On the Road

On the Road

13071776_1474279299264817_5955152375711111058_oI stood by the side of U.S. 191 waving my arms. Another car slid past. Then another. And another.

“Damn it!” I shouted after the fifth went by without slowing. “Stupid!”

Rain was beginning to fall, and the wind had picked up. The clouds hung low over the mesa. The La Sals were covered in snow.

I was 25 miles from Indian Creek, 40 from Moab, and the battery in my Honda Element was down to Empty.

I’m such an idiot sometimes.

The plan was for a rest day. After three days of sandstone splitters my fingers were shot, my hands were raw and my arms were spent. I needed a shower, a refill on water, some internet and a grocery store. But instead I was on the side of the road miles from anywhere hoping against reason to flag down a pair of jumper cables.

Sometimes the adventure on climbing trips has nothing to do with the climbing.

Everything began in April. First stop: Washington D.C., the climbing Mecca. Andre, my scheduled Red Rocks and Yosemite partner, offered a session at Earth Treks and to let me crash in his spare room. After a New England winter of ice and snow it felt great to pull plastic. Humbling, but fun.

12961430_1458805094145571_3194725830949882464_oFrom there I drove on to Wilmington, North Carolina, for a weekend of freediving, descending like a SCUBA diver but without a tank, holding my breath as the light faded through the meters of oceanwater. Stealth-camping in my Element, eating meals out of Wholefoods, it felt like any climbing weekend, except that the worst advice you can give is “BREATHE!”

From there I drove west, the favored direction for the next six weeks. The first real climbing stop was Eastern Tennessee and two days at a secret cliff a friend was developing. “It’s a mix of the Red and the New,” he told me, “more technical than the Red but fewer stopper cruxes than the New.” An oath of secrecy later I found myself below a 40-meter high cliffband stretching from hollow to hollow, perfect orange rock towering above.

13002451_1459754597383954_5867903751223971741_o“This route is five stars,” my friend told me again and again. He was right. Beautiful sandstone, and to ourselves. We put up a new 5.12 with a fun bouldery crux near the ground and bolt after bolt of devious climbing above, 16 bolts of perfection. The Southeast is still full of hidden gems.

But I had friends to meet in the Red, as well as a project to attend to.

For Northeasterners the RRG is a transition ground, the place to switch from pulling on ice tools to grabbing rock holds. It’s a spring pilgrimage, one seldom observed fit for rock climbing.

A few years ago I caught a glimpse of Cell Block Six, a soaring line on the Midnight Surf wall. It called to me, a perfect transition route—big holds, big moves, lots of airtime—it seemed to shout “Welcome to sport climbing season!” I wanted on.

So day one: Warm up slow on 5.10, then head to where the cliff arches at angles that block the sun. Get on the project. Fall all over the project.

Day two: Recover from Day one.

It took two days of gravity testing, pizza dinners and sandstone buckets to clip the chains, but a pair of handjams after the crux unlocked the route. Desperate through the crux, I recovered enough in those jams to feel like the chains came too soon. The transition to rock season was on!

With the project in my pocket I turned west again, to Indian Creek. It’d been 13 years since I’d climbed in the Creek, I was due a visit. And after a few years mostly sport climbing the idea of splitters beckoned. Last fall I was part of an AAC exchange to the Caucus Mountains, climbing rock routes and alpine peaks in Armenia and Georgia. Our host was a strong and energetic Armenian named Mkhitar, and after the trip our group wanted to return the hosting favor. Mkhitar accepted an invitation from exchange member and famous alpinist Jim Donini to take a month-long tour of American rock, from the Creek to Red Rocks to Yosemite to the Black Canyon. Anyone who wanted to join was welcome to tag along.

13123396_1475909295768484_6295289621947350976_oThat’s how I landed on the side of the U.S. 191 waving in vain at passing cars.

The Creek is buried in technological darkness. Indeed, that is part of its appeal—no services, no cell coverage, just coyotes and varnished sandstone. The camping is primitive, the climbing superb. After the noise of Miguel’s and 1,000 miles of highway I sunk into that darkness with relish.

