If I were going to get a spur-of-the-moment two-word tattoo this week, it would say “start again” or “keep on.” Keep On, incidentally, is the working title of the imaginary cross-country bicycle tour memoir I haven’t written yet, but hey, it took Cheryl Strayed 15 years to write Wild. Also incidentally, while biking through Colorado on that bike tour, I did get a spur-of-the-moment two-word tattoo: “awe infinitum” under my lumpy left collarbone. “Awe infinitum” is great advice when things are going well: be grateful, be amazed, be overwhelmed by the statistical impossibility of your existence and your life, fall down into the grass, et cetera et cetera. It feels less useful when you’re overwhelmed by the work required to keep on (!) existing, to eke out some pleasure and companionship and security in the world, to reckon with no, seriously, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?
So, start again. So, keep on.
I’m taking a mountaineering class right now, and one of the things you’re taught in any kind of outdoorsmanship education, of course, is that if you’re lost, you should probably stay put. I’m pretty sure that advice is terrible when you’re existentially lost, though. Instead I am trying out Wendell Berry’s advice: Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, / some in the wrong direction. / Practice resurrection. Start again.
I’m trying, in any case, to see the fox tracks as a useful thing, or at least a beautiful thing. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to find or choose or make a path, alternately rolling my eyes at my own privileged discontent, wallowing in my dissatisfaction, and reveling in the marvelous adventure of it all… or something like that. Right now I’m in an eye-rolling/wallowing phase. A fox in the snow, post-holing to my chest with every step, digging myself out again. The steps in the wrong direction feel exhausting and wasteful. I can’t figure out how to get up high enough to get any perspective, to have any sense of direction, but I’m trying.
I’m being dramatic, of course. I just read Carrot Quinn’s excellent PCT memoir, Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart, and in it she describes one of her coping mechanisms for when keeping on feels tough: she remembers that linear time is an illusion, that everything—past present future—exists all at once on the head of a pin. I hope that somewhere jammed in next to me or on top of me or, best of all, already in me on the head of that pin is a future in which I am happy, whole, secure, anxiety-free. I hope I can wander my way towards that future. I hope I’m keeping on in the right direction.
In the meantime, though, you wanna see the part of my life that makes it look awesome?
Above, some hikes in February & March. Below, adventures with my BCEP team.
I am unashamedly including not one but three photos of me ascending a rope with prusik friction knots, because it was so freakin’ fun. It felt like magic! I did it twice. Here’s a video!
I’m taking the Basic Climbing Education Program offered by the Mazamas, Portland’s mountaineering club, founded over 120 years ago on the summit of Mount Hood. I showed up at a potluck last month to meet my team, was handed a short piece of rope and some webbing, and immediately started learning knots. Every Tuesday evening I borrow my mom’s car and drive across town to a middle school where we attend lectures and then belay each other up stairs and down hallways. Every weekend I wake up at ridiculous-o’clock to carpool to the Gorge for a conditioning hike, my 50-liter pack full of water bottles for extra weight. A few weeks ago we spent the weekend on Mount Hood, practicing our rope skills and learning how to self-arrest. You haven’t live until you’ve wiggled on your back to the top of a steep glissade chute and pushed yourself head-first down the slope with an ice axe in your arms. It was exhausting and beautiful and so, so fun.
I don’t know if the literal heights to which I hope to climb this summer and beyond will help me get the fox-in-the-snow bigger perspective I’m looking for, but in the meantime I’m having too much fun to worry.
My wonderful team, the Flaming Pikas: