Saturday, December 8, 2007

Not in Kansas Anymore Toto...stories from the WINDY south

Jacked on coffee, I smushed my spaztically packed bags into the back of my car, heading south to Salt Lake City. I had to make it to SLC by 2:30 for an emergency dentist appointment. My new dentist joined the list of the many people who accept my passion and chaos as one in the same. Despite being my first visit, he changed and rearranged his schedule to accomodate my two half day stops in town, between Montreal and Montana and Argentina to sucessfully style me out with two crowns and a relative bill of clean healt to head off to Patagonia for a month.

Leaving in the dark at 6am should have gotten me there in plenty of time. Cruising west the winds began to pick up and spindrift began to swirl like small tornados. The combination of darkness, clouds of snow, and my horrific eye sight left me white knuckled. I was far more gripped than on most alpne cimbs. I cranked the music, some techno Mark Farina, and cracked the window, hoping for an icy slap in the face to keep me alert and awake.

As I turned from west to south the wind swirled straight at me. I quietly relished it, bring it! It was like climbing in Quebec a few weeks ago, when the winds and rain came at me sideways, just as I clipped the rope into the first bolt. Rather than descending, I looked down at Max yelling, ¨This is good practice for Patagonia next month.¨ He chuckled and shook his head, continuing to feed rope to me as i blinked the rain drops slicing at my cheeks and eyes, hoping to find the next hold.

As I turned the corner at the higway junction I saw 25 or so cars and trucks parked at a gas station. Hmm they must not be that tough. I´ll be fine I thought, again perfect training for Patagonia. I made it about 200 feet before stopping dead in the midst of a thick blanket of snow plastered across the road. Not able to see yellow or white lines, side markers or even knowing if i was moving or stopped, I thought, hmmm maybe I should turn back, at least until it is light. All I could think of was my dentist apponitment and my flights. I had to make it.

The sun rose and two brave monster pick up trucks set out, me hot on their tails. i followed the glowing red embers of their lights for the next two hours until I made it, bleary eyed, out of the squall.

Salt Lake City was my normal amount of chaos, too much to do, too little turn around time, brink of exhaustion, brink of tears. Not the romance some would like to assopciate my life with. An hour at the dentist, a list of to do´s and a gear explosion in an unknowing friend´s basement and I was packed at 2am ready to sleep, at least until 4:40am when i had to head to the airport.

At the airport I arrived, sans flight itinerary, or even knowing which airline I was on, though this is relatively normal for me. When I showed up at Continental to check in the attendant told me, Ýou have no reservation. Ok, unphased, I said, maybe I´m on Delta. He didn´t think it was funny. He gave the same look the Boarder oficial had recently, as I headed south, cross the boarder of Quebec and Vermont, with a car registered in Montreal, a passport from the USA, a liscence from Colorado, a mailing address in New Jersey, a home in Chamonix France. As I began to explain, the look said it all. I, for the first time in a long time, relaized my ´norm¨wasn´t so normal for most people. I figured the more I explained the more rediculous the story would sound and the less likely to be made up. The officer just waved me through, like the airline guy, he just kind of looked at my rediculousness, tower of bags, and dark circles under my eyes, with pity pointing me to the Delta desk.

Trains planes and automobiles, well mostly planes, and I arrived in Calafate after 30plus hours of travel and exhaustion. I spent the day wandering wide eyed around town, the equivalent of a Banff, El Calafate is a cute trendy town, a little portal to the Patagonia Mountain Ranges. I relished the struggle of remembering spanish words, the music of r´s rrrrrrolling in a way i´d never be able to shape my tounge, the kind spirit of locals, patiently answering my questions and befuddled attempts at spanish. After my last trip to Pakistan this experience was calm and simple. I revelled in the fact that despite being a woman I could do everything myself, an in a tank top and sparkles.

A few hours later head bobbing and eyes heavy I finally made my way down a desolate road to the town of El Chaletan. Just as I woke, a few hours into the ride, I saw the jagged granite spires of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. Hmm I thought, I´m going to be the lucky one who has a month of good weather on my first trip to patagonia!!