Jim, Mkhitar and a small crew had already staked out a camp and were on the rocks when I arrived. I spilled out of my Element and roped up, barely 7 hours out of Denver. Mkhitar’s face was stretched thin in a smile as he looked at the walls surrounding him. It was going to be a good trip.

But two days later after pitch after pitch of steep sandstone I needed a break. I tumbled back into my car and headed north. Rain spat as I climbed out of the canyon to the plateau, occasionally unleashing in waves, then quiet. I turned on my wipers, then my headlights. Red mud rinsed the land around me.

The first cell signal popped up a short distance from where the road to Indian Creek intersects the highway. My phone buzzed to life; emails downloading, text messages vibrating. I pulled over and switched off the car, leaving the key turned one click to listen to the radio. Three days away and a lot had happened; I started sorting through the layers.

Half-an-hour later, still sitting by the side of the road replying to a Facebook messages, the radio went silent. My phone battery indicator went from green to white.

“NO!” I shouted, suddenly realizing I’d left my headlights on. “NO! You idiot! What are you doing?!”

Half-an-hour—roughly the time it would have taken to get to Moab, where I could have done all of this internetting in the library, surrounded by central air, electric outlets and comfy seats. Instead I was now the proud owner of a dead Honda, parked in a patch of mud along the highway, rain moving in.

I tried the key: Nothing but clicks. I tried waiting a few minutes, hoping maybe the battery would recover enough residual charge, but I was too panicked to let it sit more than 90 seconds. More clicks. Finally I accepted what I had done, what I would have to do. I pulled on a fleece and stepped out into the spitting drops.

The first dozen cars didn’t even slow. Then came the fleet of rentals. “No,” the driver’s would say, one after another, “I don’t have cables. This is a rental car.” One guy offered to send help when he got to Monticello, but that sounded complex and expensive. “At least let me call you when I get there,” he said. “If you are still here I can send someone.”

I relented and gave him my phone number.

Drivers would see other cars pulled over and would pull over themselves, but they too had nothing to jump a battery with. (I, of course, was in no position to throw stones—where were my jumper cables?) I started to grow worried this could get expensive. I had cell coverage. I could call a towing service for a jump. But that felt like expedition tactics, resorting to aid climbing when I had set out for a free ascent.

I have learned that sometimes you can tell a car that has jumper cables. Sometimes the giveaway is the vehicle, other times it’s the driver. This time it was both. Truck. White. Extracab. With a diamond plate toolbox in the bed. A Utahn in his 40s with sandy hair, a mustache and well-worn Levi’s.

He was coming from the other direction. He slowed down and made a u-turn, pulled over all the way to the dirt embankment, letting his truck handle the terrain. He drove towards me, standing small against the desert, but stopped a few yards away. He was on his phone, and he just kept talking. He held up a finger. “One minute,” he seemed to be saying, “I’ll take care of this in one minute.”

Other cars were streaming past. I could be out there flagging them down, I thought. But I had a feeling.

He hung up the phone and rolled down his window.

“Do you have jumper cables?” I asked. The feeling was growing.

He paused, answered slow.

“Yep.”

The feeling was hope. “Can you give me a jump?”

Another pause.

“Yep.”

Another handjam rest. Maybe this crux would go too.

 

This piece originally appeared on the Trango website.

Cold December?

Cold December?

CMG-1020592I wonder if people are worried.

It’s December. Do you remember December? There may not always be snow on the ground, but before Christmas approaches things up high things grow white. The air cracks, dry and cold. The skies are grey, hard as flint, and flurries are common.

This, what we are having now, is not December.

I thought about this in October, when summer seemed unwilling to end, when the leaves held way past normal. And I thought about it again in November, when the “Indian Summer” stretched week after week. But it seemed my concern was maybe jumping the gun. Maybe, like last year, winter would rear itself forcefully and all my worrying would be for naught.

