Monday, April 17, 2017

The Best of Me

With a forehead kiss
I gave you the best of me
all the tenderness
maternal love
a daughter can give to her mother

Whose own mother was

Placed it
at the peak of your widow
lips delicately
for the teensiest of bits
but with the accumulation of years
of gratitude
of forgiveness
of understanding
of wishing
and ultimately,
of appreciation for the moment
and for the woman who is Mom

The end of the head massage
you let me to give
just for a small,
small moment
the best of me.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

When He Was Good

When he was good, we had the world by the tail. He helped me have a deeper relationship with my mom. When we were good, sunlight and laughter kissed us every day. We kissed back. When we were good, we were each other's bright spot, soul mates, friends till the end, our minds were connected and we made light of everything. When we were good, we floated through existence. I felt almost guilty for the blessed existence that we had - happiness that knew no bounds, that was a giddy and playful and stayed up nights late. When we were good, we were invincible. People stopped us and commented, prognosticating the future that would extend into decades of marriage...

When we were good, I ached for him in the pit of my stomach when he had to go to work. He would come home and tell me how he caught my scent in the air as he turned his head and wiggled it back-and-forth like a wild man trying to catch it again, wanting me. When we were good, we needed nothing but each other. In a one bedroom apartment, we never entered the bedroom because we couldn't be farther away from each other than the full-size futon in the living room. We named recipes for our love, wrote a language of inside jokes. We completed each other.

When we were good, we were so good. It made the bad hurt all the more. When we got bad, I didn't have a partner. When he was bad, I came home to an empty house. There was another person living and breathing, but not giggling, in it. I came home to closed doors and loud saws and things that stopped up human contact. Blocking out human contact I could accept. He had done it before, isolating us so it was just him and me. This was new. He now excluded me. When we were bad, it hurt deeply, gouging out my insides. I failed to reach the one who had been laced into my tissues.

Now I'm out and eight years have passed. I still feel what I lost, but I also see what I gained. I am grateful for when he was good.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

One Climb

Just one climb is all it took. To remember all that I'd forgotten. To remember how climbing stretches time. Time waits for you to calibrate. A second stretches as you look at footholds and envision just which part of the sticky-rubber climbing shoe toe box you're going to place on which part of the climbing hold and with what amount of pressure. How much of an inch extra can you eke out of alternate placements? Tick, tick, tick. You aren't even aware of how Time lets you think.

It is generous too when you move your gaze to the handholds. You gauge the solidity of each and intuitively calculate how much your hip must turn into the wall to elongate the side of your body and get millimeters out of your fingertips, enabling that perfect efficiency, the balance between stability and speed - the constant warring factions in climbing.

Your muscles begin the motion, seamlessly agreeing with the mind and eyes, slowly and deliberately snaking out to just the right touch, that  right amount of contact with the rock. And even then, Time is letting you see the next move...

Just one climb is all it took to remember the slowness, the presence of mind that climbing demands. Just one climb is all it took to remind me of its application in other other areas of my life. Just one glorious 10- gym climb with yellow tape awakened the memory: the how of doing things matters so so much.

Monday, January 02, 2017

How to Climb a Mountain

I had climbed 104 mountains. I learned something new yesterday on #105, Mt. Silverheels. I set off late in the day, leaving the trailhead at 1PM, something I have never done before and certainly not in the winter. I knew that I would be coming off the mountain in the dark so was careful to note landmarks and times between them. I was also careful to make tracks in snow. Given the choice of taking a path that went through grass or rock or snow, I took snow so I'd have something to follow on the way out.

Well. I underestimated a lot of things. First, a headlamp is a poor device for spotting landmarks that are more than 25 feet away from you. Ridgelines and snow pack, cairns, the mountain peaks themselves -- all are rendered invisible once the sun goes down. I could see rough shapes of massifs but couldn't distinguish the one I'd dubbed Skater's Ramp from the one I'd called Cheops. I could see that I was traversing below Hoosier Ridge but couldn't see the ridge well enough to know where to get back on it to avoid avalanche danger - an easy task in daylight. Instead I had to painstakingly retrace my steps. Lesson #2: choosing to make track in the snow was smart, but there wasn't enough of it to make what you'd call a breadcrumb path to follow. I'd lose my print and backtrack to pick it up again. I had to double back to pick up the snowshoes I'd stashed. It also became a time management exercise. I couldn't double back every time I lost my track, so I made judgement calls. At one point I just knew that I needed to follow a particular contour on a more-grassy-than-snowy hillside, so I did -- and struck my trail minutes later.

