Airport Duty

SeaTac Baggage Claim #10

I confess, I love being on airport duty.  I’ll happily drop you off or pick you up. I’ll park and wait at the luggage claim, I’ll drop you off at a crazy hour in the morning—I will be there for you.

I used to say that I’ll do it because I’ve been there too—the girl without a car, trying to get from Riverside to LA, willing to take an 8 hour bus ride but grateful for the passenger seat of a friend’s car.  This is still true, but it also boils down to selfishness.  I like taking people on the first leg of an adventure, I like welcoming my loved ones home.  I like the anticipation, the slight fear that I won’t recognize someone as they come out of the gate, and the relief when I see the shape of a shoulder and know immediately—there. That is who I’m waiting for.

Airports are a great equalizer.  The travelers are sleep dazed and weary, the friends are eager and bright.  I’ve been the exhausted traveler, I’ve been the friend at home, sobbing in my car after a tight hug goodbye and an uncertain time apart.  I’ve been the eager person, embarking on something unknown.  I’ve been the sorrowful traveler, leaving loved ones.  I’ve worn sneakers that slip off easily and an oversized sweatshirt that still smells of a lover and I’ve worn heels that click satisfyingly against the linoleum and turn heads as I pass gate after gate, just because I could.  My flights have been nondescript, turbulent, creepy.  I’ve had seatmates that are chatty and ones that ignore me.

I can remember the flight home when my father died, but I can’t remember if my sister or my best friend picked me up. I remember crying on the plane, quietly.  I remember flying home thinking I should feel different somehow.  I remember landing in Mexico still surprised to see my friend walk up to find me, even though he said he’d be there. I remember the first time T came being sure we would never know each other, and I remember how we rushed each other, arms open, the same people we’ve always been. I remember waiting to go through security in Texas, feeling the certainty of leaving.

Today Mt Rainier loomed above the horizon and, before I realized it, I was in the lot, I was waiting at the empty baggage claim.  Slowly, people joined me and before long I saw K and her boyfriend on the escalator. A hand waves. A hug, some laughter. Bags found, elevator, car, highway.  The city stretches before us and we are all home again, on solid ground before our next adventures. Do you need a ride? I’ll be waiting.

December Snow

Another day of heavy clouds broken by sun and rain—Seattle winter. Sometimes I think it’ll never snow again.  In California the closest we got to snow were fires, the Santa Anna winds blowing ash into gutters like snowdrift.  Here I can see the mountains and their white peaks but it feels so distant. One year I bought perfume that smelled of a snow storm when you open a warm front door—the cold crashing into your body, the edge of darkness pushed back with spilling light.  I wore it at my pulse points and went to a friend’s fundraiser hoping to find a rugged mountain man to keep my evenings warm and spent the night dancing with an ex when I should have run. I still remember the surprise in his eyes when he touched my skin, sweaty from dancing, and a different evening flashed into sight. So the snow lured him back, in a way, for a time.

Christmas time is a strong recipe for nostalgia, especially after spending 4 years in college in Bethlehem, a city that had to put out a press release announcing the generic postmark after being overwhelmed by out-of-towners depositing endless sacks of mail. White lights twinkle and, for most of December, you can hear the college choir practicing or performing for Vespers at the Moravian Church. Is it because fresh snowfall erases so much about a city? Is it because of the hush that falls, the filtered light, the way a window steams up as if to push away night fall?

The first major storm in Bethlehem I was caught at work on the wrong campus, a mile from my room with buses that, even with chains, had stopped running. It was probably a Friday night, that was the night that I closed the library with my boyfriend, and the place was empty.  We walked the stacks, gathering books from the tables, watching the snow out of the large windows.  Campus police came to lock and, because they saw us every Friday and often closed the coffee house I ran, knew we’d be stranded. They gave us a ride down the hill—slowly navigating the empty streets, and dropped us off at my building.  I ran upstairs to drop my things off while my boyfriend smoked a cigarette on the porch and when I came back down there were a few friends gathered.  Quiet energy was building—the kind that’s unique to snow storms and college students—the world closing into a bubble around young bodies just beginning to stretch into adulthood.

One of the houses we passed on Church Street. Photo credit: Kathleen Connally

We walked down the street a few blocks to the town library where we’d spent our first few hours together, reading romance novels out loud to each other during the monthly basement book sale, trying desperately not to laugh too loudly.  The landscaped shrubs had nets of white lights over them, peeking through the snow, and the courtyard was a blank field of white.  Snow haloed around the orange street lights and our footprints trailed blue shadows behind us. We scooped up snow into our gloved hands and drank deeply—still children in that way, wanting the cold on our tongues and reveling in the way it disappeared down our throats. My boyfriend cleared a bench off and I sat beside him, leaning into each other as our friends tipped back into the blank field, making snow angels.  When he kissed me our warm breath mixed with ice and snow dusted our shoulders.

My memory ends in that kiss and not what happened next. I’m sure we stood eventually, I’m sure we walked back to a warmed room and draped our cold things over chairs to dry.  Life kept moving forward, as it does when snow storms melt away.

Snow storms now mean something entirely different—friends disappear into the mountains chasing fresh powder, new tracks, higher elevation.  There are crevasses to be navigated, avalanches to be wary of, beer at lodges with loosened ski boots and thermoses of warm wine at the fire lookouts. The snow here is not my snow yet—it’s bigger, more dangerous, unfamiliar.  But look- I have skis leaning against my wall, borrowed boots, goggles that fog; I will learn.

(Image credit from this site.)

Outside the library, a different snow storm. Photo Credit : Kathleen Connally

Portraiture

Tub Series #3

Lately I have been spending more time alone, and it’s driving me back towards self-portraiture.  I’m not sure what I’m going to do with these shots—they aren’t really something that has a home.  I’m trying to escape the idea of audience though, and not let the worry about where something belongs stop me from making it.  I find that watercolor collage work is too small and peaceful.  Frankly, I’m not in a peaceful place, and I do a drawing and I just want to give it away as fast as possible.  Self-portraits are different—there’s a sense of absurdity to it.  There has to be. First of all, the selfie. It’s ridiculous and narcissistic.  It is also steeped in history, from the self-portraits of Francesca Woodman to Cindy Sherman, from Man Ray to Frida Kahlo. I’m not saying I’m in any class of theirs, but maybe I’m somewhere near the same conversation. Secondly, there’s the process itself. I’ve worn masks that tip and snag on everything, I’ve caught myself blurry, I’ve wound up completely out of the frame, I’ve been in the most unflattering positions possible.

My most recent series was inspired by a portrait I found a while ago from Bex Finch of a woman floating in water.  I wanted to see what I could do, so I filled the tub, set up a tripod, and dripped my way through a series of strange floating images. Out of the night, maybe three of them worked.

As always, my collaborator and best friend Tim Shannon was all support and cheering squad when I sent him the results.  Last night I got home, and while Tim had said he was sending me another camera, I didn’t really realize the magnitude of his awesomeness. (In general, yes, because he’s my homie and I will always always love him. As far as the camera, I was blown away by his generosity.)

In addition to his camera, I have a grocery bag full of fabric from a yard sale this weekend, from potential backdrops to lace overlays. I’m not sure how to turn my apartment into a photo studio yet—I need to find better lighting and use what I remember from the Heroes photo shoot at Greg and Bond’s apartment to visualize what can move and what can be used. I’m not good at spatial reasoning, and I’m sort of feeling like I’m a tumbling disaster zone who’s just going to accidentally break a table by trying to stand on it, or be overwhelmed by the messiness in my life.  Photography pushes all of that to the edges though, and I think that’s what I need.

These portraits are for me—as I regain strength, as I figure out what my body is capable of.  As such, they aren’t really suitable for most audiences.  It’s foolish to think I can put a nude or semi-nude shot up somewhere and have it received as just art.  I don’t know how to dissolve the line between potentially sexual and just form… just ask anyone about Stone Nudes.  I have friends who see body as form, and friends who see body as sexualized, and that’s just the way it is. I might need to find an anonymous forum for these—remove it from self-identification and also from meandering across the screen of someone who wants to know me and not see more of me than they bargained for. A few will make it up on here, but I don’t know about the rest. And I’m not worried about it.