Max met me at the bus, having left a week earlier, the tent was set, a plate of pasta waiting, a bottle of malbec, life was good. A brief kiss goodbye the next morning, there were rumors of a short weather window, so he and Colin were off. I lazily unpacked, explored town, panadaria´s, chocolateria´s, and sipped matte and coffee with some friends for the remainder of the morning. A session of afternoon bouldering and that was considered a big day.

The next morning Dave Nettle and I packed bags and headed up hill to make a carry. Just before the tyrolian traverse across the river the winds picked up, slapping me left and right, until we had to dart off the ridge, cross country but sheltered from the beat of the wind. As I tried to put on my harness the leg loops flopped left and right impossible for me to get my toe through, the wind was making its introduction to me, Finally harnessed up I followed Dave hand over hand across the tyrolean. Waves slashing at the shores told tales of what the wind was like higher up. I looked at dave and screamed í have never been here before so i dont know what is normal, you say when to turn around. All i could think was that max and collin were still up there so it must not be too bad. Dave pointed to the swirling tornado of dirt at the glacier´s entrance. That, he yelled, is evidence of the wall of way we can get through that. We will hike a little higher and cache our gear in the woods.

Along the next ridge, i stopped, thrashed left and right by the wind and grabbed a rock so as not to fall over. Dave in hysterics yelled I would love a photo of this, but i can´t get my camera out without falling over. I started laughing, screaming now i know why there arent too many women up here....having two brothers and being the middle child was good training!!

Back in town, beer tasted good. Winds picked up and Max and Colin were cozy in the tent, not giving er up high. They had passed another way and we had missed them. Their night up high was sleepless due to repeated slaps on the cheek from the nylon tent walls.

Yesterday was a no brainer, none of the torturous blue skies that Patagonia dangles over your head, making you feel guilty and unmotivated, only to push a few hours up the trail to find the ever present wall of hate lingering in the sun, quietly laughing at your efforts.

Tent time, coffees, movies on the computer and indoor bouldering. Fingers crossed for a window because I see the beauty that draws people back years on end with hopes of a few hours of luck and calm.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bozeman Ice Fest

Off and running after a white knuckle drive back from Bozeman to SLC, a heinous dentist visit, too long packing, and too little sleep. No brilliant words here today, just a few photos.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

In an Instant (A working piece, in memory of Sue Nott)

Driving down the highway, my foot detached from my body, the speedometer cranks higher and higher without me realizing. Music tears at my heartstrings. I am on the move again. Maybe if I go faster I will be able to out run all that is chasing me? Like walking through the streets of an unfamiliar city alone at night the hairs on my neck stand erect and I break into a sprint. My car, heaving at the seams, is filled with her stuff. I feel sick to my stomach thinking about it. The music, a compilation of songs, was carefully selected by a friend to bring me here. To this place where tears stream down my face, and I am on fire with pain and anger. Fuck YOU!! I scream at no one…

The voice, a raspy femme exhales as the shrill notes of a piano strike one at a time. Her breath lingers as if she understands what I am feeling.

I have done it again
I have been here many times before
Hurt myself again today
And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame”

I flash back a few hours, and I am in her closet. Shopping? Hmm, what fits? What do I like? What will I use? I am lying on the floor, sweat dripping down my forehead, trying not to vomit. A combination of the dozens of Cosmopolitans I drank last night, and the fact that John (Sue’s boyfriend), is walking me through his dead girlfriends’ belongings. Numbly encouraging me to take what I want. Someone has to, and I want it to be you.

The voice brings me back.

“Be my friend
Hold me
Wrap me up
Fold me
I am small
I need it
Warm me up

Unbreathe me”

I am floating along the highway, a pattern that has become familiar, safe. When all else fails keep moving. The precarious line between order and chaos makes me taste the salt of life. Makes me feel all that I am scared to miss out on.

