"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey
Saturday, September 24, 2011
I am clinging to a rock face at Great Falls, VA. The tip of my left foot is wedged into a tiny crevice where it doesn't really fit, resulting in my ankle being twisted at a painful, unnatural angle - but I have to keep it there until I figure out what to do next. My right foot has no hold; it is flagging onto the rock (just lying flat against it for balance). My right fingers are barely clinging to a thin ledge far out to my right. My left hand has no choice but to fist jam into a deep crack, bringing a bit of blood to my knuckles and squashing a few stink bugs and spiders.
In this moment, I notice that there are people watching me. Some from behind, up on top of the ledge by the trail. They have stopped with their cameras and are taking pictures of me. More across the river on the Maryland side. They are pointing with one hand and putting their other hand over their open mouths, shaking their heads. Looking at me.
I have a fleeting memory of being one of those people. A few years ago, I hiked the Great Falls trail and saw some rock-climbers dangling precariously from ropes, dancing up what looked like feature-less flat rock, much like I am doing now. I held my breath in awe and admiration at their bravery and skill. I was jealous. I wanted that kind of skill; that kind of adventure. I had no idea how to even begin to think about how to get onto a rock face like that.
Hanging here now, I don't know if I could even re-trace the steps that led me from that trail as a spectator to this rope with rock under my fingers. I know that what happened between that moment and this one was a lot of growth, a lot of chaos, and a lot of humility. It was less about strength and more about saying "Screw it. I have no idea what to do."
After several more pushes, grunts, and questionable hand-jams, I make it to the top. The people behind me on the trail clap, as do my friends below. I beam with a sweaty, gratified smile. As I sit down to untie myself and take off my climbing shoes, the couple who had been watching approach. The woman says to me, "I don't know how you do that! I could never do that."
I look her right in the eye and say, "I don't know how I do it either. And yes you can."