The four of us had traveled a thousand miles from New Mexico, Colorado, Nebraska and California to climb a thousand feet of Nevada rock. We met at the trailhead, loaded our packs with a flurry, stuffed headlamps in front pockets and started off toward the frowning sliver of setting sun. Soon we were swallowed. Endless Juniper Canyon walls cast silhouette shadows across the pebbled wash while frogs in the basin serenaded our trek through a maze of boulders and stiff Manzanita.
Like a rising tide escorts sea floor to seashore, after hours of approach we found ourselves perched with a panoramic view of black desert ocean. The distant, churning galaxy of Las Vegas lights illuminated the lean underbelly of neon grey clouds circling overhead. Slot machines clamored a vague stranger’s tune, but silence rang our familiar melody and we emptied a flask of whisky, settling in for night.
In a blink sunrise poured crimson down our martian sandstone neighbor and we swapped warm sleeping bags for cold gear, eyes drawn to the newly unmasked monolith that would pose so many riddles that day.
We started off into a noisy silence. Desiccated air erased smoke from our breath while our feet swung a metronome beat to the sound of pebbles grinding against the souls of our shoes; every tiny sound echoed back to our piqued ears by the towering amphitheater, magnifying the enormous whisper.
None of us had taken on something quite like this. Our necks craned to see light spilling over the top of the shaded varnish face and we stood tiny at the base of the Rainbow Wall, one of the best hard free climbs in America.
Within minutes all the planning, dreams and preparation met contortionist crux and I whipped off, frost still coating my eyes.
What was I getting into?
It’s the same question I was asking myself as 2012 faded into 2013. The year had turned life inside out. New city, new job, new alone. Close friends seemed like those Vegas lights, too distant to give warmth or illuminate a path forward. I ventured back to the frozen Nebraska flatlands restless and wandering, wondering about the future.
It’s always been from those places that I’ve built, that I’ve gained perspective, that I’ve changed or arrived at the answer to a question I didn’t know existed. But it’s hard. I’m never sure if I’ll be strong enough to allow suffering to teach me empathy, love and patience instead of the bitterness, jealousy, and distrust that tempts the lesser me into emotive extortion.
We may hope times of grief or discontentment never arrive, but they do and they will and they will define us. It’s how we respond that answers the question of who we are. Most importantly, it’s how we treat those whose heartstrings we pull even during our sadness or confusion that broadcasts our true selves.
And this is not to say that we have to be strong all the time. Or that we should ignore pain or hurt or strife. It truly takes time and time alone, often months or even years, to actually internalize the lessons only heartache can bring. It’s a process easily cut short or transposed blindly and cruelly onto others.
The clock is now dizzy from another 365 days and I’m again back in Nebraska. Again starting from scratch, drying blood from my nose and scraping salt from my cheeks.
2014 will undoubtedly hold more exalted humiliations and humbling affirmations. We can never control each brushstroke coating the canvas of our lives, yet we do have influence over the picture painted. But in this moment I want to pause and say thanks to those who contributed beautiful swaths of color to my 2013 canvas. You know who you are. From the bottom of my heart thank you. Here are some of those colorful moments of 2013:
The four of us took in a summit sunset from atop Rainbow Wall. We had made it. Taking a deep breath I was reminded to collect these memories, to relish the present when it presents the love, laughs and life that fortify us for the unexpected, for the cycle when it begins anew.
Frogs in the basin (listen):