Another thing I learned is that navigating by time on a mountain yields only approximations. I had read that one should make note of where to exit the summit ridge because it was hard to spot the safe rib from the top, so I hit the lap split on my watch when I topped out on that spot and marched to the summit. Seventeen minutes. I figured that descending I'd go faster so I turned downhill at 10 minutes. After descending for a bit, I realized that I'd overshot the correct rib by about 150 feet. And they were an icky, steep, mix of snow and rock 150 feet. Breath coming in gasps, I chastised myself for not trusting my eyes when I'd spotted what looked like the entrance to the right rib earlier. And gathered myself.

"Careful, careful, slow, slow" became my mantra as I placed my feet, controlling my breathing and quelling panic as I traversed my way back to the path. Daylight held for that portion of the hike. I was able to get off of the nasty stuff and onto the gentler slopes connecting to Hoosier Ridge. I made myself stop and put on warmer layers, my headlamp, and gather all the gentleness and patience I could -- for myself and the journey I knew lay ahead. I had already messed up in my panic to get off the windy, cold, darkness-coming summit. 

I took stock. I had many more layers of warm clothing. The night wasn't dangerously cold if I kept moving. I felt tired but had plenty of strength left to hike out, even if it took several hours. I needed to be careful, to pick the path and breathe. I needed to not twist an ankle. My biggest enemy would be my impatience. I needed to focus on finding the path and careful foot placement.

I began the work. Distances stretched. The darkness and my fear of the cold messed with my memory and tangled with my notion of how quickly I should get off this mountain. I had to strike the right balance between moving quickly and being careful. It took constant vigilance. I also knew that Boyfriend would be worried about me. I prioritized stopping for precious minutes to check cell reception. I got cell signal and called home to say I was safe, but would be descending slowly, picking path by headlamp and sporadic footprints in the snow. I told Boyfriend not to worry unless 2.5 hours passed without word from me. This would be, I figured, plenty of time for me to descend the route that had taken me 1.25 hours to ascend in daylight.

Hiking in the dark is tricky. I continued my slow process. Bathed in exhilaration and pride every time I re-found the path, I breathed "Good girl, good girl!" At one point, I congratulated myself, "You are a good mountaineer!" But then I'd temper the excitement, caution myself to stay calm and focused. The work would not be done until I struck the well-trammeled path that comprised the very last mile of the hike out. That was 1500 feet of elevation and who knows how many miles distant. The drive to get out was so strong that it over-rode all other desire. I made myself stop to drink. I made myself stop to add layers. I made myself turn off my headlamp and lift my gaze to the cloudless sky and the silver quarter moon. I made myself focus, but gave myself rest stops to gauge my body and appreciate the beauty of what I was doing. I could keep myself safe by being smart and deliberate.

I traveled along the top of Hoosier Ridge, dreading that I'd miss the exit west down the hillside that led to my car. I had noted earlier that another trail led north to a different peak. I so didn't want to squander time starting that hike. At 6:40 PM I spotted lights that had to be the parking lot. They were far distant and a descent of about 500 feet. A quick check of my compass helped validate the assumption. It was my hillside! I didn't have track, so I made two sweeping treks across the hillside in an attempt to strike it. Failing to do so, I decided it was safe to fix my path to that light and go straight downhill. Knowing I would lose sight of it as I descended, I noted the position of the moon - 10:00 - and sited on a star. I took plunging steps down the hillside, my snowshoes eating up the snow, but whenever I stopped to re-calibrate, the dark and the cold were still working their dirty, stretching-distance trick. The light was only marginally closer. I shook off the pique and rallied. I could do this. I was getting closer. I would be at the car soon and call Boyfriend and tell him I was safe, safe, safe!

At 7:10, I struck the well-trammeled path and saw the first trees I'd seen in hours. "Well, hello tree! Hello bushes!" I smiled at them. I picked up speed and looked for the landmark that would indicate I was about 10 minutes from the trailhead - the spot where I stepped off the trail to urinate so many hours ago. I listened to the darkness, watched the trees turn from dark looming objects to tree-shaped, looming objects. At 7:41, two hours after my phone call to Boyfriend, I was at the road. I stowed snowshoes, poles, and backpack into the car. A jittery, out-of-myself-me called Boyfriend and told him I was safe and coming home! 

