An evening of Myth and Poetry
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April 22, 2016
At Cliff's Edge
Here I am again at the edge of the cliff, every jagged rock ledge, every tangle of scrub oak, every ancient, aloof bristlecone pine as familiar as is the trail to get here. How many ideas have been born at the bottom of this hill? How many excited packings of knapsacks, fillings of water bottles, checkings of weather conditions and terrain? I’ve lost count.
If I think deeply, I can recall each of the ascents, the lightness of steps in brand-new hikers, laces firmly seated in rows of hooks, braided cords crisscrossing up the tops of my feet, wound precisely twice around my ankles, tied in business-like bows, and secured with second knots. It’s not hard to relive all of those first steps taken at trailhead.
I remember the heat of some days, walking the inclines, the down turns, skirting the ponds in the bright sunshine. Some treks were taken in the beauty of fall’s colors and some in the freshness of burgeoning spring. Many were head-down slogs through frigid winds and thigh-high drifts, hooking ice-cleats onto boots to enable the ongoing scrabble. Not one of these trips up this mountain was easy, not one of them requiring less than an all-out, balls-to-the-wall, quad straining, sweat-dripping, blister rubbing effort in order to summit, to claim the privilege of standing here, in this spot.
But, unlike most of the stories of those who climb hills for fun, of those who attempt fourteeners just to see if they can, even of the brave few who have stood high atop Everest in oxygen-deprived euphoria, my journey is not measured in the reaching of this precipice.
All of those afore mentioned hikers and climbers, once standing here, looking out on the vast landscape that stretches down and away into the haze of atmosphere, have achieved their goal, have reached the end of their efforts, have proven to themselves that they can.
They might hold out their arms to the sky, inhale a deep lungful of thin air, might even release that breath in a long triumphant yell. Then they will unlatch their canteen from their belt, take a mighty swig of lukewarm metallic water, unwrap the crinkly foil of an energy bar, and chew slowly while enjoying the sensation of muscles calming into numb, satisfying fatigue.
Then they will turn from the vista and make their way down, backtracking through forests and meadows, around curves and switchbacks, finally finding their waiting cars in the gravel parking lot, sighing as they drive away from the mountain to meet up with friends who wait at the local pizza place to hear stories of the ascent and maybe share the watching of a ball-game and a celebratory round of beers.
But not me. When I reach this place, my journey has only begun.
When first an idea hits, there is little suspense that I will one day be standing here, the crystal-diamond potential of the current project neatly folded into my pack, its every aspect so carefully sculpted and woven and painted, meticulously shaped into the very best version of itself. No, there is rarely doubt that I will come, over and over, every footstep a preparation to, once again face cliff's edge, moved by a compulsion as old as I am, a compulsion that will last until my final breath, and maybe even long after that.
So, every time, after the arduous, exhausting climb, after I also fill my tired lungs with a gulp of the too-thin air, do I run at the precipice and jump, do I hang for the splittest of seconds in mid-air, arms and legs windmilling, Coyote-like, as if I can prevent the fall through the sheer force of my own will and momentum.
But the fall always comes because this is the part of the trip that I cannot craft, the part that depends on forces beyond myself, forces whose genesis is of outside opinion, of wide exposure, of culture’s current desires, and of yardsticks that I can only guess at.
And still I try to have what control I can, still have, before, carried with me contingencies to catch myself in the inevitable event of an emergency. But each of those times before, my chute has not opened, my mechanical wings have not deployed, my propulsion line with grappling hook attached has failed to grab the side of the canyon, and I have fallen to the desert below, only a tiny puff of dust seen from far above to mark my crashing.
Then I pull myself up, Coyote-like, out of the impact-crater. I crawl along the dirt road, dragging my empty backpack, its contents scattered on the wind above, the letters ACME only just visible through the dust that coats its tattered rain flap.
It’s happened just that way every single time.
Yet I am back, standing, scanning the distance, refusing to look down, feeling the pleasant weight on my back of the most crystalline haul yet and wondering, with not a small amount of fear and cynicism, what the fuck I’m doing.
It’s in my upbringing I suppose, raised by lovely people who could charitably be called ‘non-conformists,’ raised with sisters of unique but extraordinary talents.
It’s in my genes too, I am descendant of pioneers, of boot-strappers, of adventurers; I spring from a long line of idea-ists. And so, in me, nature and nurture conspire to create this delicious, terrible mixture of genius and idiocy, the ultimate gullibility of the dreamer bestowed upon me but with which I’ve colluded my entire life.
Now, as I look around for this particular launching’s ‘jumping off place’ I wonder if my ancestors found themselves here as often as I have; if they too leapt and fell and crashed, dragging themselves out of the smoking hole only to do it all over again when the next idea picked their ragged asses up from the side of the road.
In the end it doesn’t really matter what they did or didn’t do. It is only me, standing here, no contingencies this time, only the hope, and dare I say the faith, that this time, the wind will catch me and I can fly.
©2019 Annette Meserve
on the Shelf
February 1, 2017 in Trinidad, CO