I flash again, a month. We are sitting at the bivy in our pink jackets giggling, basking in the last of the sunlight. Sue is handing me a smashed Choco Pie that she carried up in her pocket. I am scared. She is laughing at me making me forget my fear.

I am in Sue’s tent on the Kahiltna Glacier. It is snowing and she is giving me a facial talking about boys, politics, business, fashion. She is laughing as I tell her about the book I am reading about Rwanda. How I need to go save the world. Tomorrow, she says, today we will climb.

We are in Chamonix and we have drunk too much wine. We are giggling in the small shoebox that she calls an apartment.

We are drinking coffee and lusting over the topo of the Moonflower, on Mont Hunter, planning trips galore.

My eyes blur. The centerline on the road begins to shake. Ears ringing, the speakers crackle. My hand reaches to play the song again and I wonder how long I have been pushing the repeat button. I cannot let go of this feeling. Simultaneously ravaging my heart and making me feel alive. I cannot let go. It hurts to remember, but what if I forget?

Ouch I have lost myself again
Myself and I am nowhere to be found
I think that I might break
Myself and I feel unsafe

I flash again, yesterday. I am at her memorial. A gigantic photo of her soft, smiling, face looming over my shoulder as I choke on the words. My eyes cross. It is surreal. I have stood here before. Ten years ago. Speaking about my Dad. Grasping at memories. Knowing that is all, all I have left. The familiarity is sickening.

And again, this morning. I wake in a panic, dream still lingering on the tip of my tongue. She was there. She was blue, in the snow. She told me to give her stuff back. I asked where Karen was. She said she did not know. I told her we were looking for her. She said she knew.

Be my friend
Hold me
Wrap me up
Unfold me
I am strong
I need it
Warm me up

Unbreathe me

I am on the side of the road and I do not remember stopping. Snot dripping down my face, gasping for breath. Part of me knows. It will not work. No matter how far. No matter how fast I drive. It will always be there. Her stuff still in my car. And it is not just her stuff; it will always be there until I stop. Stop running.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Early Season Ice

The fall begins to bring grey weather, and we, endorphin junkies, and fresh air addicts begin to get itchy. Trapped indoors as the rock gets desperately cold on the finger tips, the sun begins to hibernate, and there is not enough snow to strap toys to our feet. So, we start pulling on plastic, or hanging upsidown from dry tooling crags, with huge aspirations of climbing HARD this winter. Whispers float through the valley, does not matter if that Valley is Canmore's Bow Valley, or the Ouray's San Juans, or the Alps Chamonix Valley. It is like the childhood game of telephone. The keeners rise early, scraping frost from the dashboards, sipping coffee enroute to the crag, juggling butterflies of excitement and nervousness at the first day of swinging tools. Keenness and ambition often out weigh reason, and long approaches are made for thin slivers of ice, half formed routes, and unprotectable climbs. More often than not the day is spent making a long drive and approach to scare the crap out of yourself on one pitch and then to boldy back off and walk away blaming it on conditions.

As the cycle begins itself this year, I find myself in Banff, Alberta. My new tools and screws still with tags hanging on them despite being a year old, due to a broken hand last year. I fell prey to the process, of keenness, versus conditions, and headspace, of early season ice and got thrown wildly off the horse. After 60 foot fall, broken into two thirty foot sections, and two impacts, the ledge and the ground, last year I am a bit gun shy. The desire is there, but the butterflies are more like monsters, than pretty little fluttering insects in my belly.

