by Sara Aranda, notes from a recent trip to Yosemite, Sept 24-Oct 13
The cracks in my skin and the chalk that settles there, skin woven, white lace over burning sand. These are the things I’ve remembered, among things I carry; as ephemeral as the seasons or the act of climbing:
A bite into a pine needle like chili and lime. The spit I offered to the dirt.
My right knee; its oscillating pain.
My thinning thinnness and the correlating confidence. Dangerous logic.
How I dreamt of pulling apart a cat-litter, granite stone from a route; the rubble tumbled down onto those below in a veil of great dust and roar and entropy—raining all but my own blown and clotted humanness.
A premonition to a situation I thusly avoided: the way the entire body-length flake flexed when I lightly tugged on the piece of climbing gear I’d placed. This was real sequence now, not dream. So I removed myself. Down-climbed instead, led up a different, mossy chute.
Sexism in a canvas tent: “Wives and girlfriends make men weak.” His greatest example was Tommy Caldwell. His words are careless, apathetic, unintentional, and his words are a reflection of him.
Climbing: where our (in)ability to peruse mental states, from fear to confidence, is practiced and habituated—it is empowering to find yourself in a place to choose, to then succeed as a result of choosing to succeed (though not always the case). Climbing is the first-hand experience of humility for me. On par with my social interactions.
Falling itself is a submissive act, no matter how you arrive to it. I attribute it to a roller coaster. You are the passenger slung with gravity. Submission is all that is inevitably possible; any over-weighing choice happens before you crawl into the seat.
More, I’ve noticed there is no concept of time when I fall. There is so much taking place in the present, my mind is actually absent—rather, relieved of itself. Simultaneous gathering and a letting go. This is a theme in my life right now. My entire Wind River essay is about this (which will be published in Alpinist 62, June 2018—can I announce that?). Head rush.
El Capitan is proof of the Earth folding over me. Me in meadow. Me, nowhere to be found if you are the sky and I am a fleck of the dark (a smudge of shadow that gives objects their depth).
I like the word meadow.
But there are more questions about what I carry.
Aching heels, swollen fingers: My right pointer finger went numb from a finger lock. It feels like crusty dead skin so thick you’d have to peel the entire finger away.
The recent rock falls. Dust and rubble across the road. The scars of 1300 tons resound far longer than the stones. Search and rescue. Woman survives due to husband shielding her. Broken car windows. Man hit in head through car sunroof.
Hayden. Inge. Caleb.
How do I honor the dead?
Self-value. Intention. Compassion.
Patient pursuit? Humility? Loving thy neighbor?
There is a man named David and he carries a pedestal for his ego.
Do I laugh?
I met Jimmy Chin. He had dinner with us and we all sat on the floor eating nachos. He carries no pedestals. He’s self-conscious about smelling like cigarettes.
Timmy O’Neill. Is funny. Rallies those around him. Except for the house cats. They sleep and lounge when and where they want.
Do I ever remember what I look like? No. Strange to say: only when I look into a mirror do I behold an image. Otherwise, I am faceless and shapeless body. This is more than a metaphor for my dysmorphia. It’s only one explanation as to why I perceive others over myself. This note is maybe more about what I don’t carry.
But I do love my biceps (in pictures).
Sun bleed/sleep/strain. Skin. Ancestry. Ancestral sun skin.
Cats and turning leaves.
Frozen hands in the morning. I ride a borrowed bike with a squeaky chain. The noise is now associated with words like numb. Passing trees. Moon shadows. Royal Arches.
Cat eyes, purring paws. I’ve mentioned cats already.
Sleepy, bloody cuticles. (How are cuticles sleepy? Are they sentient? In association with the sleepy human, yes, maybe. Does it work if the image makes no sense? This is an example of how poets talk to themselves.)
Imposter syndrome. Imposition. More often self-affliction.
Feet : Vertical rise. Ascent : Spiritual masochism.
Hot chocolate and coffee (together). Tofu and cheese (one after the other). Nonstop hunger (simultaneous with eating).
The bed I borrowed. Top bunk. Always the top, where the heat rises. Close to the ceiling. Too close to friends: where you wonder whether being there for two weeks is preventing them from having sex. Or peace of mind.
To many: Yosemite means only the valley walls. “Look at all the walls!” they say. Then they quote the likes of John Muir. They climb. They hike. Sometimes get confused about attractions and lazy rivers. They eat terrible cafeteria food. They visit. They conquer. They leave.
To me: Yosemite is a place to die, to hate, to love. To grow from and away. It is a fractal. It is small things (individual pine needles) in consequence, over time; it is the incomprehensible scale (the Sierra Nevada range) of time immemorial. It is also where many facets of humans unfortunately clash. Will continue to clash.
To many and myself: Yosemite is an encounter of convenience. Like parking at the foot of a crag. But it is also an encounter of some version of the self. How I once ran alone for forty-nine miles in the backcountry. It is gritty and alive and changing.
If you cause traffic because you stop your car to snap a photo of a deer or squirrel, I will bike on by with laser beams of judgement. Bike bells are the best: Outa the way, fu*&ers.
Love and hate. Elitism. Alienation. Access issues. Localism. Cliques. A place to live and die in extremes. A place to become a passerby.
I won’t forget Eliza, Sandy, Dawa, Audrey. Women. Friends. Climbing partners. Lovers. My husband. How we trust our lives to those we love. We must. Life is conjoined. A shared human condition. Without them all, I’d probably stare at the cairns, wish for their creator, question my own.
Why can’t we see nature like this: Life as conjoined. A shared Earth condition.
Trees and fungi build labyrinths from the soil of the dead. Trees feast on light. Like black holes. Like parasols in the sky. At my feet.
Things I carry? As in: I’ll never stop?
Grim reaping. Distilled words. Fractured granite.
I rely on imperfection, bad tasting needles off the branch, the discomfort of dreams. The way things fall. The way this pen scratches the paper. This place.
This place. This place. A mosaic of sky we can never keep.
Me, here at this picnic table. In the meadow.
Me, there on the rock. On the trail.
Me, the loudest thing of all. This thinking thing I bear. The heaviest burden I could ever know.