“What have you done?” was the question posed upon our introduction.
It was not intended as a slight, or a look-down-your-nose sort of statement.
But it gave me pause, taken somewhat aback, wondering if I should defend myself and how I have dedicated my time.
“I didn’t believe you had done those things,” was another phrase heard from someone else soon thereafter.
And this time, I pulled up hard, wondered aloud why anyone might think me a liar,
And so I chewed on the phrase, ran the words across my tongue and lips, tasted the emotions dancing in my mouth.
Bitter, salty, sour,
WHAT have I done?
I have taken the landscapes for my home, matched the topography of the maps to what my eyes see before me,
Discovered the imbalance between the printed page and peering over an edge and thinking…
“Nope, that ain’t gunna go.”
I have watched the sky’s habits and moods from the most brilliant of blues, to the dusky greys of dawn, to counting the blanket of stars on a winter’s moonless night.
Pulled clouds between my fingers across the mountains.
Been blessed by rain, threatened by thunder, tickled by feathery flakes of snow.
I have hiked,
And scrambled, and ambled, and rambled,
Ohhhhh… the laughter.
I have cried for my own pains and fears, for the loss of friends and friendships; mourned my own shortcomings made so painfully obvious when my day’s efforts are reduced to “just get there” or the objective, whatever that may be, is elusive.
What HAVE I done?
None of this belongs to me, inasmuch as my holding a title, or deed.
Yet I pride myself in every tree, every slope, every boulder or crag,
Every babbling, bubbling, burbling brook that creeps through a meadow.
I see myself in the landscape: the soft and the hard; the light and the shadow; the windswept and the basin.
There are so many unknowns yet to explore, between the mountains and me.
What I have are my stories: of days pushing hard and others lying back; of challenges met and missed; of unspeakable beauty and unfathomable terror.
But all with lessons attached, and, once revealed, opening another door along my life path.
Life is flux and flow, creep and soar,
Letting the wind alternately beat you down and then lift you by the arms to carry the weight of your being and your burdens.
Even the mountains bend to the wills of time and weather.
What have I done?
I have done nothing without the love, and support, and gifts of time and knowledge of so many others. I cannot claim to know what they saw, other than an eager pupil, sharing the love of challenge and high places. Without these teachers I would be floundering, lost before I even started, or worse:
Never having left the comforts of my home.
I integrated those lessons with those of the wild, with that which I think I know of myself,
And stepped away, even for short whiles, from the bluster of the “normal”.
Only to realize that, for me, these places on high are normal.
That wandering throughout the year, adapting methods and gear and techniques, is precisely what I should be doing, no matter where I happen to be.
What have I DONE?
There are no first ascents, or descents, within the societally accepted meaning of the words, in my nature.
Every trip and adventure is just that for me: a first.
Each step forth is into a new river, a new environment, and new sky and earth.
There is no “early” or “late” season, only this day, this hour, this moment.
I delve into opportunities to just be, a level of presence that exhausts because of the level of focus it demands.
And then, I let go completely…
Sink deep into my perch on a boulder resting in a sea of white,
Pull the thick blanket of winter silence over my shoulders,
Allow the hands of the wind to gently caress the single tear running down my face and then embrace me in warmth and acceptance.
For it is in that moment that I am one with my own soul and that of the earth and the sky.
I have stood atop those peaks, called from the heights, scanned the horizon for the next adventure.
I have allowed myself to be confident, arrogant, terrified,
And at peace.
I listened to the wind as it roared and whispered; danced between flashes ripping the blackened sky.
Camped on high ridge lines and tucked behind copses of pines or in caves.
I wait, not always patiently, for the next lesson.
The next time someone asks, “what have you done?”
I will know to take in a deep breath.
Crack a small smile.
Bring a light up to my eyes.
“Where would you like me to begin?”