Monday, August 15, 2011

Solitude and the Art of Bouldering

Lower Chaos Canyon
The summer is almost over and with it the opportunity to go up to the Park on a regular basis. As I look back on the past two and a half months, time which has evaporated with incredible rapidity, I am reminded of the precious quality of solitude and contemplation which these days in the mountains have offered. For many bouldering is a group activity, something done in the company of friends, acquaintances, even a random group of fellow boulderers. For me it is something different, even essentially different. This is partly because of age. In my late 40s, I have very little in common with boulderers in their 20s and most climbers my own age are interested in other goals. But there is also a different mindset at work, a different worldview perhaps. I don't really know.

I boulder for its intensity. Intensity and concentration in a beautiful environment is the essence of the pursuit. Colors, forms, light, atmosphere and the fine edge between success and failure; these are the essence also of making good art. You can't pay close attention to them with a lot of extraneous distraction in the background, which sadly enough is what too often is the case when other climbers are near. Quiet, distilled time, time that is all too short, is what I need, time to think, time to focus, time to see what is really going on.

What am I trying to see? I am looking for patterns, lines of strength and weakness, shapes that regenerate themselves in infinite variations over time. The movement of water over the land or in the sky, the outline of tall spruce trees battered by the wind, the bands of quartz set in a dark matrix of stone. If I happen to climb something in the process, all the better. But the art of bouldering has become something different over time for me.

In a sense, I am returning to the patterns I knew as a child in Maine. Long walks along the shore were spent studying the eroded forms of the rocks, the beauty of the sky, and the movement of the ocean. The instinct to seek solitude seems to me at its heart an instinct to seek meaning, meaning that is inaccessible in the company of others. As the weather begins to shift in the high country and I have to settle for the tamer low-lying areas closer to home, my thoughts will constantly be shifting back to the mountains and the hours spent there, alone but in the company of the infinite.


Anonymous said...

Very lyrical, but consider, too, that bouldering one's posse is rad.

Peter Beal said...

For sure, many times I find myself sustained by the energy of a group of enthusiastic people.