I felt like after my Ironman. It's an odd, out-of-body feeling. I'd been maintaining focus to the exclusion of all else for so long that it was hard to shake, to come back into thoughts of non-mountain and compelling-safety things. It thawed out of me slowly just as my seat heaters thawed the chill in my body. 

Then I thought all the way home. I thought in what-ifs. I thought in what-could-I-have-done-betters. I thought in would-I-ever-do-this-agains. (No!)

Then I thought of how far I've come as a mountaineer. Especially in terms of my sense of direction and ability to pick path up a mountain. I have acquired a certain amount of ability to "read" mountainous terrain, to discern the so-called weakness of the mountain that will give the summit to us humans. I also appreciated the adage, "Getting up is optional, getting down is mandatory." That same terrain-reading ability enabled me to find my way down the mountain. It was a mix of intuition and memory from the ascent, and painstaking work to find the path I'd left - and knowing when to trust which so that I could get down expeditiously.

How to climb a mountain? Gently. Truly. A bit at a time. Painstakingly. Lovingly.

In the daylight!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Huffle Puff

Training climbs build strength. Training climbs are painful and fun and wickedly tricky. I went on just such a training climb last weekend. I felt strong. I felt competitive. I felt as though I was auditioning for a role on an expedition. I also felt like I would be the Hufflepuff on that team. Huff and puff my additions to the crew. All the same, I want that spot.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fierceness & Devotion

I am always going to be a little mad at other teachers when I get a new student. I’m always going to think they are not doing enough to integrate my student. I am going to feel Tiger-Mama and want to tell them to “Cut the kid some slack already! They’re new to our country and school! Help them adjust!”

Then, the kid will do what he/she does for a while, asking for my help along the way. Or not. In those cases, I swoop into the gradebook and see if New Student needs a little forced guidance from Tiger-Mama Triteacher.

It’s the New-Student Dance.

Months pass. The student adjusts to the teaching styles, the teachers come to see the positive in the new kid and bond just as tightly as they have with the students they’ve had all year.

And I have successful, well-adjusted, happy students who still need the guidance and protection of Tiger-Mama, but who have learned how to "do school" here, who get inducted into National Junior Honor Society (HOORAY!!!), who get parts in the school play, who come to school looking for a safe, structured place in which they can build relationships and grow. And that's what Tiger-Mama Triteacher will fiercely and devotedly seek for them. It is the fierceness and devotion that they need. It is the fierceness and devotion that I am always going to feel.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Beginning

My cousin sort of proffered an invitation while climbing tonight. It began with... "Have you ever thought of doing the Grand?"

I wracked my brains, ideas flitting across my face: Grand Canyon, Grand Prix, Isn't there a Gran something in France?... and landed on, "The Grand what?"

"The Grand Traverse in the Tetons," he answered. "It's thirteen miles to traverse the range."

13 miles is nothing!

"It's 12-14,000 feet of gain," he added. Real casual-like.

The catch.

The trek gets you ten summits, and there are a couple of optional towers. The hardest grade is 5.8. People generally do it in a few days. The record is around six hours. The Beast that is my cousin yearns to go "light and fast" and be in and out in a day. His usual climbing partner isn't crazy about alpine or JB's "light and fast" mentality. It translates to hunger and pain.

I can't stop tumbling the idea around in my brain. He is a solid climber, a solid partner, a solid person. It would be a blast.

It would be one of the hardest things I've ever done. I would be entirely reliant on him; I do not lead trad. And he's fast. The last time I hiked with him, I grew nauseous trying to keep his pace.

It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If I trained really hard and focused on alpine fitness, I could shine at this and see some amazingly beautiful scenery. I could play my edge.

He needs a partner. I am not as strong as him, but I am good at mountains. I keep my wits in tricky situations. I endure. I low class 5 and scrambles.

I want to explore this. Okay, who'm I kidding... What I really want is to write up a training plan with lots of Colorado ascents. I want to read books and trip reports. I want to drool over pictures and imagine myself in them. Late July to early September... I want to be here...