But now it’s December. Mid-December. But the sun still carries warmth. The nights seldom to dip to freezing. The mountains are looking like late October. Christmas is almost here, and “white” seems very unlikely. Some days smell distinctly of spring. Something feels off, way off, a long way from normal. I’m worried.

I hope it’s not just me.

Not that I’m complaining exactly. The warm days have been marvelous, and it’s nice to wear a T-shirt when the calendar recommends two fleeces and a puffy jacket. But this is bigger than personal comfort. When things get weird like this it starts to feel like maybe the Earth’s orbit is off-axis, like maybe the planet’s tilt is spinning aloof. What the heck is going on, when April and December switch?

There is politicized discussion/debate about global warming and the role we play in it. I’m not looking to wade into that. Or the equally politicized conversation about whether or not we should be taking steps to counteract it. Like so much today, those issues are too muddied to approach openly. Each side has its staked-out position, and every conversation devolves into a shouting match. Opponents lob rhetorical grenades across a divided no man’s land. I have no desire to walk headlong into that.

But this December feels weird. Like September, the hottest on record. And October, also the hottest. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will release November numbers this week, at which point we’ll see if the trend holds for last month too. The December data won’t be out until January, at which point perhaps the hills will be white and the 55 degree days will seem like a distant memory but, no matter what the final numbers settle out to, something is askew with this month.

And regardless of the data, global temperature rise will remain a schism point, a political fracture. Here in New Hampshire it’s hard not to be pleased with reduced home heating bills, fewer mornings spent scraping the car windshield and a few extra days of tolerable temperatures.

But the Mount Washington Valley winter economy is built on Attitash, Wildcat, Cranmore, Black Mountain and King Pine. Bretton Woods and Great Glen. Bear Notch and Jackson Ski Touring Foundation. Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring, snowmobile vacations and ice climbing trips. Snowshoers and winter hikers. Winter is the unique gift the North Conway area offers, and right now we can’t offer it to anyone. Without 32 degrees Fahrenheit and below, the driver that marks the fourth season sputters.

And it isn’t just the fourth season: Foliage is getting harder to predict, harder to plan around, as temperatures buck and weave. Replacing cold nights with strings of warm days takes a toll on the colors. Springtime warmth, which drives maple sap skyward, is also erratic of late. And rainless summers have an effect on river levels, meaning an excursion on the Saco can be more of a walk than a paddle. So much of what makes the Mount Washington Valley thrive is built upon its seasonal fluctuations, built on a consistency that has allowed entire industries to develop and thrive. What happens if the ski slopes are brown on Christmas week? Right now that doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

And that is the beginning. From there, what happens to the rest of the valley economy without the tourist crowds those recreation opportunities drive? What happens to the hotels and restaurants, to the ski shops and the outdoor stores, to the outlets that entertain non-skiing family members? They will suffer the same weather pinch.

And if those businesses suffer, how long will it take for the impact to be felt down the line, at the local doctor’s and dentist’s office, at the accountant’s? In this valley everyone’s livelihood is tied to tourism, and tourism is tied to the weather. Even the newspaper prays for snow.

This is not an abstraction; the ski industry has been wrestling with this problem for decades. Snowmaking, once a small part of mountain operations, became a focal point after winter storms proved insufficient to coat the trails by Christmas. Today almost every Northeastern mountain can paint the whole hill white with guns, but they need cold temperatures. What if those are gone too? What if December truly is the new autumn? I’m worried.

But in truth, there is no use in worrying. If that is the trajectory, if winter is truly on its way out, then it is a boulder bouncing downhill — there will be no turning it around quickly.

And if not, then I’ve just written an entire column for nothing.

But.

But the conversation about rising temperatures is not an abstract political argument about ice caps, polar bears and Polynesian islands. It is a conversation about this valley, about an economy built on seasons, a conversation about our jobs. If global warming is real it will hit us where it hurts. And this December it is feeling very real.

This piece appeared in the Conway Daily Sun in December 2015.

3,977 Miles

3,977 Miles
10553818_903535722993720_2619385696188103555_o
Brian on the East Buttress of El Cap. Dominic Tracy Photo.

It’s a long way from Cuzco, Peru, to home. It’s almost 4,000 miles. 3,977, to be exact.

But that’s to North Conway. I wonder what the distance is to Cathedral Ledge? To the upper left section of the cliff, the Barber Wall? To the route Double Vee, a 5.9 crack I’ve climbed many times before, where yesterday my friend Brian fell and died. How far is from the place I sit, in my hotel in Peru, to that spot? 3,977.6 miles? 3,978.3? I’m not sure, but it feels like a long way.

In 15 years of climbing, I’ve never had a friend die. I’d had friends get hurt, and I’d known of many friends of friends who died, but none were my partners. None were direct connections to me. In the last month and a half, however, the mountains have claimed two. Eitan fell 3,000 feet down Mount Rainier. Brian fell 50 feet off the top of Double Vee. Both were men I’d shared a rope with. Both were on routes I’d climbed, died in places I’d stood. Now both are gone.

What is death? The speed with which it comes, the ferocity with which it attacks, makes no sense. It’s like a cloud above gets transformed from weightless mist into solid concrete, and when it falls it does so with ruthless finality. One minute, floating peacefully, the next, wreckage. Where will it land? Who will it smother? More than I can know. The light of life is not constant. Too often it flickers and dies without warning.

But in every flicker lives the roaring strength of first light, the brilliance of the star we were born from. There can be no fade without that brilliance, and the darkness left behind is directly proportional to his radiance. And Brian’s light shone rich, alive and perfect. Before the clouds fell, he was the sun.

I do not know the story. 4,000 miles is a long way to search for answers. The light, however, has faded. That much I know.

GLA-1040533But with every light, with every life, there are choices. Life is short, and choices can make it shorter still. But each body, each heart, is a vessel. A longer life, one built of safer choices, may make for more years, for a larger vessel, but it says nothing of the potency of what fills it. Brian’s life was one of passion, one of kindness and friendship and adventure. Perhaps those choices not to live a safe, sheltered, quiet existence shrank the volume of the vessel that was his life, but it only strengthened the nectar of the man that vessel contained. Brian was pure, undiluted. He did not live at a deficit, at a loss. He lived recklessly, with an open heart, throwing every ounce of his being into his life and himself, into living with richness and passion and love and perfection and freedom. I would not ask it to be different. A bigger vessel, a few more years, would not be worth trading in the man he was.

But then, such questions are meaningless. There can be no revisions in this book. There is only today. Today, Brian is dead. The clouds fell. His vessel has shattered. But the Earth is sweeter for what his life has spilled. Even 3,977 miles away, I can taste it.

Author’s Note: The news story I wrote about the accident is available here.

Wednesday, or maybe Thursday, on Facebook

Wednesday, or maybe Thursday, on Facebook

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 7.28.01 PMWhat’s it like, to die on Facebook? To have condolences and remembrances stream in after your power switch has clicked off? Your smile is still there, bright and alive, still glowing, but now the glow is lifeless, a screen left on in the dark.

Eitan died on a Wednesday, but Facebook called it Saturday. And really, what difference does a few days make, especially once you’re dead.

On the other side of this, do status updates matter? Does status matter? What matters? When you fall 3,000 feet over snow and rock and ice, does anything matter? It doesn’t matter enough to go in and find the body; not to them at least, and not at all to you. You are dead. The point is no longer the point.

Eitan died on a Wednesday. Actually, I’m only guessing about that, he could have died early Thursday. Regardless, the fact is he’s dead.

Why do we climb mountains? Why do we walk willingly into harms way, hold up our hands and embrace the chance we will die? Can anyone answer that?

