There is a theory, which
states that when Christopher Columbus sailed toward the Caribbean Islands, the Native Americans on the islands couldn’t see his ships approaching.
This legend, popularized in the film “What the Bleep Do We Know,” postulates that humans are reality-creating beings … and when something exists
beyond the scope of our known reality, it might as well not exist.
I can relate. For example the first time my best friend Justin explained “bouldering” to me, I couldn’t grasp the concept. He had traveled to Colorado
one summer, discovered climbing, and was back in the flatlands of the Mississippi Delta explaining that I had to sit on my ass, and pull myself off
the ground with my fingertips and onto a house-size rock. I thought he was joking. For me—a kid who had never seen stones bigger than the gravel
in the driveway—climbing, or whatever Justin was talking about, simply didn’t exist.
But through a twisted turn of events, climbing and living in the Colorado mountains eventually became my reality. In fact, for the last 10 years, I haven’t
really thought of doing anything else.
Recently, I journeyed back to the South for the first time in a decade. Following the spinning laces of another one of life’s curve balls, I left Colorado
for Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The “Shoals” as it’s known, are in northwest Alabama and three and a half hours from my hometown. Needless to say, it’s
not known as a climbing destination. Muscle Shoals is a mecca for Southern soul music, and that’s what I was in search of.
I spent the last two weeks making a record with Norbert Putnam, a Muscle Shoals native who cut his teeth as Elvis Presley’s bassist before producing Jimmy
Buffett, Joan Baez, Dan Folgelberg and a 100 other records throughout the 1970s and 80s. I met Norbert when I was a 16-year-old punk with five original
songs and a lot of bad habits. But Norbert dug the tunes and recorded me, encouraged me to read James Joyce and Somerset Maugham, and keep writing
music. Although after I moved to Colorado I wound up writing mostly about climbing, I continued penning songs and that’s what brought Norbert and me
back together last week.
As I drove my rental car through the rural south, however, I couldn’t help but notice sandstone everywhere. Crossing the bridge over the Tennessee River—the
source of the soul music—from Florence, Alabama, to Muscle Shoals, large bluffs of what looked like climbable rock girded the river.
One morning, to calm my nerves before recording,
I decided I needed to go for a run. Google brought up a nearby, privately owned nature preserve called Cane Creek, so I drove through the hills of
Tuscumbia—a small rural town next to Muscle Shoals—and found a dirt road marked with a small sign leading into the preserve.
The landowner greeted me at the Cane Creek parking area, which was his front lawn, and handed me a trail map.
“I think it might be a little too tough to run,” he said, smiling. He peered over the glasses riding on the edge of his nose, looking down at me from his
vantage point of well-over 6 feet.
“But we had a couple from Nepal who hiked the trails and told me, ‘flat land,’ so with you being from Colorado, you’ll be fine,” he added in a thick southern
He was partially right. The first trail I found wasn’t the best for running. It wound down steeply, with the sharp relief of a spiral staircase, into a
southern forest of oak and pine. The patch ended at the preserve’s namesake creek fed by a cascading waterfall rolling off the top of a 80-foot bluff.
I let my eyes adjust to the light, marveling at the falls, but as I looked around, rocks began to appear. Camouflaged by a canopy of moss and trees, sandstone
boulders, some honeycombed with pockets, others cut clean with sharp arêtes, stood from the foliage like ships’ prows from a green ocean.
The rest of that morning, I ran and walked through the forest, spotting well over 50 beautifully sculpted boulders. Some were so enticing I would bushwack
to the base and grip the holds putting up imaginary first ascents.
When I returned to my car, the landowner asked if I had a good time.
“This place is gorgeous,” I said. “Have you ever heard of or seen anyone rock climbing out here?”
He cracked a smile.
“Well, there are a lot of rocks out there,” he said slowly. Then he added, “I imagine that if you can see it, you can probably climb it.”
Visit Chris Parker's Facebook page to follow his music.