Body is a tricky thing. It’s both intimate and not intimate at all. A body is simply a body, a functional machine made of tissues, muscles, and blood.  And then, in a different light, it’s intimate and something to be carefully shared.  I vacillate between feeling the preciousness of intimacy and feeling the functionality of form.

Now I have lenses, and filters, and a whole new set of things to play with, thanks to Tim Shannon.  I am so lucky in my life, to be loved unconditionally. And so I’m going to explore the vacillation. I’m going to see what I can do.

Flailing and failing gloriously

I scurry home from work and quickly pull on a sports bra and the shortest shorts that will work with a harness. It’s hot and I have a quick errand to run before heading to the crag. By the time I drop of jewelry with K. my shirt is damp and I’m uncertain we’ll actually get any climbing in. Traffic is heavy and it takes a while to get onto open road. A sweaty, long while.  Karis and I have been

Karis figuring out the plan for our group at We Did Rock.

Karis figuring out the plan for our group at We Did Rock.

climbing a lot this summer, but neither of us feel like we’ve been really working it. We’ve been caught in bad weather, we’ve been teaching friends, we’ve been learning to lead trad, but we haven’t had a real exhausting day together.  We chatted about climbing at Nevermind on Sunday, but the group grew from us to a few more, and then a few more, and quickly there were eight of us, with only Karis and I able to lead.  Sunday was great—good company and the few climbs we did were fun, but despite showing up early, by the time I jumped in the river with A. and T. in the late afternoon we’d only climbed three easy routes. A. was surprised, but that’s what happens with a large group.  Things take a while.

I roll into the lot and find Karis sitting on top of her trunk, eating salad. It’s hot, but not as hot as Seattle. There are only a few other cars in the lot.  The sky is hazy. I grab my rope, she has the draws and we head for the rocks.

We hike the few minutes up and take the trail back to Nevermind. It’s shaded and there are two parties already set up.  We nod hello, put our packs down and set up. I start. And… I’d like to say I cruise through, but I don’t. It’s a route I’ve done before, but I’m not sure if I led it or not. I pause. I try a move and down climb back to the bolt. I try it again, and again down climb. “I’m being a weenie!” I shout down at Karis, but she shrugs and laughs. “You got this.”  So much for Rope Gun. Yesterday may have felt easy, but I’m not that strong. 5.10a. Come on. Do this. I finish, but it feels harder than it should have.

We pull the rope and Karis leads it flawlessly.  She cleans, we pull the rope again and move on. 10c. “Want to lead it?” she asks.  I hesitate. The start is overhung, but everything here starts like that. “I’ll put the first draw in, how about that?” I agree, and then look up at the second bolt.  There’s a slabby hold that looks like disaster for my wrist, and I back down. Looks like it’s going to be a top-rope day for the rest of the evening.  When Karis finishes I lace up my shoes and have at it.  I don’t even touch the hold that had me worried, I climb it cleanly, and I come to the ground frustrated that I didn’t even try to lead it.

Next up is an 11a.  This is the climb I wanted to lead yesterday, but I’m feeling way over my head, and I’m not even sure I’ll be able to finish it following.  Karis leads it and looks graceful, even if she takes a few rests.  Then it’s my turn. “I can do an 11 outside, right?” I ask. “Yeah,” she answers, like it isn’t a real question. Chalk up. Here we go. Good. Lord. I scramble, forget to breathe, forget I have feet. I swear like a demon, and then a sailor. I sweat. And sweat. I fall. I get back on and try, but I’m slapping at holds, I’m frustrated. I can’t calm myself down, I can’t get back into my body. Somehow I eventually thrutch up the thing—it’s balancey and crimpy and should be a climb that I love. I’m pissed, and sore, and tired.  Karis smiles, we high five. This was exactly why we came out here.

It’s dark by the time we hike out, and a storm is rolling in. Lightening forks in the distance and I give Karis a hug at our cars and we leave, me back to Seattle, her to Olympia. I hit the highway and in a few minutes sky gives out—too tired of holding in heat.  The wind in my car windows smells metallic.  The rain pours and the clouds thunder and lightening breaks across everything.

