Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Winter's Journey Far and Away from the Frozen Uncertainty

This morning I awoke, early, 6:05 am.  Not early, as much as my routine time to awake.  I love the morning.  The quiet. The potential, all sinuous and pulsing with possibility.  What will be discovered?  What will be exposed in the light of daybreak, that will be hidden in shadow later in the day?  I arise, shed the warmth and comfort of blankets and afghans piled high, and head to the bathroom releasing the evening’s dreams and nightmares, releasing the toxins of my angst and that of my bladder.  I wash-up, brush my teeth and head downstairs to boil water for my coffee, French-pressed. small luxury in my quiet cottage, footsteps from Lake Champlain, now frozen.

I dress, then pour my coffee, tidying the papers, and books, and left-over artifacts from a night spent in analysis of case-work, law briefs, policy… and personal tumult of one kind or another, journals, articles, pens, papers, a wine glass, not emptied.  Drinking my coffee as I set my life and my cottage back in order.  One a much easier task than the other. I drape on my coat, add a scarf, look absent-mindedly for a hat to face the cold.

The sky changing colors, reflections dancing on the frozen lake, where to go, what to find?  My cameras, several, almost buzzing with anticipation await my commands and a destination.  I drive, north, and then south again, westward into the High Peaks region.  Elizabethtown, Keene, Jay, back roads, lazy highways not well traveled, not well plowed.  Lake Placid?  Not today.  It is solitude I love in my mornings, quiet, and peace.

I drive and soon am joined by my son, my father, a friend. Ghosts and guidesuncharacteristically garrulous companions fill my thoughts and share my journey.  I drive.  Through snow, and slush and morning light.  Outside of my comfort zone, alone in a car on roads not plowed clean.  Why?  I hear my son first.  He has recently coined a term, Black Ice Generation.  It makes me smile.  He thinks my generation is afraid of foolish trifles.   There is truth to it.  I fear the roads in winter, the black ice, lurking, undetected and deadly. Like using your car phone near a gas pump.  Deadly.  I lived for some time in and around Rochester, NY.  Snow, and squalls, white-outs, black ice, nothing stops or slows down in these conditions.  And cars line the expressways, turned the wrong way, over-turned in embankments, stuck in snow banks, loud and mostly ignored reminders of the treacherous conditions. 

Yes, it is true, I am from the black ice generation.  I think of my own mother, from the ptomaine poisoning generation. Everything boiled flavorless to ensure we didn’t get ptomaine, or polio, or maybe she was fighting the fear that we might develop sophisticated taste buds and venture on, away…we did anyway. With conservative epicurean interest and suspect distrust for meat with redness or any slight pinkness revealed. Maybe I followed her lead,  if my children feared the dangers of black ice, perhaps they would stay close by where I could warn and protect them?  Instead of going to Maine and facing the fears of his mother straight on, like a winter warrior?  And my older two, going south, as far as the R or 7 or Q will take them?  No worry of black ice on the subway.

I drive on, and through the snow, is that black ice up ahead? Do I stop or slow, or pump the breaks calmly?  Do I squelch the fear and smile?  I do.  Next my father joins me. He was born in Queens, as was his wife, my mother, his children, all four.  He worked his way up the ranks as an immigrant’s son must.  Didn’t finish high school, helping instead, his single mother pay bills. He joined the Marine’s, fought the good fight, returned broken, but determined to carry on.  That’s what they did then, following the steps of that Greatest Generation, that came before them.  He married, raised children, worked, paid bills, made it into middle management, a career.  He relocated us to the far reaching rural landscape of Southern Jersey.  “God’s Country” he would boast, half-joking, but only half.  He was proud and glad to have achieved more than was expected. God’s Country I think with warmth.  He must not have seen these Adirondack Mountains.  I wish I could show him, drive him through, in my early morning journey.  I am glad he is with me now.  He loved the mornings, to drive to discover new places, or visit old haunts. I recall more than several early mornings, shared in appreciation for God, who is good, and a new day ahead.

