Friday, November 4, 2011

Johnny Miller

Today we welcome photographer and climber Johnny Miller as this month's guest blogger on The Wilder Coast. He is the man behind the lens over at I am starstruck by his landscape portfolio- the High Dynamic Range urban images in particular are vivid, unearthly and nearly unsettling.

After three years, I thought it would be a good idea to post a boy's perspective on all of this. So here with his take on climbing, sex, and getting out of town, is Johnny Miller.

Things I observed on my last trip to Vantage
Leaving behind the city is an integral part of my life. It's elation, it's semi-indescribable. The way the gray matter on the map, the urban-brain, tendrils out - until it's just me on a sinuous curve through the mountains.  It's easy to explain to someone who loves the outdoors and yet different for everyone. I love that. The radio stations blink and fade to nothing. Crossing the impenetrable rocky regions in transit to a beautiful new reality.  
The first glimpse of the rolling clear hills. Not the forest. I hate the forest. I'm talking clear, grassy hills - no trees and lots and lots of hay fields. Golden and falling down to the river, a hundred miles away. It's like rolling downhill along with the water. Get me away from the fucking forest. I hate the forest. The forest and the city…nature and man's most oppressive creations.   
Finally, a destination. Orange-red rock in a fractured state. I was climbing out at a local crag with some friends a couple weeks ago. The river was nearby, you could smell it. The rock was warm. This girl sat next to me, we had just finished a really hard route that neither of us could really believe we actually completed. First I climbed it, then she did.
"You're an amazing climber."
"Seriously? Because YOU'RE an amazing climber."
The truth is both of us climbed like our lives depended on it. Me, because I needed to impress her. She, because she needed to prove that she could keep up. We both probably have issues. But it was nice basking in that glow in the sudden silence that descended on the crag. We sat in a little alcove below the main climbing wall, shielded from the chatter of the climbing hordes who descend on this place by the hundreds in autumn.
We were so comfortable already, and I had just met this girl at 7am. When she belayed me off the wall she held her hand out, a really strong hand, to pull me into the wall and away from the edge. I ended up sitting on her leg as I came down the final two feet, our sweat mingling in a sort of electric soup. I could smell her.  Suddenly I realized that I could take this girl to the very edge of the cliff, lay her down, and make love to her while we watched the clouds and sun and wind turbines dance on the horizon. I wasn't even terribly attracted to her.
"I would rather be here than anywhere else right now."  That was a true statement.
"I agree with you."  I hoped that was true.
The rest of our group had split along natural lines into twos and threes. I hadn't seen anyone except my new climbing friend for hours, and it was strange that it felt so natural to cohabitate on the rock wall, like albatross do. I didn't grab for her hand, I just sat there and listened to my feelings. I learned a little while ago that it's important to listen to yourself, and when you think you may be filled up with emotion to the point of bursting, and need to share that emotion in order to make it seem real, that's when you really need to hold it back and focus on directing that inwards. So I sat there and I could feel her next to me, and there was an anticipation that wasn't altogether unpleasant but it seemed to take away slightly from the pure beauty of our surroundings so I chanced another comment.
"I don't think I need to climb another route today."
"I'm perfectly happy if that was the last route I climb for the rest of my life." 
I turned to look at her and the large brown eyes were swimming with emotions the same as I was. But I knew then that I had been wrong about the making love thing, that I would ruin everything if I tried it, if I even stepped toward her those big brown saucers would slit down and peak and say, "boy, you're crossing the line, sit back down".

Is it just me that equates every sublime feeling with a girl to sex? Or is it every male? Clear as a pool I looked through those eyes to what lay beneath and it was pure and girlish and innocent and it truly was, it just truly was. No sex required to consummate the emotion. I learned tact early on in and it has stood me well. I quietly killed my carnal desire.
The sun went down. It became cold. Our clothes come back on, the lycra covered up with polyester, the polyester covered up by wool, the wool covered up by down. We enjoy the post-sunset glow but it was already over, the moment we had, and the rock becomes hard again. Suddenly thoughts about Mexican food, and getting back home, and the long walk out of this cliff band and up the gully and over the mesa and down to the parking lot. And I'm really, really sad that we didn't decide to just spend the night out here, because it'd be so much more comfortable repeating this moment at sunrise, from the opposite direction, and eating eggs in the morning. I never eat eggs in the city.
But everyone returns eventually.
The radio stations blink in reverse, country music and farm news slowly hissing into nothing as the mountains loom up. Huge rock walls, beautiful rock walls, painted with moon light. The reflectors on the road showing the way back, up and over the pass, breadcrumbs for the wayward to return once they've realized their error. "Escape", they scream, "is futile!" The forest, the terrible green forest, closing in above us like a dank prison. Its colder, its wetter, its home.
Inside the car our arms touch but it's a small backseat.
I don't think it means anything.

See more of Johnny's images at


Baby By The Sea said...

Love your narrative. And, I'm with you on the whole forest thing. Give me tall rock, wide-stretching valleys, rolling hills, sage bushes. The forest makes me feel lost, claustrophobic.

T.B. James said...

Good ending.