Climbing

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The other day I was with my dad on the bank of the Scioto River watching the boats. He had a place to sit. I went to climb on some large rocks by the river. I didn’t say anything, but I almost fell into the river while trying to sit. While that might have been amusing (America’s Funniest style) it made me remember a few even funnier things about my youth.

Two things I was an absolute natural at growing up, were swimming and climbing. I was quite young when I decided I didn’t want to stay in the shallow end of the pool anymore. I sat by the edge of the pool and watched someone doing the crawl. She obviously knew what she was doing. I watched her hands and then her feet. I watched how she turned her head for air. Then I got in the water and just did the same thing. I wasn’t perfect at first, but in a few minutes, I could swim the width of the pool. Mom’s jar dropped as she watched. She couldn’t believe it. I later took lessons, but that was just for fun.

The second thing I took to almost as soon as I could walk was climbing. If mom were alive, she could tell you when I fist conquered the coffee table. I can’t remember. The first experience I remember was when I figured out how to turn kitchen drawers into steps. With the aid of the toaster I was on top of the refrigerator. Mom’s reaction was classic, the expression of horror (which I lived for), a few words in German, and a rush to my rescue.

When I was eleven, mom and I went to Europe for six weeks. While in Austria, I got the idea of mountain climbing. Mom reluctantly agreed. She picked a relatively safe well traveled peek with a well maintained trail to the top. It was during that hike that I first realized that mom was getting old. While she was in relatively good shape for a forty-one year old, she couldn’t keep up with my young legs. I was continuously outdistancing her and waiting. We would talk for a while and then I would again jog ahead. I was excited and couldn’t wait to see the next overlook or see what lay ahead. Finally I reached the end of the trail. Mom was nowhere in sight. However, there were another hundred feet of slightly angled rock cliff to the very peak. Excited, I began climbing. I was about at the half way point when the relative silence was broken by mom’s scream. She ordered me down immediately. I pleaded, but she would not relent. This was the first time I had looked down. All of a sudden I was aware of how high I was. It took three times as long to get down as the climb took. I now know why a cat gets stuck in a tree. After a brief lecture, we both enjoyed the view and rested before the trip down.

Then there were the trees. From the first time I found an easy climb tree (one with a lot of low branches) I was hooked. The world looks so much different from 20, 30 even 40 feet up. You start to see things from a different perspective. The world seems like a different place. Even as a child you start to realize, how did Einstein put it, everything is relative. From the top of the apple tree in our back yard, I could see the roof tops of over thirty houses, plus my grade school (yuck), plus my favorite baseball field (yeah!). My average sized mom (5’3”) looked tiny, as did all of my earthbound problems. From his point of view, God must laugh at how serious we take ourselves.

I used tree climbing to my advantage whenever I could. In scouts, I would climb a tree when lost to figure out which way to go. In college, I would demonstrate my skills to impress the ladies. I was sure that’s what they were looking for. When I looked down, I knew they had to be thinking, if he’s that good at climbing what else is he good at? Or maybe that bewildered look just meant this guy is crazy, what am I doing here? However, most of the time the tree climbing ploy work in, if nothing else, starting a conversation.

Then there was rock climbing. I took two girls (individually not together) to Staved Rock State Park for rock climbing. First there was Jan. She was athletic and a photographer. We spent the day climbing freestyle up and down the moderately inclined cliffs over the Illinois River taking pictures as we went. We cooked out and drove the eighty miles back to campus before dark. It was a fun day until I got to my fraternity party that night. I had missed the football game. It was probably the only game we might have won if I hadn’t been AWOL. It was a great day and I was OK with a little condemnation.

The second girl’s name was Crystal, whom I wound up marrying a few years later. This time the only condemnation came from her. Oh she had a great time. She wasn’t nearly as athletic as Jan, but I was careful to keep her close and keep the climbs easy. We rested frequently. I also took a multitude of pictures. She loved the adventure and kept saying that her family wouldn’t believe it. That might have been true, if I hadn’t documented the entire adventure on film. The problem came after I had started the evening fire. I finally realized that I had been shooting the entire day without changing film. 35mm film has at the most 36 exposures. I must have shot fifty before I checked. You guessed it. For the first time in my life, I had forgotten to load the camera. I blame Crystal. I was obviously so excited that she agreed to go that……OK it was totally my fault. To this day, that is one of the only stupid things I have done for which, Crystal has yet to forgive me. We have gotten a lot of mileage out of the story though. I think when you’re married for as long as we have been, you learn to look at your lives a little more like you are seeing them from the top of a very tall tree (and with a little humor).

Jan at Starved Rock 001

 

This is Jan about 100 feet above the Illinois River at starved Rock State Park. It would have been Crystal but ……………….

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