My friend J. says I’m too tough on myself.  Maybe I am.  As strong as I might have seemed on Sunday, Monday night showed me how much further there still is to go.  I just want to be a good partner who is able to carry her own weight.  I don’t want to have to depend on someone else to lead something I want to try, and I want my partner to know I can get to the top of something she wants to try.  It’s going to take me a long time to get as strong as Karis, if I ever get there.  I’m glad she was willing to be patient, despite my swearing. Every time I climb with her I’m thankful that we’re friends.  She inspires me with her climbing and she supports me with her confidence.  I know that next time, I’ll climb it cleaner.  Eventually, I’ll lead it.  Last night wasn’t my night, but the rock has been there for years, it will be there for a few more.  My body feels bruised and my fingerpads are sore and I couldn’t be happier.

View from Nevermind as we hiked out with headlamps.

View from Nevermind as we hiked out with headlamps.

Girl, be a Lady Tonight

I’m slowly getting back to my own feet again. Metaphorically, of course—I’m getting off my feet more often. On my hands? I think I lost the thread. What I mean to say is—I’m climbing again, after a few weeks off.  A few weeks isn’t a terribly long time—I know this.  But I also know—within those weeks I wasn’t sure how long I was going to have to take off. I thought it would be the whole summer.

Enter leaping, excited, climbing ME! Enter a lot of other frustrations and tears and distress.  Enter sunshine, enter rain, enter North Bend and mosquitoes.

Despite being part of She Rocks, of course I head out to the mountains with a group of guys first.  (So why do I have to keep insisting that She Rocks isn’t a separatist movement?) The first time out found us hiking up the Little Si trail in a light mist.  We figured there wouldn’t be much climbing, but we might as well explore the area.  I hadn’t been past British Aisles, and it was nice to follow the walls through the moss-drenched forest.  We finally found some dry rock and medium grade climbs and I jumped on lead…. Only to swear and curse and hurt like a petulant child. Girl- remember you had a fractured wrist? Calm it.

Why am I so hard on myself? I’ve never been the best at anything, so what exactly am I expecting? In school I was always a strong runner, but there were women faster. I can hold my own with a paint brush, but there are people who make work that moves me more than mine own ever will.  I got into grad school, sure, but I got rejected by every school I applied to besides the one I went to.  I love writing, but I’ve yet to put together a manuscript that someone wants. This isn’t meant to come across as a litany of failure, just a realistic check-in.  Why can’t I calm myself down and be ok being ok? Especially now.

My friends laughed at me in the best way possible. They offer encouraging support and patience and are really very adult about everything. And still I was frustrated.

Exit 32- Human Foot - British Aisles

Photo credit – Jason Sellers

Then last night I watched a woman on some her first lead climbs. She moved slowly up the climb and, about ten feet from the top, got snagged.  Her partner waited patiently, shouting up what advice he had to give.  She was nearly at a clip and from the ground it looked like she could, if she just moved a hand slightly, make the clip and be safe.  Instead she was caught up in the rope, tentatively reaching, pulling back, reaching again. Freaking out.

I’ve seen a lot of bad ass climbers, but this woman sort of blew me away.  I know what she was feeling.  She was scared, tired, frustrated, in pain. She ended up above the bolt, trying to find a more secure place, and as we watched from the ground made the clip from above with a gut-wrenching move. Her partner started to cheer and say “If you want to rest…” but she was already up and moving, making her way to the anchors.  “That was so embarrassing!” she shouted.

No. No it wasn’t. It was amazing. And it made me want to keep my complaining tongue in my mouth.  She was inspiring.  She wasn’t climbing anything that people might think of as “tough” and yet it was so fun and powerful to watch her finish.  Because climbing isn’t what someone else can do, it’s what you can do. And she did it.  That’s what I was reminded of—climb for me, for where I am, and not for where I want to be or some bar that I’ve set for myself.  There’s time for that, there will always be time for that. But girl, calm down. Heal. Have fun.

