Climb On! (part one)

Unknown Climber at Eldorado Canyon State Park. 2009. Photo by Amanda Morrison.

I longed to rock climb for years.  One year I promised myself I would learn before the year ended.  That year passed and then a couple more passed all with ample opportunity to learn from  friends who frequently offered to teach me.  I always turned down these offers with the excuse that I did not trust these people enough.  The reality was that I have battled a fear of heights since at the age of 9.  On a flight from CO to VT lightning struck the airplane I was on, resulting in a drop straight down.  Coincidentally, the idea of free falling is terrifying to me!

After 10 years of telling myself I would climb a rock face, I decided to work on conquering my fear of heights.  It was the only way I was ever going to climb up higher than 4 feet off the ground and help to alleviate a lifelong fear of flying. 

2008. Costa Rica. I stood on the edge of a rainforest canyon looking out at a tree standing 200 feet above the canyon floor.  My goal was to get there and then to the canyon floor, preferably alive.  Standing on that dark canyon edge, harness encircling my legs and waste, and the pull of cable and caribiner urging me to go, I felt a surge of excitement shoot throughout my entire body.  Before it could fade into fear I gripped the handlebar and shoved off the edge of the canyon.  So this is what flying was like!  Gliding through the air, high up in the tree canopy, I felt more alive and free than I have ever felt in my entire life!

Amanda doing self rappell. 2010. Photo by Pat Rastall.

Of course I still needed to get to the ground.  Standing on the platform swaying in the breeze, I clipped into the rope and slowly backed off the platform.  My fear of falling rushed back and I began to panic.  In my head I started to tell myself that I was crazy, I was going to fall to the ground and smash into a million pieces.  But that is not what happened at all.  Somewhere amidst the intense fear and shaky hands, I just let go and began to focus on the task at hand.  Lowering myself became my only goal in life.  I was armed with the tools and skills to enable me to succeed.  Confident in my skills and ability to use them, I lowered myself safely to the ground.

The following October I officially learned to climb indoors on a climbing wall.  As I announced “Climb On!” to my belayer, I grabbed the wall with confidence, chose a route, and climbed effortlessly to the top in minutes.  Leaning back to take in how far I had come, I laughed out loud.  I was so proud of myself for accomplishing such a difficult goal!  Before rappelling down, I said a quiet yet victorious “YES!” to myself while a room full of climbers cheered my success from below.

A Swinger of Birches

Robert Frost

Growing up in Vermont, Robert Frost was naturally a part of my life.  I can’t recall at what age I was introduced to this marvelous writer, teacher and observer of the outdoors and rural life, but at a very young age I felt connected to him.  Always thick, heavy, hard-backed, and full of words expressing a shared view of the outdoors, I have checked out his books from the library over and over since the age of ten.  Finally there was someone who saw, felt, and understood the natural world like me!  I think we would have been good friends had he not died 14 years before I was born.

In the woods across the dirt road from my house, if you followed a small brook as it bubbled through mucky channels and underneath fallen logs, you would reach the bending birch.  I discovered the tree with my best friend who lived down the road as we roamed and explored the woods just like we did every day.  Instinctively, I reached up to grab the bent trunk but was too small to grab ahold.  So I jumped up, reached high above my head…and missed!  Determined to succeeed, I spent the next several visits jumping and reaching for that solid gray arc.  When I finally curled my fingers around the solid trunk I was thrilled!  Now I could swing, bounce, spin my body around and around on it, do pull ups, or just dangle in hopes of stretching myself to add inches to my height!

The birch tree gave me much more than a new playground on which to spend endless amounts of time.  To this day I can still feel the smooth, papery bark slip across my palms as I struggled to hang on.  When I moved my body, the entire tree moved with me – sinking low toward the ground, swaying side to side, springing up toward the sky.  The trunk was very pliable, adapting to the conditions and pressures that it faced such as strong wind or heavy snow that might have otherwise snapped it into pieces, thus ending its life.  The birch tree was resilient, flexible, and strong. 

Bending Birches

I see qualities of the birch within myself, qualities that perhaps I learned early on in life as a swinger of birches.  Life is full of external and internal pressures that take thier toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally.  If we allow them to break us and we fall crashing to the ground it is very difficult to get the whole self back up and put together again.  Faced with such pressures, I am reminded of that mighty birch tree and its ability to bend and flex, adapting to its current situation, always bouncing back into place once the stress is gone, and ready to take on the next big wind that is trying to blow it off course. 

To read Birches by Robert Frost: