Meditations on Climbing and Intimacy


Overlooking Squamish from the top of a pitch at the Pillary

I put a lot of faith in language– the language we speak the language our bodies speak for us. But, like any translation, definitions can slip slightly out of whack. A hand placed, just so, means only a hand placed, just so. I like to think I’m learning that trust can mean different things, and intimacy is not the same as caring.

I’ve been thinking a lot about climbing lately, and I’ll slowly get to the point.  A new friend directed me towards a blog he wrote a year ago, why Climbing is the Best Sport. I agree with a lot of his points, but there was still something missing from his write-up for me. Trust and intimacy.  Yes, there are plenty of times when it’s you and the rock. And, like running, you only have your own body to count on.  But what I love about climbing is the way you learn and trust your friends that do this crazy thing with you.  I think that’s why climbers can get a bad rap for being a crowd that only talks about climbing- put two climbers in a room together and they’ll try to figure out if they would be good partners or not.

Unless you’ve done it, I’m not sure you can understand the intimacy of watching your partner on rock.  It helps, I think, that I started climbing with my best friend. I knew him well, and I could tell when he was getting scared, or frustrated, or confident enough to get through a tough sequence.  I learned to anticipate his next moves and to watch his breath.  He knew me well enough to know when to push me and when to let me come down, defeated.  For the most part.   It’s a double-edged sword, and I still have a scar on the back of my hand from a frustrating day that culminated in him shouting “Did you think this was going to be easy? It’s supposed to hurt!” because he was frustrated at his own fall earlier, and we were tired and knew each other too well to stop from squabbling.

Dad climbing

My dad, working a crack.

This, of course, circles back to my parents.  They met climbing but stopped when I was born. I grew up knowing that climbing ropes were good for tug-of-war and to always have three solid points of contact before moving the fourth while you climb trees, but knew only the names of crags without ever getting on them.  I came to climbing later in life, across the country from where I grew up, with people who’d never met my family.  My father helped me buy my first rope and my mother sent me a helmet for my birthday, but they have never seen me climb. My father died last summer.  The last trip home to see him we talked about going out to the Gunks or somewhere to crag– I wanted to show him what I could do so badly.  I wanted him to belay me as I moved across rock, his daughter following a path he knew so well. He was too sick, and I left everything in Seattle so I wouldn’t be tempted to push him.  Climbing had finally give me a common language with my father, but he died before we had a real chance to share our experiences.  And so, climbing becomes another intimacy– a re-connection to history and family.

I think one of the reasons I don’t like bouldering is because I like having a partner to watch and to watch me.  I like working something with someone, and the sense of shared accomplishment as you summit. You have to trust your partner. Your partner literally has your life in his or her hands. This summer, I confused life-trust for love-trust. Though it resulted in many wonderful climbing adventures, when I finally understood the difference the realization was stupidly painful.  Intimacy on rock is not the same as intimacy elsewhere. There are many parallels, but it is not the same– you can trust someone’s skills and still be unsure whether he will show up for dinner as planned. You can know someone’s body so well as to anticipate their failure, but this is not the same thing as understanding someone.  Climbing with lovers is a tricky thing– both amazing and dangerous. It’s something that has come up frequently with my friends– do we want to date climbers? On one hand, they have similar passions and understand us. On the other, you’re out a climbing partner and dividing draws at the end– alternating gym days and sorting out who gets to keep guidebooks.  Partly because you’re so vulnerable while climbing, I think it’s so easy to let intimacy on a rock slide into intimacy elsewhere– to let trust seem like trust.  It’s hard for me, because I have the rosy romantic history of my parents.  They loved each other, and climbed together, and I am here because of it. And yet it took them years to be able to speak to one another after divorcing.

Intimacy is what I love about climbing, but it’s such a multifaceted word.  Intimacy with the rock, with yourself, with your partner.  The deep trust you have to have for your own body and the person below or above you. I’m still sorting out what that means off of a cliff, and I suspect I will be for a long time.  I am so lucky to have so many wonderful friends that are sorting it out with me– and I do trust that we’ll all figure out whether we should date each other, other people, climbers or people who are afraid of heights and think us crazy.  As I write this, I’m running late to meet a friend at the gym, and later today I’ll do a few more Spanish lessons to get ready for El Potrero Chico where I’ll be meeting a friend in December.  I’m pensive this morning, but at the end of the day, I love my partners, my friends, my people.  Time to send!

At the top of Wherever I May Roam, Smith Rock

At the top of Wherever I May Roam, Smith Rock



Icy World

Normally I keep my posts here in the realm of literature, but I will stray a bit here.  Though it ties back to a book.  

There are many things a bit wonky about the Museum of Flight.  Each typo I see hurts a bit, and I hear that signage throughout the museum can tend towards inaccurate.  One of the top issues I take, however, is about a cold little planet.  Ex-planet.  Planet according to us: the video in the theater Pluto is still #9.  Today in the NY Times this opinion piece caught my eye.

Science can shift quickly, and I do think it’s the responsibility of museums and schools to stay up to date with what we tell children.  At the Museum of Flight, we promise education and then inform patrons with something that’s been inaccurate since 2001, even if it only had consensus a year and a half ago.  We should at least be telling of the Pluto debate, and providing information similar to the Pluto plaque.  I see so many kids come through the MoF, and I know that most of them are running from plane to plane with only the bright colors and possibility of guns in mind.  But there have to be some that are hungry for information, and there we are, telling them something inaccurate.  