The woman and her partner got to the trail-head right as we were about to leave, and I dug out a She Rocks sticker to give her.  She lives in Tacoma and she told me her name but I didn’t write it down and I completely forget what it was.  But to you—if you’re ever reading this—thank you.  You rock.

Nowhere Close. Try Again.

Image

My best friend waiting at the top, trying to find the easiest way down for me at Hyak.

I wish that I was the sort of person to rush head-first into things, but in general I take a slower path.  This is true pretty much across the board—I don’t think I’ve ever been good, out of the gate, at anything.  I spent some time talking with my friend R this morning, soaking in a hot tub after a frustrating swimming lesson, and he paused a second before saying something along the lines of I’m going to say you’re not very good at change—because it means you’re not in complete control. It’s true—I’ve experience such frustration these past two months that I’ve almost broken into tears.  This isn’t to say I’m frustrated at my life; I couldn’t be happier.

I’m learning to recognize the learning period for what it is to me: a period of absolute frustration, stubbornness and tears.  It took six weeks of lessons before I finally had fun skiing.  Two weeks ago I almost broke down on the side of the slope, chattery corduroy snow beneath my skis, my lesson group at the bottom of the hill and my best friend waiting there, looking at me, saying just don’t turn in the ruts… look at me… turn to me.  No part of me was happy. I wanted to be better than this, to show him I can do this too, to show how much I’ve learned, to get to my class on time before they left for the lift, I wanted to be off the mountain, on stable ground, doing something I’m good at. I don’t want to be here. I looked down at him, looked past him to the group gathering near the lesson flags. The thing is—I had to get down.  There wasn’t another option, there wasn’t a button I could push to level anything out, the snow wasn’t going to get any softer, and I wasn’t going to get any stronger just standing there, terrified and stationary.  It wasn’t pretty, but I made it down. Because, I had to.

I’ve started to train for a triathlon.  Most of the training right consists of forcing myself to get in a pool and figure out how to swim.  It isn’t that I’m in danger of drowning—I’m a strong enough swimmer to play in the ocean or cruise around a lake, but I’m not a swimmer.  The first two sessions were with some of the other women signing up for the tri with me—none of us are really experts, so we’re just kind of giving each other moral support.  This morning I swam with one of my climbing partners and good lord, he is a wealth of information.  R is a one of the kindest people I know, and one of the strongest, and he was very sweet about all the things I was doing wrong.  Bending at the knees, popping my head up like a turtle, not tightening my core, not moving my arms close enough to my head… the list is pretty long.  He had me laughing enough to avoid tears, but I’m frustrated.  My body does not know what to do or how to do it, beyond—don’t drown.  But so much of swimming feels, right now, like nearly drowning. I have to learn to ride that closeness, without panic, and breathe. Simple. Sort of.

I’ll get there. Right now, I’m nowhere close.

Does everyone relentlessly try to improve themselves like this? My rest day today consists of swimming in the morning, pretending to clean (but writing this) during the early afternoon, meeting another friend to boulder this afternoon and then games and dinner with family.  Tomorrow morning, early rise to get to the mountain before lift lines become too insane and ski until I can’t anymore or my ride wants to head home.  I’m not good at any of the things I’m doing this weekend.  But I’m stubborn. And I’ll get there.

Nakedness and Jewelry

Forrest Glade

There are many forms of nakedness—sometimes it’s emotional vulnerability, sometimes it’s a physical disrobement. I think it varies person to person and I know that physical nudity isn’t the same as nakedness, for me. I’ve simply done too many figure drawing classes, from both sides of the canvas, to see an unclothed body as a naked one. It can be, sure. But for me, the two don’t go hand in hand.

I never feel more naked than when I’m without my jewelry.  It’s funny—I don’t think of myself as particularly feminine, but I am almost always adorned. These days I’m wearing six rings, earrings and a bracelet. This is my starting point—I routinely add necklaces, additional rings and additional earrings when the mood suits me.  At my barest, I wear two rings, stacked onto one finger, and a bracelet.  This is my base and come off only to climb and are returned as soon as I take my harness and shoes off.  While I like the physical weight of jewelry, it’s the significance of these three pieces that keep them close to me at all times.

