Photo by Lisa Spangler, 2008
1. An afterthought, almost, before I left Flagstaff: if I wasn’t going to climb the Humphreys Peak trail, then I’d at least walk up a low trail to the west to look at things and place them in memory. Step, step again, raising my feet up through tangled grasses until I slowed, then stopped, out of breath. Hands resting on thighs, I saw it: a prayer stick, up ahead and half-hidden.
2. Near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, I took an ill-planned canoe ride with the man I was seeing, through grey arroyos whose brittle layers shattered into flat flakes when we used our paddles to push off the little canyon walls. Those walls were covered with Dolomedes tenebrosus, spiders the size of my hand; I left the water, climbed a ridge, slid down talus slopes to a highway below.
3. At Enchanted Rock, I learned how to tie in, how to wedge my fist into a crack and pull up while pushing off my toes, how to keep my weight on my feet on those granite ledges that seemed to shrink when I’d look down. My arms would cramp, my fingers bleed, and there was nothing to do but go up, up, until I felt my top-roper’s hand; walking down, I tripped, almost pin-wheeled off the rock.
4. Climbing’s a site-specific poem of motion and weather and rock. Its stanzas and breaks, its assonance and rhyme, are co-written by the climber, place, and time. For this climber, ascents were exhausting, descents wild and uncontrolled: yet for all my fear and bloody scrapes, for all my awkward pitches and failed grace, what I climbed always gave me a gift: the things I could see now, closer to the sky.