. And there’s the pristine exclusivity of it too, because usually we’re alone or with someone who we, literally, trust our lives with.

It’s a heady feeling, one that is addicting. One I wish I could share (along with the time to breathe).

p.s. U.S. President Obama announced yesterday that all US troops would leave Iraq by the end of this year. They were going to leave a few thousand behind to help with training and all, but Iraq wouldn’t confer full diplomatic status on the troops thus guaranteeing full immunity from prosecution. That was apparently something the US military and government had concerns about – their troops’ immunity – so they decided enough was enough. Of course, several thousand US-employed mercenaries, er, private security forces, will remain… So, a video to celebrate.

p.p.s. This is it for my time at Vie Hebdomadaires. I hoped to take a poke at continuing Lance’s story, but it’s not going to happen. There was just a bit too much going on this week. So thanks, to Varun and all of you, for the chance to be here and share and be a part of this experiment. I had a blast and hope to se you again. Finally, before I send one more song your way to express how I feel about sharing here, I want to send love out to next week’s writer. She’s kind of amazing.

Anyway, here’s the last song…

Peach and love, folks…