The stacked rings are for my grandparents.  The lower is the engagement ring my grandfather gave to my grandmother, bought in the South Pacific during World War II.  The diamond is barely more than a chip, set into a flat square, and the band is thin gold. It’s a little loose on my finger, which is why it’s stacked below the second ring.  The second ring is a simple band of white gold that coils around and overlaps, each end joined with a wrap of yellow gold.  The rectangle of overlap is slightly larger than the square the diamond below is set in.  The ring is from a store that’s no long around, Beautiful Things.  My grandfather paid for the ring when I turned 16 but sent my aunt out with me to pick it out, and I’m pretty sure my father picked the store, as it was one of his standard places to buy things for the women he loved.  I don’t remember why I picked it, but I do remember that it was resized for me and for a long time it was the most expensive thing I owned.

The bracelet is my forest.  It’s a band of silver, also sized to fit me.  The clasp is the focus—a piece of glass with green and gold fused behind it.  The glass is set in a silver drizzle and when I saw it I immediately thought of a deep forest glade with golden sun streaming through branches.  It came from a woman who was a man at the time, selling jewelry at a craft fair I worked with my mother.  I can’t remember if we bought our bracelets or bartered for them, but I do remember the artist being very tall and that the artist had a thick French accent, dark streaming hair and eyes rimmed with black liner. I also remember not being surprised when my mom told me she ran into her next year and that she’d transitioned into a woman.  I’ve worn the bracelet every single day since that craft fair, which must have been when I was seventeen or so. I’ve lost it twice– once found in my own bed, having knocked it off in sleep, and once misplaced on a night of adventure that took me all over Seattle and had me devastated until my roommate found it on the parking strip outside our house.  Thinking of all the places it could have been and then where it was, right there, still gives me hope that lost things return when they are important enough.

It’s strange to realize I’ve worn something for over a decade, let alone a few things. Jewelry can be baubles, but it can also be something so much more. I’ve been thinking about the pieces I wear mostly because of my friend Olivia.  I’ve known Olivia since high school, when we ran together on the cross country team. Olivia now makes beautiful jewelry and I strongly suspect her pieces are the kind of pieces that become part of your life.  I recently bought a necklace that I’m sure I’ll wear often, and it’s really only a matter of time until I buy a ring to add to my base layer.  I love that she’s making art that feels so essential—I think it’s a hard thing to do and something I can only aspire towards.

So this is kind of a long way to say, look at Olivia’s work and support her. You can find out more about her process here.

Twig rings, by Olivia Ewing

 

You’ve come a long way sista!

Last night I was driving home from the Seattle Bouldering Project, talking through a few of the routes with my best friend who is finally back in town and staying with me until he finds his own place again.  He started to laugh, and when I asked he said I was just thinking about when you started. How shaky you were, how frustrating it was. Just step up! Just do it!Now you know why it was frustrating. He’s right. I was awful. Everyone who starts is awful, because you have to start somewhere. Out of everyone that I climb with, B knows better than anyone how far I’ve come.  I remember sitting in his room, saying, I think I’d like to learn to climb. He responded with something along the lines with, are you sure? Don’t just do this because you feel you have some family story to follow—it’s expensive and an investment. He took me out on my first climb with another friend and they put up something I was never going to be able to finish. I think it was Human Foot, out at Exit 32.  This summer I stood at the base of Human Foot, belaying one of my bad ass climbing ladies as she led her first 5.8 outside.  I’d just led my first 5.10 outside, a route a few to the left of Human Foot, and I did it clean.

Are you sure you want to learn? I wasn’t sure, at the time. I was mildly afraid of heights, I didn’t really have any idea what I was getting into, and climbing was more a theory and a story than anything else. I understand his hesitancy, but I will always love him for taking me on that first climb, and for continuing to take me out. The past two nights we’ve climbed in the gym together—first at Stone Gardens, then at the Bouldering Project.  I like to think he was surprised as I moved up routes he’d been working on.  He’s out of climbing shape but will regain it back quickly—I’ve been in the gym and outside a lot.  He’s probably still a stronger climber than me, and will be able to send things I can’t touch as soon as he has his endurance and finger strength back.  Still—for the first time I’m able to work through a sequence and offer suggestions.  He asked, for the first time, How did you start that? and I ran through the moves easily for him.