Yesterday I wrote about Eitan, about the mountain, the snow, the ice, the fall, the death. Today I went to the mountain. I went without ropes, without a harness or a partner, without any cushion between perfection and death. I went because I have I had no choice. I went because the mountain called. I laced my rock shoes, opened my chalk bag and climbed, breathing slow, deliberate breaths with every move. I felt the sweat drip down my forehead and along my nose. I felt the wind peel it away. I felt the rippling granite beneath my fingertips. I felt it all. The sun baked my bare back. The rock radiated warmth under my palms, beneath my feet. What was left but to move? I took a step, then another, then another.

Eitan died on a Wednesday. Or a Thursday. He died on a day. We will all die on a day. He slid 3,000 feet, and he died. Where in the slide did he die? I’m not even sure he knows that. Or knew.

I’ve been there before, to the spot where he died. It was seven years ago, but I climbed past. I didn’t know Eitan then, and I didn’t recognize it as the spot where he would die, but there it was the whole time.

Eitan died. It was a Wednesday or a Thursday, nevermind what Facebook said. And now I can see his smile, the echoes of his life, whenever I want. I can see what he meant to people, the words they never said when he was here, words that cannot erase Wednesday. Or Thursday.

I left the ground today and I climbed for Eitan. Or was it for me? Is there a difference? I climbed for life, for mine and his and yours, for Mondays and for Fridays. The sun, the wind, the rock and the trees all climbed with me, urging me upward just as they must have urged Eitan down, down, down. For they have no compass, no morals, no judgment, they simply celebrate what is, the movement as it unfolds. Today I went up, so they cheered. On Wednesday (or Thursday) Eitan went down, so again they cheered. They live in perfection, in celebration of movement, no matter its direction, no matter its conclusion. They honor it, no matter the outcome. And so I will too. Soon enough I will approach Wednesday, or Thursday, and even Facebook will get it right. Eventually.

Author’s Note: Read the news story about Eitan Green here.

Africa

Africa

I do not know this country, this continent. Every bit of red earth is new, as are the smiles and warmth of its people. I came for work, but I will leave having made more friends than money. And I’m OK with that.

 


 

A Lost Pilgrim

A Lost Pilgrim
I woke up to frost on the windshield this morning. And this:

It’s coming. Soon the seasonal whitewash will creep into the valley, and the full wrath of winter will fall. Every year as that process begins my palms sweat: ice season is approaching. It’s time to fly.

Ice is different than rock. It’s fluid, ephemeral, repeating but not the same year to year. Routes have been known to come in once and never again. The moment to climb may be NOW, or never. There is beauty in that fleeting existence, something rare and perfect. Every October I yearn for a taste of that momentary perfection. It pulls at me, and like a moth I can’t help but stare into the light. Even before the last of the summer sunlight has forsaken south-facing crags, I’m out there scratching with steel.

My habit in recent years has been to follow that fixation to Cannon Cliff, the belly of the beast, for the annual early season ascent of The Black Dike. Last year my good friend Ryan and I climbed it on Election Day. The year before Peter and I climbed it in late October. It has become a ritual, something of an annual pilgrimage.

This year, however, the early season Silk Road seemed askew. The ritual had an unfamiliar weight to it. Instead of a celebration, a christening, it felt heavy, like a chore. It was holding me down.

The quest for The Dike has always been to me about the coming of winter. It was a chance to jump headlong into ice season even before the last of the leaves had fallen. And it is more than just that. In October/November The Black Dike is transformed. It is, for a few weeks, no longer a chossy rock climb, nor a moderate ice climb, but instead an alpine testpiece once again. For a brief moment it becomes the hardest ice route in the Northeast again. With only a few inches of ice it regains its fearsome reputation. Early season is a chance to inch a bit closer to The Dike of the early years. Will it go? Perhaps not, despite my war-cry. In October the mountain has a habit of snarling back.

But sometime between last year and this year I turned my pilgrimage, my personal Mecca, into a race. My ego transformed it from a chance to test what I could do in the vertical realm into a chance to see if I could beat other climbers. And the moment that happened I lost.

