High Desert Ramblings

I think I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I was reading David Roberts’ “On the Ridge Between Life and Death”.   Though I have a tendency to ignore books that highlight the fact that death is omnipresent in alpine climbing on the cover.  But after reading a glowing blurb by Jon Krakauer I decided to pick it up (I think I’m repeating myself).  The book is Roberts attempt to, as the cover puts it, to reexamine his climbing life.  This includes watching his first climbing partner fall to his death on the First Flatiron in Boulder, to his numerous adventures in the Alaska backcountry.  Place that are now popular climbing areas, such as the Ruth Gorge.

The book also made me think about the impact of my selfish pursuits on those around me.  This may or may not have informed my failure to solo the N. Face of Chair Peak.  Roberts explores how his actions affected not only him later in life, but also the families of the partners he lost.  The book ends with Roberts summing up his climbing and writing career, when he finally reaches out to the family of his first climbing partner Gabe.

This isn’t meant to be a book review, I’m just taking sometime getting to my point.

For the past year or so all of my reading has centered around climbing literature.  David Roberts’ book is going to be the last one for a while.  Why?  Not because I’ve out read the mountaineering section at Powell’s, it goes deeper than that.  Truth is, I’ve gotten tired of reading about other people’s adventures.  I’m tired of reading about other people finding, not fulfillment, but deeper aspects of themselves.  The type of thing I talk about when I talk about why I’m drawn to sufferfest alpinism.

Other’s epics and successes have a way of working their way into my mind during the work up to a route. It even goes as far as determining what I pack.  This, I’m sad to admit, leads to my failures than most anything else.  I’ve decided to take a break from other’s alpine adventures to read something that has nothing to do with mountaineering or climbing.  Being the broke bastard that I am, I accompanied Signe to the Beaverton Library and came back with goodly stack, well good enough for three weeks of course.   Here’s what I came home with:

  1. The Pueblo revolt –David Roberts (the same as above)
  2. The Beautiful and the Dangerous — Barbara TedLock
  3. Young Men and Fire — Norman Maclean
  4. The Long Goodbye — Norman Chandler

The first book is because I have been interested in the Pueblo Revolt ever since I was in New Mexico.  The Pueblo Revolt took place in 1680 and is the ONLY successful indigenous revolt in the history of Western Conquests.  For twelve years the Peublos of New Mexico managed to keep the Spanish out.

The Tedlock book is about one of those Peublos, one that is close to my heart, Zuni.  I’m trying to remember what went wrong with this book when I first read parts of it.  I got these books about the SW Peublos because I’m working on a story about the time I spent in New Mexico.  Which is finally getting me to my point.

Robert’s book (the one I started with first) has visions of Zuni and near by Rahma running through my head. I’m stalling on writing this story because it brings up things I thought I’d dealt with.  That trip to New Mexico was a turning point for me.  It was the first time I stopped playing lip service to the fact that every human being has darker sides to them, and actually dove in and indulged it.  I’d had brief encounters with it prior to that, but in the desert of Central New Mexico I dove in head first.

I didn’t spend the entire three weeks in darkness.  During that time I experienced things that I can’t explain.  Like Watching it rain 25 miles down the road when there wasn’t a cloud in the sky above my head.  Not just once, but almost everyday for three weeks.  Not mountains stood in the way, it wasn’t any higher in elevation.  The difference, as far as I could tell is that in Zuni they were dancing for rain.

I saw beautiful things that will only live on in my mind.  At the time that depressed me.  When first I started watching the kachinas dance I tried desperately to count the beats of the dance and memorize the steps. This impossible task was made harder as I watched thunderheads roll over Corn Mother Mesa.  At that moment I gave up, and took in the beauty of what I was witnessing.  This dance wasn’t a display for tourist, but the enacting of a ritual.  One done in secret form the time they came up from the ant hill.  Pictures of people are forbidden in Zuni, especially of the dances.  Even without those pictures that move plays as vividly today as it did when it happened.  That sounds a bit trite I guess, but experiences like that, and others I had during those three weeks, directly inform who I am today and more importantly how I interact in the world around me.

More directly, I think that those darker moments in the New Mexico desert opened the flood gates.  From that point on it became much easier for me to tap into the darker segments of myself.  Tap isn’t the right word, that gives the impression that I use if for good or in times of need.  Perhaps indulge is the right word. Before that, I was able to subdue these parts.  What happened there some how gave the darker segments of my brain more power.  Not in a “the devil made me do it” way, but in a way that I was suddenly able to rationalize it.  An extreme example  would be how I justified the relationship I had with a married woman before I move out west.

Its late, and I’ve finally hit my 1000 word mark.  Good night.

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