On Sunday night, when we were talking about plans for the week, I said I’m climbing Monday and Tuesday.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to come along—Monday was a settle and plan for the week evening while he lived in Hawaii.  It’s that for me too, though not with any household chores.  My Monday night climbing crew helps keep me more centered than anyone I know.  They are my best friends and the people who watch me fail and succeed and we share so many stories and so much laughter. I need Mondays with my friends to set up for my week, and I was glad he decided to come along instead of tending to laundry and grocery shopping.  There have been bumps, bruises, scabs and tears—but I can’t wait to get outside with him again and get some more battle scars. 

Granite Mountain and how I’m not a hiker (kinda)

Photo credit: Greg Orlov

Photo credit: Greg Orlov

I don’t consider myself an avid hiker, but as I started writing this I realized- I’ve been on some pretty grand hikes. I’ve done the through hike of the Enchantments and I’ve hiked out to Robin Lake, so apparently I’m not really daunted by an 18 mile day with some stout elevation. I’ve done smaller hikes too, out to Rachel Lake (dismissively called Girlfriend Hike by some of my friends for the amount of couples you’ll see slogging out), Garibaldi Lake in BC and Sunfish Pond back along the Appalachian Trail.  I’m not sure what would qualify as a difficult hike—Dirty Harry’s Peak was a haul up a logging trail that had turned mostly to stream bed, but it wasn’t really that long of a hike. 

When a friend asked if I wanted to do a winter hike, I paused only to say I didn’t have the right gear. You can borrow my microspikes. Ok. I’m in. And, what are microspikes? (Have I always said yes so readily to things?)

The hike was absolutely beautiful.  There were 10 of us (12 if you count the other friends that arrived at the trail head right as we were heading out, but we didn’t see them all day, so I’m not sure if they count as part of our group). We all knew a few folks but I don’t think anyone besides S. knew everyone.  The first part of the trail is full of switchbacks and very large, straight trees.  Sunlight filtered through in golden beams like a movie set and morning fog tangled in the branches as our bodies warmed up and layers started to peel off.  I ended up with almost everything in my pack—my body steaming into the cool air and my sunglasses completely fogged over.

granite mountain avalanche shuteWe hit the snowline slightly after the first mile.  It was as if a switch was hit and suddenly—snow.  The wind knocked loose crystals off of tree branches and despite the bluebird skies a gentle dusting fell around us.  As the sun warmed everything up that gentle dusting turned to thick clumps thudding on our faces and packs, but at first it was just kind of magical.

We ended up taking most of the summer route instead of the winter one—the snow wasn’t very deep and it seemed like the safest option.  Out of the tree line it got a little colder, but there was barely any wind.  Our group had spread out a bunch by this point and I could look up and see dots that were our bodies, moving towards the ridge line.  To my side my shadow was a deep dark slate and the foot prints in front of me had a clear pale blue glow to them.

Granite Mountain Summit- Sarah Ward

Photo credit: Sarah Ward

I’m starting to understand why my best friend will cancel plans in town to be out in the mountains if it’s at all possible.  This was a simple hike compared to his backcountry trips. A little over 8 miles, 3,800 feet in elevation, full of people and well groomed trails.  Even so, as I caught the image of my shadow against the snow, something inside me cracked open.  I was suddenly inside a poem I haven’t written yet and it felt as if everything were suddenly both weightier and more full of joy than I’d ever realized.  I keep finding these moments.  A shadow against snow.  A particular sequence of moves on rock. Sitting with a summit log in my hands and the ground hundreds of feet below.