Maybe that’s why I’m still hooked on ether.  The science is wrong, but it has been acknowledged to be wrong.  It has the veil of history over it, and no one is trying to convince a ten year old that the lumniferous ether transmits light through the void of space.  Or passively providing information and letting someone walk away without mentioning the historical context of what was provided.  

The more time I spend outside of education, the more I want to stand in front of a classroom again.  I can feel myself launching into teacher-mode when I’m at work; rambling off the littlie information I know about planes simply to be sharing something with another person.  Most often the words bubble around and fall a bit flat- no one is interested in listening so much as climbing into the flight simulator and making it do loops.  

I’m not going to take over control of MoF, and I wouldn’t really want to.  I’m sure there are plenty of other museums that also say Pluto is planet #9, and I just happen to be at one of them.  Perhaps it’s like a dictionary: the standard for languages but the last place that active words end up.  It’s only lag time, and I happen to be in the same between Pluto as planet and non-planet.  Silly strange place to be in.


“I am interested in language because it wounds or seduces me.” (Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text)

After a 17 mile bike ride down the Berke Gilman Trail to Open Books and back, I finally have Forrest Gander’s translations of Coral Bracho- Firefly Under the Tongue.  I had the good fortune to see Gander and Bracho read at the Dodge Poetry Festival earlier this year, and Chris Abani was kind enough to introduce me to Gander afterwards.  Surrounded by poets of much renown, Gander talked to me for a while and made me feel less lost.  I decided then that once I came out to Seattle I’d find his books at Open Books, and though it was a bit confusing (my own mistakes) eventually the right text ended up in my hands.  Both his work and his translations have my mind reeling a bit. 

Again, I find myself wishing to be proficient in a language besides English.  Bracho’s work in Spanish sounds lovely in my head, but my tongue won’t wrap around the letters quite right.  Gander’s translations are wonderful, but I ache to read and understand the original text.   Firefly Under the Tongue is an interesting counterpart to The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes.  I’m beginning to lose boundaries between text, author, and reader.  Reading Bracho, I am torn between wanting to be subject and wanting to be subject-er. Composer. Writer. The written and the writer.  Or the text itself.  I feel voyeuristic when reading :

Sé de tu cuerpo: los arrecifes,

las desbandadas,

la luz inquieta y deseable (en tus muslos candentes la lluvia incita), 

de su oleaje:

Sé tus umbrales como dejarme al borde de esta holgada,


mezquita tibia; como urdirme (tu olor suavísimo, oscuro) al

    calor de sus naves.



I know of your body: the reefs,

the scattering birds,

the light sought and unsettled (on your candescent thighs incited by rain),

of your surge:

I know your thresholds as though they let me go to the edge of this roomy,


tepid mosque; as though they wove me (your dark suave scent) into

      the heat of its naves.


(From En esta oscura mezquita tibia/In This Dark Tepid Mosque)

Voyeuristic, and yet I can’t turn away. Don’t want to turn away.  That this text is not about me, not by me, not including me: wounds. That this text intrigues me and pulls me: seduces.  It pushes me.

Then, of course, there is the gaze. To be gazed at, to gaze back.  Such a simple word, soft buzz sound. Not the glint of glance, but the steady vibration across skin of gaze.  I am used to gaze in art (the Frye has an exhibit up right now actually) but I hadn’t put much thought into it in text.  And yet, here I am gazing. And wanting the gaze. And naming it (voyeuristic) but finding surprise at the name.

of language

Brambles at the mailbox

The mailbox sky minus the crows

At the end of an errands run, as I walked back to my aunt’s house, I saw quite the murder of crows above me.  More and more flew above, streaking the sky black and headed to a cardinal direction I ought to know but don’t. [I find myself easily lost, headed west when I should go north, finding the ocean at my back when I meant to dip into it. ]  At the tangle of brambles and berries on the triangle of land by the mailboxes a woman and a little boy peered both up and forward.  She was more captivated by the birds, he by the bushes.  I’m not sure if they were picking berries,  but that’s what it seemed like.  As I picked up the mail the woman said “They’ve been flying above for the past ten minutes, I don’t know where they’re going.”  Though she was probably talking to the little boy, I answered yes, they had been and that I’d been watching them for a while as I walked.  She smiled at me, but I felt like I’d interrupted.  As I walked away I heard the boy saying “Crow. Want me to tell you the Latin root?”

I find it frustrating that I don’t know more languages.  I have a smattering of French, a bit of Itallian, and I can fake my way through Spanish text, but I’m at a loss at truly understanding a language besides English.  Though I’ve felt the loss of language, it was most poignant when I read an article that my mother gave me for my birthday: The Vital Heat, The Inborn Pneuma and the Aether.  The article is bound with blue paper and has been cut out of whatever journal it came from, so the only citation I can give is that it is written by Friedrich Solmsen, from Cornell University, sometime after 1948.  In it, Solmsen quotes direct sources without translating.  “Πασης μεν ουν ψυχης…” and so forth.  Though of course even this is a mis-translation, ignoring accent marks that I’m sure change the entire meaning of words.  He uses phrases such as “clearly,” and “as shown by” without making much clear or shown.  The fault is not his, but my own.  

I want to know texts, and know them in their original form.  Translations can be beautiful, but something is lost.  Of course, one can argue that someting is gained as well, that the text becomes a collage instead of an ink drawing.  There are layers of translated text, translator, original author; text that is made of the cracks, crevices, platueas and mountains that occur when two languages are asked to combine and convey the same thing.  

In this way, the journal projects I work on are like translations of text.  Growing out of multiple locations, the texts ideally begin to weave together and create something that, alone, would be impossible.