April 3, 2018

World : Going Away & Staying


In a (possibly manic) mind-frame of wanting to do everything I love with all the people I love, I spent four out of the five weekends in March out of town, immediately after taking a week off in February to climb in Mexico. I don't regret the movement, but I do now relish the ability to process in one place.  The act of constantly going away made me consider what it is that we seek, what we want to return to, the balance between the two.  What I miss when away, what I gain from the perspective, how to integrate the two in my life in a way that's meaningful, useful, sustainable.

Two weekends were spent in real winter (which my California spoiled self defines mainly by the existence of snow): Yosemite with my work family, and Colorado with my actual family.  We cross-country skied during both trips, and this same activity was extremely different with each group. My co-workers are active people who love the outdoors, and it was a near-miracle to get my family to venture into the mountains for the first time in a place they've lived for a dozen years.  But in both, I appreciated the sense of being somewhere different, together.  For my co-workers, it was the first time we've spent significant time together outside the confines of our clinic.  I love them for their natural inclination to take care, but trying to constantly fulfill that inclination can be stressful in the space of work, and I loved seeing them enjoying the space of nature just for themselves.  For my family, it was the first time we have really done anything active outside together, and seeing my 6 year old niece and 9 year old nephew experience this newness was the best gift.

Two weekends were spent climbing, one in Red Rock (outside Las Vegas) and the other in Bishop (in the Eastern Sierras).  These are among my very favorite places in the world, first for their incredible beauty, and second because they are places I've returned to most frequently.  This combination of familiarity of place and changes in myself is like the love for old friends. At Red Rock I was really lucky to be there with the kind of friend who both supports who I already am and makes me consider how to be better.  There I was able to make progress on climbs I'd tried before, and attempt new ones that I'd like to return to in the future.  It's a comforting, challenging feeling to know that this is rock--mostly stable at least in our lifetime--and we can come back to it as we change and have different experiences with it.

I think we are especially drawn to this feeling in Bishop, where I've gone annually since starting to climb outside.  In 2016, it was me and one girlfriend. In 2017, we brought another girlfriend.  Between that time and this year's trip, we've formed a group of four women, who have become dear friends and climbing partners.  The roots, and what we've grown into, are something I know I want to nourish indefinitely, and I'm grateful for that kind of certainty.

Bishop is a small town, and after the nine hour drive to get there, you can get everywhere in town within minutes.  By this third trip, we have established our place to stay (Hostel California), our place to get pre-climb coffee (Looney Bean), our place for post-climb burgers and beer (Mountain Rambler).  But there are concrete changes: we now know a local, who points us to new options and introduces us to the community.  And so we have coffee at Pupfish and dinner at Yamatani (substituting sushi and sake for the usual burgers and beer).  After failed attempts to get there the two years before, we finally make it to the hot springs.  We meet people for whom the magic of Bishop is their everyday.  And there are subtle changes in ourselves.  The four of us met and became close during a certain time of transition, and we've remained close as we navigate the unraveling and restitching of different parts of our lives.

In these remote, natural places less burdened by people and by the work people create, we become less burdened too.  We dream about a life dominated by climbing in these landscapes that don't ask anything of us.  We see stretches of space, and we know that we can traverse them if that's what we are feeling in the moment, or in the future.  The main problems to solve are presented by lines and ridges in rock, which are challenging but in many ways so much less so than the textures we find in other people and ourselves.  There's an ease of connection with others with similar dreams who do live this dream.  Every minute I spend in Bishop, I think to myself, how is it that I have so much right now? We're free to move quietly amidst beauty and power of the kind that assures of us of our own. The gifts of these places are so easy to see and to absorb and to wish would last forever.

And maybe it's the never-ending giving that makes me eventually want to leave and come back to where I am.  Where my movement is a little more restricted, and reminds me that not all places are so free, that not everyone has so much room.  Because I want things to be asked of me, to take on some burden and sacrifice some ease for a little purpose, if I've been given the privilege to choose that.  I don't necessarily believe in difficulty for difficulty's sake, but I do feel that the accumulation of so much good arms us for the hard, rewarding work of sharing it. 

The one weekend when I didn't go away, I spent in Oakland.  After two and a half years at my job in the East Bay (in Berkeley, on the border of Oakland), I still feel like I don't know our patients' communities very well.  This was the main motivation for running races in Berkeley last fall and Oakland last weekend.  While running through cities is heavy on the visual senses and most of the backstory is beyond simple sight, it does make me feel more connected to these places, and to the people who live in them.

After coming back from the magical weekend in Bishop, I wanted even more to cultivate this connection--to be with people different from me, who don't have the same choices to unburden themselves.  It seems to me that the best part of the vastness of mountains is that they're so far-reaching, they don't have to be enjoyed just in the physical place in which we experience them. We can take the feelings to other spaces that have less obvious beauty, and therefore more need.  We can use them to sustain us when we're presented with the lines and ridges in people and in the systems of people.  When we come across beauty and power of the kind that makes us question our own.  When we occupy space occupied by people with needs that are the same and different, making for a crowded and confusing life.  There's a lot there that can make me feel weak and sad.  More so than when I'm actually away, it's sometimes here that I most feel the impact of leaving.  We can remember how much strength and stamina these places give, and try hard to use it in the environments that challenge us most.

While all these experiences made for feelings that seem complicated, because there were so many feelings and to extreme degrees, processing them reveals a pretty simple formula.  I want to go away with beautiful people to beautiful places where I can physically move in the ways that suit me best.  These remind me that everything I want has been freely offered to me: from people, how much I can learn from others; from places, how much there is beyond me; from movement, how much I can and can't change with my own agency.

And then I want to return, to try hard to share what all this gives.  As much as I love places like Red Rock and Bishop (and I really love them so much), I think they will always give me a fullness I won't want to keep forever.  Each person has a different way of receiving and giving, and so I'm only speaking for my introverted self when I say that if I were to stay, I'd likely be more of a receptacle than a connection.  I know I'm incredibly lucky to be able to go away, and even more so to be able to come back.  It's this movement more than anything else that I want to stay with.


  1. I went to Bishop 14 years ago for climbing and it was incredible. What a beautiful post on the gifts you've received from the mountains and your travels. I love reading your writing!

    1. Thanks for always reading and the encouragement...I write in the planner you gave me every day (except for the days I'm away!).


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