The List

The List

Two months ago, while I was climbing in the RRG, I took a detour to visit a longtime friend who I hadn’t seen in years. The weather was crap, and it was a chance to check in on someone I’d lost touch with recently. She was going through several major transitions in her life, and at moments like those it is an incredible relief to just sit in the company of someone you know and trust.

We spent several days just hanging out and talking. Nothing transformational, so to speak, but the sort of conscientious conversation two people who have known each other through multiple life phases call “catching up.”

Today that friend sent me a something. “Doing some digital housekeeping,” she said, “I found this list I made after you left:”

Compassion, love, forgiveness
Present past future
Live in the vertical
Over thinking
Follow heart
Path – sailboat
Right versus wrong

My own words staring back at me. Sometimes the most beautiful reminders come in subtle ways, through lots of experience and soul searching. Other times, however, they just pop into the inbox, marked “Unread.” What a beautiful way to begin today.

Barefoot Warrior

Throwing yourself at something completely, recklessly, with no thought of success and overflowing compassion and love is not limited to climbing. A friend of mine is a yoga instructor here in North Conway. She directed the same emotions, that same release of control, that I’ve poured into climbing into her yoga. I sat down and talked with her about it briefly this week. This was the result:

I love the idea of the Failure Project, but I also love the idea of the Passion Project — capturing the passions people launch into with no thought of hitting the ground. Surfing, art, music, yoga, running, cycling, dancing, skiing, auto racing, skydiving, sailing, cooking — they can all be launchpoints. Anything can all teach us what it means to be alive, so long as we have the ears to hear the lessons they offer. Thank you, Nichole, for sharing some of the lessons with me.


The last several weeks have been a busy blur, but I found something today too fitting for SOG to pass up. Others have said far better what I’m striving to say about life, climbing and adventure. This post is one of those.

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

         – Hermann Hesse

Now that the ice has melted I’ve continued to climb without a rope. Nothing hard, but hard enough that I have to center myself, that I have to have faith where previously I had none. I’ve continued to search for trust within myself, to acknowledge I can never uncover my own true nature without reckless, total trust in its existance. “My strength is trust,” Hesse said. “I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.”