Of course it hurts, I’m not saying it doesn’t.  I came home and directly soaked in the tub.  I woke up this morning to aching muscles (though that was probably also from dancing for a few hours with R and H on his last night in the States before he’s off to Thailand).  As I took H to the airport this morning he got a bit lost in his head, and said I was thinking about how amazing it is that our bodies will adjust to what we need. Oh you’re going to do brutal hikes? Let’s break down and make muscle.  Paraphrased, of course, but that’s the general gist of it.  He told me about a mountaineering course he’s going to try to take, and I’m going to look into it.  I have to climb Rainier.  It isn’t a have-to as in a bucket list—I’ve never wanted to do it.  But my father wants his ashes scattered off of the top, and so that is what I will do. I wish he could see what I’m doing now, I wish I could tell him about it, but I also think that throwing myself into the mountains is partly a way of having all the conversations we never had and never will have.  I climbed before he died, but I became a climber after, with his carabineers attached to my chalk bag, his guidebooks on my shelf.

I feel my body changing, breaking down and rebuilding itself for what I need it to do.  I hope through this that I will find more spaces that feel like poems, and that I’ll be able to translate them onto the page at some point, but I’m not worried about it.  No one is sitting, waiting breathless for my next collection of work to come out.  I have so much more to learn.

Photo credit: Greg Orlov

Photo credit: Greg Orlov

Let’s Do This

This past Tuesday was the Send and Social at the Bouldering Project.  This basically means that the gym is a little more crowded than usual and there’s free beer up on the balcony. I went with a handful of friends and we both sent and socialized, as expected.  At one point we were sitting down in the far corner of the gym watching people work on two problems, a V4 and a V5, I think.  (They were red and blue—the Bouldering Project is switching off of labels and into a color banded system.)  I was feeling sort of tired and just watched for a while before trying the red one.  While I sat there a girl kept trying the same problem and she and kept getting farther and farther along but couldn’t finish it.  Still, you could tell that she was happy and each move higher was the best she’d ever climbed.  I overheard her talking with her boyfriend about it—and watched her watching other people climb it, puzzling out how to finish the final few moves.  I jumped on for my try—it’s a fun corner route, and up my alley as far as a climb that plays to my strengths.  I slipped at one point but caught myself and finished the route cleanly, but stayed in the corner to see if the girl was going to try again.  She was next up and as I watched I started to cheer her on a little—come on, you got it. Go for it. Nice. Come on.  I didn’t know her name, but it was fun watching her get past where she’d fallen before, and then hit the next move.  She finished the route and you could just see how excited she was—she hung for a second off the top of the wall and looked around, probably trying to find her boyfriend.  He hadn’t been watching—or at least, she didn’t seem to find him.  She came down and walked over to me.  Was that you cheering me on? She gave me a big hug, we chatted for a little bit and then she ran off to find her boyfriend.

I’m competitive to a fault. I go for something that’s supposed to be an easy jog around the lake and end up sprinting in to make sure Random Guy doesn’t pass me at the end.  I want to be better, faster, stronger.  This has spilled into climbing a little bit, but in general, I climb with people who are much stronger than me.  It’s also a little difficult to “compete” in something that’s so individual.  That said, cheering the random girl made me think about one of my favorite races in college where competing switched over into teamwork.  I am always the girl cheering my own team on while I run, but in this particular race I was running along the final 800 meters without any teammates in sight.  There was a girl near me that I kept trading places with and eventually we found ourselves running shoulder to shoulder as the finish-line came in sight.  There was a stretch along a fence line before the course took a left turn into the final stretch and I don’t remember if she started it or I did, but we began talking to each other. Come on. Let’s go. Let’s finish this.  We were stride for stride, and we hit that moment you can find where you are working alone, together. Come on. I felt her fall back and I remember turning my head, come on. Get up here. Let’s do this. She said, go, you have this, and I took off.  I tried to find her afterwards to thank her, but I just knew she was a girl, in a uniform, with darkish hair in braids— not a very unique description at a cross country meet.

I don’t think I would have finished that race as well as I did without the random girl I ran beside.  I don’t know that the girl I cheered on Tuesday would have sent the problem if she hadn’t heard my support.  I know just thinking someone is watching and supporting me gets me to try that move I’m scared I won’t make, to risk just a hair more, to pick up my feet a little higher and power in to the finish. I love this—we are better together. I don’t think it’s about proving anything, necessarily.  I know very well that it doesn’t matter to anyone else what I am capable of.  But, thank you for watching. Let’s do this, whatever it is. We are stronger when we are side by side.

some of my cross country ladies

some of my cross country ladies