What did I lose? I lost the joy. I lost the drive to LAUNCH, to GO, to climb and to snarl back at the chaos. I lost the passion to see if I could survive amid the wind and the waves. I lost the wonder of the movement. I turned my pilgrimage into a march.

Thankfully, I have motivated friends. On Saturday I went into IME to drop something off. My friend Max was working behind the counter. He was all smiles, but he wouldn’t say why. That evening the explanation popped up on Facebook:

A smile crept across my face. I laughed and sent Max a text to congratulate him. He texted back, describing the climbing as mostly rock as thin but fun. I couldn’t help but imagine his smile as he crested, the latest disciple to join the pilgrimage.

And that was it. The spell was broken. Thanks to Max the competition was over, a competition no longer, and I was free to return to climbing for love of the challenge rather than ego. It was a precious moment, one I won’t soon forget. I am again looking forward to my early season dance, to placing cams and hexes in rotten, shattered rock, scratching my way skyward with a smile. Doubt can stay on the ground. So can ego. The competition is not among men, among climbers, among friends. The test is my own, to let go of such markers and just be. To find comfort in the uncomfortable. To be tested and survive. Max reminded me of that. He freed me from my own self-imposed burden. It is time again to launch, and there is no cargo space on this flight. See you among the stars.

40 Degree Limit

40 Degree Limit
Photo by Joe Klementovich

I can’t stay away: I was back in the Cathedral Cave Friday afternoon. It was 40 degrees and cloudy, but that hardly mattered. The Cave gets morning, not evening sun anyway. But I’m excited to visit my Sanctuary, a longterm project that now feels enticingly possible, so after warming up on the Cote Boulder I headed in.

I can’t say I was ever truly warm despite my warmup, but I was psyched enough for three goes. The dynamic start, which I’d been having trouble with the last two sessions, went first go, as did the crux, and then each time after. The cold rock quickly took its toll, however, and my fingers couldn’t tell if they were actually working after a long set of crimps. There was no send, but I was getting closer.

But the chains didn’t matter. As always, IT WAS AMAZING. It’s so cool to have a route so spectacular I’m excited to fall off it and keep falling off it. I feel tantalizingly close to sending, but I don’t care. I’m just looking forward to another session of linking the moves, of sustained movement so at my limit.

But what is my limit? Friday evening, despite the cold, Sanctuary felt doable. I made it through with one hang on the third burn. I’d climbed through the crimps and was into the endurance section when the cold caught up with my fingers. I took, but I got right back on and finished with strength to spare. It will happen.

The result has me looking forward to the next month, a month I’m usually scratching around for ice but this year might be spent warming rock shoes inside the puffy and fingers on my neck. With the limit so close, I just want to tap it, to press it gently to see if I can make it move.

And it will move, one way or the other. They, like everything else, are not static. They are fluid, cresting, crashing and receding like waves on the beach. Do not trust them. They don’t own you. They are not real. Limits are only waypoints, meant to be shattered. Arbitrary, ever changing, worth ignoring because knowing them is the only thing that wills them into existence. What if you didn’t know them? What if when they stared you in the face you laughed and jumped anyway? What would would happen? Would you fall? Maybe. But maybe you’d fly.


I brought my camera with me Friday and captured footage of the final burn. At the end I lean gently into my fear of falling…

The Point

The Point

The point is not the summit. The finish line is not the goal. They are arbitrary markers, endpoints that prove not to be endpoints once crossed. They are simply waypoints, in no way emblematic of the richness we seek, and sometimes find.

It’s a funny thing, climbing. It always seems like an achievement-oriented pursuit. Why climb mountains? “Because it’s there,” as the famous George Mallory quote goes. Because struggles were meant to be overcome. Because challenges were meant to be stood on top of, to be conquered.

I would take a different view. Challenges are not meant to be overcome. They are meant to embraced, swallowed whole, savored. They are meant to steep, to be allowed time to wreak havoc on our bodies and our souls, to test us to our limits and toss us over the edge. Our only “goal” is to survive. The summit is just a detail. Success is not the measure of success.

