Thursday, May 30, 2013

Statues in Ritzville and other fine things

(For Zen Ben, of course.)

When I was a teenager climbing in Vermont, my first partner was named Ben. Ben was a sweet, soft spoken boy from the town up the road. He drove a tiny rattle trap car, and together we would drive around the green mountains looking for new cliffs to explore. We'd bushwack to the base and he'd lead us, pitch after careful pitch, using a handful of silver iron nuts. Then we'd sit at the top and watch the sunk sink over our home state, and then pick up and figure out how to get down. I was fifteen and he was sixteen.

One day he told me about a bouldering spot he'd discovered in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. "It's like.....Shangri-la up there," he said shyly, eyes on the road. "Do you want to go with me?"

I'll never forget the revery in his voice as he said that. To a young Vermont climber, nothing held the promise like a seemingly endless field of boulders, deep in the splendid Whites, with nobody else around.

But I never made it to that field with Ben, and then he took a long fall in Colorado, about 800 feet, and he left us too early.

Whenever I find myself standing at a new crag, in a valley I've never been to before, I always think of Ben, driving down highway 89 whispering, "It's like Shangri-la."
Two weekends ago I found myself in such a place- Post Falls, Idaho on a misty day with Lisa, Amber, and Jake. There was a torrential, unrunable river to our right and to our left, a crooked path running past route after bolted route of beautiful, empty rock. We had the place to ourselves for the weekend, and with no one to fight over rocks with, we were lazy. In the mornings we slept in for hours, made coffee and drank it by the lake and cooked breakfast. So much better than the usual pop-tart-and-Via-coffee-now-go-stake-out-your-climb approach.
I led all the climbs that weekend. Jake's new, Amber's in an ankle cast and Lisa was in a grad school haze. So we'd agree on a route and I'd climb up, slowly, my mind blissfully empty, calculating only the very next move.

Jake Cooper Photo
I've had so many teachers in this sport, but for now there are no teachers. I don't mean that there is nothing more to learn- nothing could be farther than the truth. There will be more leaders, they always show up when you need them, they'll push you and take you much higher than you've ever been, and on walls so big and grand you never thought to even consider touching them, but lately it's just been me, not afraid and not crazy, climbing what I can and not thinking about the rest.
Amber Jackson Photo
That is, until I saw this project and I knew I'd fail, and fall, a lot, but at the same time I knew it was mine. My big, fun, swinging clean fall project of early summer. Nothing I could throw up the first time, but a very good reason to come back to Idaho. 
Amber Jackson Photo
Amber Jackson Photo
Amber Jackson Photo
We had big plans on Saturday night. Spokane has a redneck bar with a mechanical bull, I'd packed my cowgirl boots, and we'd also spoken of a fire right on the lake. We brought marshmallows in anticipation. But we were so tired after dinner, the climbing and the beer and the general laziness had rendered us completely useless, so we lay on one bed together, the four of us, and we drifted off to Jake's stories. 

The bull, the pile of driftwood on the beach, just more reasons to return. 
Amber Jackson Photo
This winter I struggled to find enjoyment doing anything. I tried. I pooled together the things I loved, I spread them around and then stood back and stared flatly, feeling nothing, wishing I could just go back to sleep. Apathy, the hallmark of depression, life is a long dull road that just keeps going. Winter in a dark and wet city. 

Now, at the dwindling end of May, I find I need very little to feel content. The other day Seth brought me coffee in the morning. The night before we'd had some wine perhaps, and I was sort of crawling around the house, searching for my wallet, and then giving up with my head on the kitchen table, the one I found on the roadside after my roommate took all the furniture. I called Seth and told him I'd pay him a million dollars if he brought me some coffee, and he did and now I owe him a million dollars. The first sip was so delicious I felt this overwhelming sense of joy, more joy than I'd felt for the past six or so months, and I almost burst at the seams. I was on a work call and had to mute the phone so the person on the other end wouldn't hear me laughing. 

Sometimes I find myself laughing when I'm doing the dishes, I don't know why, but it's better than being too serious I suppose. 

The weekend in Idaho was pure contentment. I felt like Ben in a field of boulders, smiling up at the sun, with no reason to hurry.
On the long ride home, we got a little lost and ended up in a ghost town. There were statues of people on the street, doing everyday things, waiting to cross the street, leaning against the library, conversing silently with other statues. But we were the only living people. Maybe a few months ago I would have sided with the statues- pretending, stiff, appearing like a whole person but on closer look, just an effigy. Those days are gone, for now, and after a half hour or so of wandering we all loaded back in the car and made a beeline for the highway, Jake bought us some marshmallow bars and we sang little mermaid songs all the way home.
That's right, we did. Listen, I'm not cool. I'm not one of those really cool outdoors people. I really don't fit in with the scene at all. But still, we have so much fun being here, doing what we do the way that we do it.

11 comments:

Susan S said...

Absolutely lovely post, Melina.

Susan S said...

Absolutely lovely post, Melina.

Kristen said...

You made me tear up and smile all in one post. I'm happy that you're happy.

Sarah Koznek said...

I left my apathy behind when I left the dark, wet city. I've never felt better.

Anonymous said...

I love your writing. Don't know why. I am not your demographic --- 62, retired educator, traveling around in our RV, seeking tame adventures now like a really good hike or bike ride and remembering adventures from our past like hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Wait. Maybe we do have a lot in common -- just from different generations. A anyway, your writing really speaks to me. We were hiking in TN this week at Foster Falls and came upon some climbers -- and I thought of you -- and continued our hike. I was alive and it felt good.

Sarah said...

love the comfort and confidence in that weekend!

Kristin said...

Excellent writing. Love this post.

Jake Cooper said...

to the anonymous non-demographic-er: that was just such a nice comment, and well written.

Hamilton Family said...

Melina - I love checking in on your posts and this one brought a special surprise, a little bit of home. I was born in Coeur d'Alene, grew up in Chewelah, WA (North of Spokane) and spent a lot of time between the two locations. To find you in Post Falls was a bit surreal. Plus, I had no idea that people went climbing there. Extra bonus to learn! I'm not a climber, the whole idea scares the bageebees out of me, but I'm glad that you found a hot spot in my old back yard. ~Carrie

Rhett said...

I really love reading your posts...

cheekypinky said...

Your back muscles!

GIRL.

*highfive*