Wednesday, December 1, 2010
9/30/2001, edit 12/01/10
Evening's cool shadows, creeping silent across the hills as the golden light laps higher on their weathered slopes, twisted arabesques of cloud burning crimson above the horizon. The shaved circle of the moon, just shy of full, crowns the eastern ridgeline, as the swollen golden orb of the sun drops into a sea of purple, gold, and platinum among the serrated mountains and passes of the western horizon. Bats dance and swoop, and night birds blend their bell-like tones into the chorus of cricket and frog. the first cool kiss of evening comes to touch fevered brows, and stars glimmer in the darker blue above the vault of cloud and sky.
Rewind: my father's voice, coming from the darkness of a
summer's night, one silhouetted finger pointing out Orion, the Dippers, the Polestar. Cicadas fill the woods with their endless, surf-like susurrus, and fireflies rise blinking from the grass, wafting on its rich green smell to hang above the spread blanket. Virginia
Segue: Frost shifts and falls in fine powder as I push back the lip of the sleeping bag, to find the Muse looking at me from ten inches away. We touch fingertips, snuggling closer, smiling and squirming like children, then turn, cupped like spoons, to watch winter sunrise light the crags across the river. Yesterday's climbs are an ache in fingers and wrists and shoulders, and the anticipation of today is barely held in check by the frigid conditions of pre-dawn. I risk permanent skin damage to light the Optimus 8R and quickly dig back into the warmth. Somewhere, a rooster's cry, and then a donkey's loud bray, greet the first light.
Intermezzo: Sunlight like a blow on the back of my neck as I hang off one set of fingertips, toes smeared against improbability, snorting gently through my nose, using mouth and one free hand to sort wired stoppers a dozen feet or so above gear that would inspire confidence only in the most Pollyanna of worldviews. The air is heavy and perfectly still, and a jay's shriek shatters the silence.
Slot the wire; sweat running down the slope of my forehead to channel directly into the corner of my eye. Clip in the quickdraw and lock the biner with one eye squinted shut, fingerlock starting to slide as I quickly chalk the free hand and catch the horn above just as the last cohesion finally fails... feet off, a protein pendulum, reversing now, fingers finding the slot and high step-
Epiphany- the firm, steady grip of a tiny pink hand, huge blue eyes gazing from a wise little face cradled in the nook of one arm. The tongue pushes against the lips, and then a toothless smile lights the little face, my heart, the world.
My mother's face seen through the screen door, surprised, amazed and as happy as a child on Christmas morning, which is exactly twelve hours away, and the way the weight of ten hours of air commuting falls away as she cries and hugs my neck, with snow settling softly from Virginia skies.
Backtrack: faces gathered in the leaping light of the fire, laughing, amazed, derisive, quietly watching, hands clasping water bottles and assorted brews, stronger spirits passed hand to hand, brass and glass and aromatic smoke drifting among the throng as enough beta flows to map out El Cap or the
. Chili and pasta and sauces pungent with cilantro and garlic bubble on stoves and coals. Gear litters the tables, spreads in piles and pools of nylon and aluminum among vans and cars and tents, sorts and shifts with a metallic clangor and chime amid stoner strategy, counterpoint to debate and recollections. A battered radio scratches out bluegrass and Celtic tunes as deer watch quietly from the riverbank with raccoons and opossum on the prowl along the perimeter, alert for the wayward pack, the unguarded tent, the empty site. Dogs bark and scuffle and run, racing through the twilight, children tumbling among them. Another chime of sweetly discordant metal, and two more shapes materialize in slogging stages, lurching out of the darkness to be greeted with silent smiles, uplifted hands, cold bottles, laughing, loving abuse and open hearts. Lotus Flower Tower
Above it all, the crag, silent, glowing, mystic and ancient, slumbering, remembering other voyagers on the Path.
Parallel: sprawled in the Cave, watching as the third day of spring rains pours down outside, sipping Pete's Wicked, nibbling fruit and cheese and hard crusted bread, between sessions of bouldering across the inverted terrain of the pocketed ceiling like mad geckos. Carpet squares and pads litter the floor, cast off by previous stone nomads, seasonally removed and replaced. The smell is musky, green, the air of New River Gorge damp and heavy. Rachel and Melissa whisper and giggle as
and I take turns at inversion. Plastic rustles, and there is a spark, inspiration on the wing. Forearms flaming, we float amid a cloud of chalk dust and determination, making the most of the moment. Troy
Sitting, filled and surrounded by a deep, wonderful stillness, above the rim of some long-forgotten backcountry chunk of geology. Raise your smile and eyes to the sky and rub your wind burned face with hands rough from jams, fingers swollen and bloody at the cuticles, white with chalk, muscles throbbing and twitching, sweat and adrenaline slowly subsiding in the realization of the top, the solid click of the caribiner in the anchor. Relaxed, watching as the Muse cruises the moves, excess gear bulging in the pack at her shoulders as she finishes with a silent smile and exhaled breath.
Shoulder to shoulder, just being, for the moment, there in the silence, amid the dry leaf and green life smell of the forest. Jack-in-the-pulpit nods in the evening breeze, tiny white-spotted red mushrooms and ferns springing from the duff around its regal stem. A tardy honeybee drones hurriedly past, heading for home, and in the distance a whippoorwill begins his endless rhythmic call. The lass mentions beer, fresh strawberries and ripe cheese waiting in the cooler, and inspired we rise, leaning on each other, suddenly stiff and sore, to make our way down the fading fire road, through the ancient derelict CCC camp to the car.
Fast forward: huddled in the lee of a storm-shattered tree, with Cindy’s grinning, rose-cheeked face inches from mine, nibbling half-frozen cheese and cookies, miles from anywhere, with a 30 mph wind whipping the snow around us into a veil of white. Postholing thru shin-deep snow to finally reach the High Knob, from which we catch glimpses of Seneca Rocks, miles away and a thousand feet below. Hand in hand, we stand, sheltered from the storm by the glow in our hearts, lost in wonder.
Exit: racing into the east, between horizons on some unknown highway chasing my endlessly stretching shadow into the first star's light, the wind in my hair, something from our lost innocence pumping from the radio; past, present and future all balanced on the cusp of one timeless, eternal now; kaleidoscope of images and lessons, failures and triumphs, sorrows, revelations, and rainbows.