Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The First Time

Well, I've been injured much of the past few weeks, so I thought I'd give you guys something to read. Sorry for the delay, but I can't write much about climbing when I'm strapped into a boot that's meant to keep my ankle from twisting. I am hoping to get out this weekend if only to remember what rock feels like again. In the meantime, here is a short fiction story that I wrote last week...

He looked to the top of the dome and said, "Wow." It stood so tall and grand, and its wildness excited him. The granite was hard and grey and pink in spots, but mostly it was grey. It was cool to the touch in the shade and his fingertips dragged across the rough bumps through the warm sun and back to the shade again as he walked along the base. There was a wide, arching flake that spit off from the middle to the left and it rounded into a ledge where the gap narrowed two hundred feet off the deck. He wanted to climb to the ledge not because he could see the whole valley from the top, but because it looked so climbable; it looked easy and pure and safe and fun.

I remember watching him that first day. He'd never climbed before and yet felt the allure, and I felt that he felt it. He looked at me and asked, "Can I go up?" "Sure," I said and went back to the car for the gear.

When I got back he was already thirty feet up. His legs were stiff against the dome and his back pressed against the flake. He moved up the empty space perfectly, as if he'd done this a thousand times before and knew every move, every rest, and every grain of friction. An offwidth for me was a chimney for him, but I knew it would turn to an offwidth for him before he reached the top. His mother would kill me if she knew I had let him climb this without gear, and I was startled when I first saw him so high. But then I saw how he loved it and how free and graceful he looked from below. I tossed the rope around my back, put on my harness, clipped his to mine and stepped up.

He saw me climbing behind him and he waited a while. It wasn't long before I caught up to him. The climbing was harder here. He was still in the chimney, but now his knees replaced his feet and the rough rock made his knees bleed through his jeans.

I stayed below him, but I was close enough to talk him through the narrow section. Then we came to the narrowest part where the crack suddenly pinched down to nothing, and I thought he'd be stumped just ten feet from the ledge. There was a small ledge I knew he could climb to and I wanted him to go there to put on his harness. But without looking he said to me, "Papa, look at this." I looked up and saw him swing his legs out from the chimney to above the land below us. There was my son, thirteen years old and his feet and legs were flying away from the rock and his body only connected to the flake by the fingers on his hand that wrapped over a ledge and, after he'd had his fun, they pulled him back into the rock into a solid stance on the face below the larger ledge.

My heart skipped a beat and I shouted, "Be careful!" and he was. He recomposed himself, looked around, and stepped up to higher ground. Within seconds he was standing on the ledge and watching his old man top out.

We sat there on the ledge a long time watching the trees below us sway in the wind. It was fun to be above the birds.

We moved on when it was time. I got him into his harness and we simul-rapped to the ground with ease. He loved the exposure. While he was careful to listen to me and pay attention to what I told him, he bounced joyfully in the air while he let the rope slip through his fingers and his belay device. The wind pushed our hair around during the descent, and it was fresh and we were free, together, and happy.

I contemplated telling him to not tell his mother, but I was so impressed with him that day that I decided to see what else he had in him.

When we got him his mother asked, "how was it?"

"It was great, Mom. We climbed to the top and then we rappelled down." He went to his room and I kissed my wife, thankful for the day he and I had and grateful that there would be more to come.


Bill said...


Sorry you are still on the sidelines. Can't be much fun. Ed is less miserable, much resigned to his situation. He is going to "test" things this Thursday. Hope it works out.

Saw Jen and Alison at the Gunks over the weekend, chatted a bit.

What really caused me to respond was Wagner The Ring under what you are listening to. I'm going to dig up my opera cds when i get home. Haven't listened to them in awhile. We are such cultured guys!!!


Greg said...

Ha! I love The Ring. It is one of my favorites. We should start a fan group called "Climbers and Opera." We could use an Italian slogan that only people who understand the singing.

Glad Ed is doing better. Maybe we'll see you guys in the 'Gunks this coming weekend. My fingers are crossed.