Maybe this year I will wait to hear the words fat and juicy before I set out.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Zen of Being Trapped in an Elevator

The elevator jerked to a halt. My heart lept, please no. The lights flickered back on and then complete darkness. Mild waves of panic swept over me as I fumbled around the panels looking for an emergency phone. Finding familiar shapes, minus the sense of sight was a strange feeling. I lifted the reciever only to be dissapointed by a dead phone. I slithered along the wall, dropping to the floor, huddled in the corner. At a loss of where to begin, and attempting to find a place of Zen. Being out of control is totally against my nature. But I looked it in the same light as climbing. The challenge to control the mind when out of the comfort zone. Ah, the ever detested little mechanical gadget that keeps me accessible to the world, and them to me, was in my pocket, my cell phone. I dialed David, one of my fellow course mates at the Banff Centre, and told him with a wabbly calm that I was stuck in the elevator in the power outage. His sympathy, derived from years of exeprience with a claustrophobic wife, was instant. No, I'm not claustrophobic, I think I'll be ok. Call me back if you don't get out in a little bit.

I sat in the dark, relishing the contact that I had through my cell phone. I started texting Max, my boyfriend, seeking a little more reassurance. I saw it as a little mountain of Zen to try to keep my calm. Just then I realized a few things. We spend almost NO time absent of stimulation, in the dark, or just with our thoughts. Hmm I need to start meditating was my frist thought. This space is really uncomfortable, being helpless, out of control, and completely in solitude in the dark. I thought I saw a sliver of light which was a relief because those urban legends, like air tight elevators, began to seep into my head. The light turned out just to be my cell phone. Images of James Bond breaking through the roof pannel to save me from suffocated made me smile a little. I laid my cell phone open in the middle of the floor to cast a little light in the room. What if I have to go to the bathroom, and I am in here for hours? Then they open it and I have soiled myself. Deja Vu from being 8 years old locked in the bathroom at the library or in the closet at my house attempted to consume me. The irrational imagination is an amazing thing. Rational fear, I have found from experience, is a much calmer state. When I was avalanched in a serac fall, or when I fell 60 feet hitting the ground without a rope ice climbing. Those things were calm and rational. This thought process was far from that.

Maybe I better call someone I thought. So I called the switchboard, which was of course totally jammed with questions and complaints about the power outage. After 10 minutes on hold and rediculous surcharges from my out of country cell phone I thought, maybe i'll try the emergency phone again.

I called the emergency center who immediately dispached a handful of security crew and maintenance workers to save the day. Upon arrival the man yelled to me
"Are you ok?"
"Yes, I'm fine."
"Ok, don't panic."
Hmm I thought, now I surely won't panic, thanks for the support.

The task at hand seemed as intense as neuroscience and quantum physics making me laugh. But also realizing that I was comforted by the fact that there were others around, and that they knew I was here.

The power switched back on soon after a screw driver pried it's way between the door and the wall attempting to open the door manually. I floated up to the 6th floor and got out, deciding to walk back down to the lobby.

It is funny how these little moments teach us about ourselves, our fears and our weaknesses.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Commitment to Coffee

Some people call it an addiction, a bad habit, a crutch, I call it a commitment. If you knew my mom you would know that if she had to choose between her kids and coffee it might be a hard choice! My commitment to coffee ebbs and flows with peer pressure, criticism, Catholic guilt infused so deep in my upbringing that it runs through my blood. I try to take a hiatis each year when I feel like my commitment has become more of a codependant relationship than a healthy one. When I feel like I am surfing a wave that peaks and crashes with each cup of joe.

I love going to sleep because that means I get to drink a steaming cup of coffee in the morning.

Today my cup of coffee is a Kicking Horse Espresso, a brand local to Banff, Canada, my home for the next month. I ground the shiny beans just yesterday. Between the supermarket and home the bag got temporarily misplaced. A minor panic attack ensued but a friend had already located the missing item and stuffed it into my mailbox. A short mission in town landed me a shiny new glass bodum. A few packets of cream pinched from the cafeteria, my mug, and an alpenglow sunsrise that is spilling across the Canadian Rockies outside my window.