I stop, between Keene and Lake Placid.  A trail head that I especially love.  Ice climbers making their way passing by along the road, in clusters.  The wind is blowing, my car is jostled slightly.  Vibrating, or shivering from the cold, the wind.  I conjure a friend who joins me now.  Bringing him in towards the quiet and the safety amidst tumult and ice.  Climbers now embarking the icy slides of mountains that are frozen and immovable.  That is how they present themselves today.  My friend is working his way through middle age malaise. Through whats next,  is there more, can there be, and how? Collective questions of a marriage grown more stagnant than prescribedof love and desire and what lies ahead play over in his mind.  Maybe he is staring straight ahead at what appears to be a stop point. That place in a marriage that presents the paradox of hope and desperation.  A way in or a way out? How can you know whether to leave or get it back? How do you breathe life back in?  How did you let so much go?

I think of the climbers, the ice and the mountain.  Today they are able to scale the side of this mountain straight up to the top, not so much with grace and speed, but determination and exacting sight on the crux of the climb, like the frozen grip of that place in our lives when we know we can’t go backwards but we aren’t sure which direction going forward will take us. We only know we must continue.  Sometimes something gives just slightly and it is destructive. Sometimes something gives slightly and it is life-saving and transformative. 

I think of my own marriage, the crux, the zipper fall, the crash. I have questioned whether I might have stopped too long in one place or another, lost my footing.  gronked for certain. Became lost in it, making it more difficult than the climb I had desired, or ever imagined. I am starting to see it as a first free ascent of sorts, preparing me to successfully begin my free solo, going it alone and enjoying each part of the climb.  My friend has attempted a dynamic belay, in an effort to avoid the gronk.  He is making his way toward the burgeoning bergschrund, that crevasse deepening, as it melts or breaks free from the frozen glacial plateau of the dully contented or mundane.  He will reach the summit gaining perspective from the view.  He will survive and be joyous.  He will know which direction to take at that point, but not until the 'shrund splits, without aid, his brief free solo, will determine his path.

I look up at these mountains, before leaving this friend.  I will climb again in the late spring, a longer traverse is my speed. The mountain will be green and bursting with hope.  It will be dappled in sunlight and hidden in shadow, awaiting discovery. I think of the generations of my visitors on my cold winter morning.  I think of marriage and love and family.  So much protected in fear, stifled, stagnated, sadly resented.  I want for my own children not to attempt to avoid my pitfalls and stumbles, because they might close themselves off from unknown joys, but to find their own way knowing they have different choices to make. They do not have to boil away the flavors and sacrifice pleasure for mere sustenance.  They do not have to choose between the fear of black ice and spinning out of control.  There are places in between, and outside of, beyond my purview. They can be cautiously prepared for the greatest of adventures. And know a good spin and twirl never hurt anyone.  They can reach a summit and be glad in it, knowing there are more ahead or they can stop and relish in the perfection and comfort found in the one.  They can find great satisfaction when they reach the frozen unknown, that spring comes every yearRebirth and renewal.  Life. Bursting. More. Next.

I start up my car, stuck, briefly, two climbers approach and push me out on my way.  I smile in gratitude and wave to their thumbs up farewell.  A generation of millennial proportions.  Filled with optimism and adventure.  Free, unencumbered, hopeful even in the grip of this frozen winter. I go home, alone, glad for my morning, my visitors, ghosts and guardians.  How beautiful not to have to be stuck in the winter of frozen uncertainty.  I smile, filled up with gratitude and the knowledge that spring is coming. Spirits risen.

From Wikipedia  Glossary of climbing terms: 

Bergschrund (or schrund)- crevasse that forms on the upper portion of a glacier where the moving section pulls away from the headwall. Also called a 'shrund.

Crux - The most difficult portion of a climb.

Zipper fall - fall in which each piece of protection fails in turn. In some cases when the rope comes taut during a fall, the protection can fail from the bottom up, especially if the first piece was not placed to account for outward and/or upward force.

Dynamic belay - Technique of stopping a long fall using smooth braking to reduce stress on the protection points and avoid unnecessary trauma from an abrupt stop

First free ascent (FFA) - First ascent without aid

Free solo - Climbing without aid or protection. This typically means climbing without a rope.

Gronked - Accidentally going off-route while leading and becoming lost on a rock face in an area much more difficult than the climb being attempted. The word arises from the climb "Gronk" in Avon Gorge which is notorious for this.