Friday, March 26, 2010

Time and the Art of Climbing: Notes from a work in progress

After a long session bouldering, maybe one that goes well into dusk, the environment subtly alters. The feel of the forest changes as the darkness envelops the rocks and trees. The day moves into the past tense, and the lights of the city below the mountain call you back to civilization, warmth, light, conversation. Maybe another try, maybe it’s time to pack it all up, maybe time to wait and consider things. Time exists somewhere between present and past right then. It’s a place where you begin to drift, to wander among the artifacts of memory and revive a few images, revisit sensations of times past. I find myself beginning to wonder where this uncanny feeling comes from and where it leads.

I have long been preoccupied with the understanding of time. Like water-immersed fish, we swim in a world of change, flux as Heraclitus describes it. We cannot isolate ourselves from time as our own selves change along with the world. Yet occasionally something slows down, a window or door opens and a brief sense of understanding emerges. In the company of stone, as when considering great works of art, something of the eternal urges consideration of the fleeting present, its origins and afterlife

For me climbing is a remarkably persistent vehicle for this avenue of inquiry, a mode of travel through time, whether personal or historical. Rocks, through their relatively enduring forms, act as a medium for traversing these phenomena of change, the shifting points of light and shadow, currents of air, sounds of water, even my own breathing. Groups of people flock to a nearby boulder for a while, their voices echoing through the pines in the distance. But at some point, that laughter and conversation moves on and stillness reasserts itself, broken only by the call of a bird or a sudden rush of wind from the west.

I have lived this experience a thousand times, drifting along with the current of time as the day plays itself out and the dusk steadily falls. Suddenly I see myself as older, not necessarily wiser, but more aware of the oddly fluid quality of time and memory. Then I am young, peering into a deep and obscure past where certain facets of lived experience, the texture of stone, the reflections of light on water, live on, preserved in amber but with striking freshness and clarity. Words, language, even thought are clumsy approximations, at best mere prompts to feelings and ideas and I keep coming back to natural forms. I see once more and always the crystal matrices of granite or sandstone, the arc of a sweep of wall, the contrast between dark stone and open sky, the clouds drifting serenely over the world.

This essay is part of an online magazine at Be sure to visit and check out what other contributors have done.


S said...

Love the essay Peter!
BTW, there's a small glitch with the link at the bottom. It adds a suffix that leads to a blank page.

akorn said...

fixed :)

Peter J. said...

Nice Peter. This is classic Flag for me, "But at some point, that laughter and conversation moves on and stillness reasserts itself, broken only by the call of a bird or a sudden rush of wind from the west." Early morning or late evening, I love that "time". Thanks.