I take a deep wiff of the soft, silky, grinds as I fill the base of the glass pot waiting for the water to boil. Steaming water marks the beginning of the dance between water and grinds. I lay the plunger atop the mix and sit waiting for the water to turn a deep brown, wait for the smells to tantalize my nose long enough. Coffee cup and cream are already situated next to the press. Now I threw in there the coffee cup as though it's a thoughtless part of the process, but the reality is that it is quite complicated. The vehicule through which the coffee is delivered, that first precious cup in the morning, the heavenly ritual, is quite important to the sentiment it brings. My dad was an avid coffee drinker, with a similar guilt complex, who at times abandoned his commitment shifting it to tea. But I know his heart sided with coffee. He had a gammut of hand made pottery coffee mugs. Looking back on it I am not sure if this was somthing he loved, or grew to love from the endless christmas and brithday boxes filled with different mugs given by kids, inspired by mom. He was a University Professor and spent many days in his study, sipping tea and coffee, reading and writing. Some of my assosiation with coffee comes from this childhood image; The assosiation between artist, intellectual and coffee. Hence forth, I can not drink coffee out of a factory made mug, it steals some of the creativity of the process. A predictable joke my little brother likes to play when serving me coffee during my visits back home, is to fill my mom's Starbucks mug, choosing the most beautiful, unique, ispring mug for himself. Sporting a huge grin, fighting the laughter, he delivers me the mug saying "Take That!" It never fails to leave us in stitches, and I always drink it up, despite the mug, because of the history of the joke, the mug feels special none the less.

Now, more on the history of my commitment to coffee from my mom's side. I have never met someone more comfortable in her own skin. Growing up in the shadow of this encouraged us to express ourselves, whatever our wierd eccentricities were. Sure, granted, at times I got ridiculed at school, when I carried a Waldo Lunch box to school each day at the age of 17, or my ecclectic outfits adorned with one of my mom's pairs of plaid Chuck Taylor high tops. But once set free from that horrible time in life where kids are cruel, judgemental, insecure, and cutting, I found that this was one of the most amazing gifts a parent can give a kid. Despite my dad's fluctuations with his commitment to coffee, despite his guilty conscience, my mom stayed strong, and committed, as she always is. I once asked my mom if she ever aspired to cut back her coffee habits. She smiled and laughed and said no way. She derives too much pleasure from this habit why change?

Many of our family jokes revolve around my mom's coffee habits.

"Mom, do you want a coffee?" Brendan, my little brother.
"Yeah, get me a ddddddouble esspresso, tttttrrrrriple if they have it!"
My brother could barely breathe as he related this story to me over the phone.

We are in the process of making a Cofffee-o-meter to attach to our telephone. When it rings and MOM flashes on the caller ID there will also be a caffiene rating from 1-10. Anywhere between 1-5 is safe to answer. Anywhere above, it may take some consideration of what space you are in.

So, my coffee commitment is not a problem, or an obsession, mererly an inherited passion, that as long as it gives me as much simple joy as it does this morning I will embrace!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

A Waking Dream

it is one of those moments where you sit looking at the world and feel like it is a film unfolding in front of you. Or that you are a "voyeur" peeking through a sliver in the door and seeing something you were not meant to see, were not meant to be a part of. Then you step back, or maybe forward, back into your body and realize, this is not a waking dream, this is my life. The reality seems almost too perfect. You sit, and wait, for it to crumble, crash, burn, but it does not happen. That is what you have grown accustomed to, struggle, suffering, obstacles, and you almsot yearn for it. This perfection, the beauty that lies across the landscape just outside the 360 panorama of glass windows can not be real. The rugged mountains are plastered in early season snow, striations of white filling in the gaps of the crumbling limestone. At sunset the mountains are cloaked in clouds save one small fenetre of blue. A rabbit hole in Alice's Wonderland, tempting you, tantalizing, showing what is there behind the encroaching cloak of clouds. Reminding you that behind lingers beauty, hope, that will return tomorrow or the day after. And, just before the sun dissapears behind the mountains, as though someone has taken a tube of pink lipstick and outlined the edges of the cloud, the edges of the window catch fire like a smoldering paper, molten red seeping. I look around and no one seems to notice the beauty that is unfolding outside the window. Consumed by food, conversation, complacency. I am new here and present, in transition with heightened senses. The space I love best.