After many years away, I’m rediscovering the desire to climb again. It’s been so long, and it seems my break has brought about a fresh start, both mentally and physically. While it’s frustrating to have to work up to doing climbs that were once routine, I’m in such a different mental space, it all feels very new and fun again. It fits my pattern of weaving in and out of activities or finding new life in old things. I think Yvon Chounard summed it up well in calling himself an “Eighty Percenter”.
“I’ve always thought of myself as an 80 percenter. I like to throw myself passionately into a sport or activity until I reach about an 80 percent proficiency level. To go beyond that requires an obsession that doesn’t appeal to me. Once I reach 80 percent level I like to go off and do something totally different…” -from Let My People Go Surfing
I can identify strongly. I’ve dabbled in most aspects of the sport, roamed the rocks with packs of people and pads and ropes, but looking back, my most memorable days on rock seem to be the ones spent alone. Naturally, this is what drew me away from sport and trad and into bouldering. The ritual was quite simple; wake up before sunrise, drive through the mountains, hike the approach as the sky was turning, and ideally find myself sitting atop a boulder to watch the sunrise. It was a physical meditation. I did this for many years, especially seeking out obscure and unclimbed routes in the periphery of developed areas. I’m feeling the siren song again and find myself stashing climbing shoes in my pack before trail runs, scouring my local hills for new things.
Six months ago I joined up at my old climbing gym, hoping to get back into the habit and develop some regular climbing fitness. It was a slap in the face and had the exact opposite effect. I walk in on a Thursday evening to music blaring, people everywhere…
I climbed there twice, paid up the rest of my contract, and walked away.
I’m no doubt a different person than I was in my earlier gym days. This is not a judgement on the people or the gym, it was simply immediately apparent it wasn’t what I was looking for.
Fortunately I just found a better “gym”, a spot where I can train the way I please. It’s outside, very close to home, completely secluded, with only birdsong in the air. At 10 to 15 feet tall and over 100 feet long, this retaining wall has countless difficulty levels and is big enough for my main goal of endurance work. That this man-made wall has been sitting right under my nose for years and I only just discovered it motivates me to find what else is hidden right within my stomping grounds.
Sometimes little discoveries like this are a wake-up call, a sign that I was looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place, that I have grown and my preferences have changed. It’s a reminder that I have to be true to myself, that I have to surf my own waves and climb my own rocks. Perhaps it’s an acknowledgement that after all these years, I’ve unconsciously developed my own style and I’m feeling its gravity.
(Written in the style of my masters)
The path to No-Name Hermitage is steep
but is easy enough to find
Just follow the deer tracks
and chattering mountain squirrels
Follow them up and away
far from city lights-
weaving through pine and manzanita
beneath the eyes of crows
and beside moss-covered rocks
Clouds hang on the peaks above
golden light spreading
on the heads of oaks
in the valleys below
Find No-Name Hermitage
and you’ll want to stay, too
If while descending the canyon
the melodies of an untuned flute
and the smell of woodsmoke
are in the air
you’ll know an old poet
at his woodstove
above the stream
He may eat your food*
if you’re not careful
and his little dog is mean
but he’s quiet
and would be happy
to share his wine
He talks to ghosts
beside the fire
mumbles to ancestors
writes a line or two
in his book-
Always trying to remember
what he’s forgotten
trying to unlearn
what he already knows
If you see his wife and children
in the market or shops below
tell them he loves them
he’ll be home soon-
he just has to sit a little longer
has to make sure
that the stream is still flowing
that the mists still gather
and drip from the trees
*Upon arriving in camp, I find a cache of food inside the woodstove. A half-opened can of refried beans, a bag of small potatoes, a can of some sort of carrot soup, and a roll of aluminum foil. As is so common in these parts, I assumed the food was left as trash from the night before. Come evening I cracked the can of carrots and started roasting potatoes…
About an hour after dark I hear voices, see headlamps descending into the canyon. I’m soon blinded as they discover me at camp. They’re shocked they’re not alone. In a sheepish voice, one says:
“Uh…did you see some food left here?”
My response from the darkness, as I’m holding back my snarling dog:
“I ate it.”
They look intimidated.
Disappointed whispers from the one in back:
“Dude, that was all our food…”
“Oh, I didn’t eat it all. Just two potatoes and half the can of the carrot stuff. I checked the beans but they didn’t look good.”
“The rest of the food is there, take it. Sorry, but I had no way of knowing you were coming back. A lot of people leave trash like this.”
“Fair enough.” one says in defeat.
They gather what’s left of their food and walk off with their tails between their legs. I gave them a package of ramen and miso.
I laughed about this all night. Poor kids.
She makes the coffee
stirring it in the press
with a chopstick
or a favorite bamboo handled spoon
reserved just for this.
I go out back
split some wood
get the fire going
and pull up a pair of chairs.
The children are still asleep
and will be for a few more hours
so we meet
and sit outside.
The cats follow us out
we warm our feet
beginning our weekend
beneath the branches
of the oak in the corner.
I hope this is the way the kids remember us-
sitting by the fire
after all these years.
Sometimes someone just writes it exactly the way you wish you could.
The Stars Go Over The Lonely Ocean
by Robinson Jeffers
Unhappy about some far off things
That are not my affair, wandering
Along the coast and up the lean ridges,
I saw in the evening
The stars go over the lonely ocean,
And a black-maned wild boar
Plowing with his snout on Mal Paso Mountain.
The old monster snuffled, “Here are sweet roots,
Fat grubs, slick beetles and sprouted acorns.
The best nation in Europe has fallen,
And that is Finland,
But the stars go over the lonely ocean,”
The old black-bristled boar,
Tearing the sod on Mal Paso Mountain.
“The world’s in a bad way, my man,
And bound to be worse before it mends;
Better lie up in the mountain here
Four or five centuries,
While the stars go over the lonely ocean,”
Said the old father of wild pigs,
Plowing the fallow on Mal Paso Mountain.
“Keep clear of the dupes that talk democracy
And the dogs that talk revolution,
Drunk with talk, liars and believers.
I believe in my tusks.
Long live freedom and damn the ideologies,”
Said the gamey black-maned boar
Tusking the turf on Mal Paso Mountain.