Photo by Joe Klementovich

Yesterday I threw myself at one of my longterm projects, a beautiful line in the Cathedral Cave called Sanctuary. It’s a line I’ve worked on and off for years, at (or beyond) my current limit but striking enough to keep coming back to. I never got on it last season, but the season before I spent a half-dozen days working out the moves. The season before that I spent as many days just figuring out the crux. I go there on days when the mist hangs low, when the rest of Cathedral is dripping and spent, days other people cancel their climbing plans. If the cliff is a church then the Cave is the first pew. It is where the sermon can be heard loudest, where Cathedral’s beating heart echos among the boulders.

In truth, there is no goal. Sanctuary is simply my excuse. It is a project, sure, but not one I yearn to finish. It is a way to explain why I keep coming back, why I never tire of visiting the heart of the monster. On cloudy days (summer or winter) you can find me there, harnessed and smiling, rope flaked at the base. Do I want to send the route? Yes, but that thirst is born of my ego. My pride wants to wear the ascent like a banner, but my heart is elsewhere. It does not want to send Sanctuary; it forever wants to be sending Sanctuary. Halfway up, as the clock ticks and my forearms burn, I am free. I am lost and swimming amid the chaos, living a moment that cannot afford to last. That is where my heart is. It is wandering in the mist, drinking in its secrets, not standing atop it.

Photo by Joe Klementovich

The beauty of that gift came back to me yesterday, after three burns that never reached the chains, as I descended to my car. My feet swept through the leaves as I walked. My biceps ached, my fingertips were raw, but I smiled. I would need to come back. The project wasn’t finished. There was at least one more day of sermons in my future. Her heartbeat would grace my ears again. How lucky I am.

The goal is not to stand on top. The point, if there is one, is to struggle. It is to hold on, and to hold on, and to hold, though every sinew in your body screams to let go. It is to wrestle chaos, to let it overtake you and then smile when it has both hands around your neck. It is to open your eyes while drowning so you feel every drop rushing into your lungs. There is no finish line. The summit isn’t even close to halfway.

Thin Places

Thin Places

At any point clarity and presence are but an arm’s length away. Our eyes may be closed to them, but they whisper from dark places, from anywhere where the weight of the unknown overwhelms the veil of a stable life. They sit just beyond the view, beckoning us to remember life is fleeting, not to waste a moment.

Clarity and presence, however, stay separate from us. They scream a few feet away, but that’s where they stay, almost out of earshot.

Except…

Except in certain sacred spaces where the veil turns translucent. In those places the border between clarity and life, between presence and the moment, stretches thin, from feet to inches to millimeters, until every hint, every whisper those words carry rings loud in your ear. In those places presence reigns, and clarity just is. They are no longer abstract concepts — they stare back, clear as a spring day after the rain, unwilling to look away.

Cathedral is one of my thin places. In winter, its Cave is my sanctuary, a space where truth is inescapable. It is a place where I can feel the pulse of Heaven, where in the mornings a lightness shines in that washes away fear and erases regret. In summer high on Recompense I can smell perfection on the breeze. If we got to pick where we died, I’d choose there.

Shagg Crag is another of my thin places. Even on the coldest days the rock remembers me and brings a warmth to my touch, a tenderness I can’t fathom. It welcomes me like an old friend, never worried how long I’m staying, always smiling when I visit.

I stopped there today for a while. When I got to the cliff I rested my hands on rough holds. I felt myself, my heart, pushing back from the other side. “Trust me,” it said. “You have everything you need.” The veil was like wet rice paper — so tender I could almost walk through it. I closed my eyes and let its moisture rinse over me. I let out a breath, and with it came my fear, my self-consciousness, my ego. I was naked and empty standing before the rock. I opened my eyes, still breathing slow and deep, and began to climb. I fell upwards, letting the lightness carry me. In thin places there is no falling, only floating. Only flying.