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  • VIDEO: Jonathan Siegrist Sends Power Inverter (5.15a)
  • Black Diamond Recalls Carabiners, Quickdraws and Slings
  • Jimmy Webb Sends l’Alchemiste In Three Tries – Downgrades
  • Brette Harrington Free Solos Austríaca in Patagonia
  • Nathaniel Coleman, Megan Mascarenas Win 2016 Bouldering Nationals
  • Marianne van der Steen Flashes Kamasutra (D13+)
  • Alex Honnold and Colin Haley Repeat the Torre Traverse in a Day
  • Barefoot Climber First to Repeat Original l’Alchimiste (~V14)
  • Alban Levier Cranks Third Ascent of l’Alchimiste (V15)
  • New Big Wall Route Established on El Diente North Face in Mexico
  • Epic Ascent of Yosemite’s Ephemeral Widow’s Tears
  • Colin Haley on Patagonian Solo Streak
  • VIDEO: Tom Randall Takes Down the Kraken (V13)
  • Ryan Vachon Dominates 2016 Ouray Mixed Climbing Competition
  • Guillaume Glairon-Mondet Puts Up New V16 in Fontainebleau
  • Job Opening: Director of Digital Development
  • Two Experienced Climbers Killed in the Scottish Highlands
  • Jimmy Webb Sends The Game (V15)
  • Siegrist Sends Power Inverter (5.15a), Flashes Fish Eye (5.14b) in Spain
  • Jakob Schubert Sends La Planta de Shiva (5.15b) in Spain
  • VIDEO: Ueli Steck - Accepting Risk, Reward & Danger (Part 4)
  • Epic TV's Top Three Training Videos of 2015
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  • VIDEO: Barefoot French Climber Sends V12 Traverse
  • Two-time Mugs Stump Award Winner Ryan Jennings Dies on Ice Climb
  • Climbers We Lost in 2015
  • VIDEO: Tragedy Strikes Ueli Steck’s 82 Summit Project
  • Climbers Against Cancer Founder John Ellison Dies
  • VIDEO: Alexey Rubtsov Climbs Three Magic Wood V14s
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  • Kayah Gaydish Climbing Accident Update
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  • VIDEO: Ueli Steck Runs Up 18 4,000 Meter Peaks In A Day
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  • The Classic Alpinist: Ueli Steck Climbs 82 Summits In 62 Days - Part 1
  • 2016 Mugs Stump Award Recipients
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  • The Top 7 Climbing Achievements of 2015
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  • Will Gadd Sends The Mustang P-51 (M14-) Second Go - with Video
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  • VIDEO: Highlights from La Sportiva Legends Only 2015
  • Top 10 Weekend Whippers of 2015
  • Kai Lightner Storms Bishop, Hikes The Mandala (V12)
  • Southern Rampage – Jimmy Webb Establishes Four V14s
  • Janja Garnbret Dominates La Sportiva Legends Only
  • Alex Megos Hikes Demencia Senil (5.15a)
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  • VIDEO: Martin Stráník Climbs Story of Two Worlds (V15)
  • Q&A: Ueli Steck On Reclaiming the Eiger Speed Record
  • GEAR OF THE YEAR 2015
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  • Martin Stráník Sends Story of Two Worlds (V15)
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  • VIDEO: Ondra and Markovič Crush in Kranj
  • Ueli Steck Reclaims Eiger Speed Record
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  • Dani Andrada Sends Chilam Balam (5.15b)
  • Ondra, Markovič Crowned 2015 Lead World Champions
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  • VIDEO: Adam Ondra and Stefano Ghisolfi Send New 5.15b's
  • The Locomotive: Roy McMurtrey – 87 and Still Climbing
  • Whittaker, McManus Claim 2nd Ascent of The Secret Passage, El Cap
  • Sherpa Makes Solo First Ascent on Himalayan Peak
  • Banff Mountain Book Competition Announces Winners
  • VIDEO: Climbing the 9th Grade (5.14d)
  • Hound Ears Competition Postponed Again
  • Jorg Verhoeven Sends Wheel of Life (V15)
  • Adam Ondra Establishes France's Hardest Route
  • Stefano Ghisolfi Establishes Italy’s First 5.15b
  • No Expectations: Joe Kinder Sends 6 5.14c's in Spain
  • Solar, Rock and Landmines—Alex Honnold Explores Angola
  • Spotlight: Megan Mascarenas - The Logician
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  • Alpine Warriors - History of Alpinists in Yugoslavia
  • VIDEO: Joe Kinder and Patxi Usobiaga Explore Cala Gonone, Italy
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  • Megos Cruises the Red River Gorge
  • Logan Barber Frees Honeycomb Dome (5.13d) in China
  • Ondra, Kim Sweep Lead World Cup in Wujiang, China
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  • VIDEO: Brette Harrington - Free Solo of Chiaro di Luna (5.11a)
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  • Q&A: Jesse Grupper – Youth World Championships Silver Medalist
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  • Q&A: Sasha DiGiulian on Climbing the Eiger
  • Q&A: Carlo Traversi on Climbing the Eiger
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  • Dave Graham Repeats Spray of Light (V15)
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  • VIDEO: Jonathan Siegrist Climbs La Rambla (5.15a)
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  • Markovič, Supper Claim Gold in Stavanger
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  • Andy Kirkpatrick Solos Sea of Dreams on El Cap
  • LIVE: IFSC Lead Climbing World Cup Stavanger 2015 - FINALS
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  • LIVE: IFSC Bouldering World Cup Munich 2015
  • 82 and Done – Ueli Steck Completes Alps Mission in 61 Days
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  • Jon Cardwell Snags Second Ascent of Shadowboxing (5.14d), Rifle
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  • Robert Pizem – Father First, Climber Second
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  • Adam Ondra Claims Second Ascent of Sharma’s Three Degrees of Separation (5.14d), Céüse
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  • VIDEO: Stefano Ghisolfi Repeats Chris Sharma's Demencia Senil (5.15a)
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  • REEL ROCK 10 Film Tour Lineup
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  • VIDEO: Sicilian Deep Water Soloing
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  • Conrad Anker, David Lama Put Up New Route on Temple of Sinewava
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  • Mina Markovič, Ramón Julián Puigblanque Win Lead World Cup, Chamonix, France
  • Daniel Woods V15 FA Spray of Light, Rocklands
  • ​The Edge of Extinction - First Ascent of Nanga Parbat's Mazeno Ridge
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  • Dave Graham Claims FA of Hatchet Prow (V14), Rocklands
  • MOVES - How Many Climbs Can You Identify From Just One Move?
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  • Belay Ledge Disappears on Half Dome’s Regular Route
  • Giorgia Tesio, 14, Makes First Female Ascent of Chay (5.13d)
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  • Stefano Ghisolfi Sends Sharma’s Biographie/Realization (5.15a)
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  • Josh Ibbertson, 11, Sends Raindogs (5.13b)
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  • Sasha DiGiulian Makes First Female Ascent of La Coccinelle Trump L'oeil (5.14), Verdon Gorge
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  • For Sale: 10 Acres at Donner Summit
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  • Iranian Team Climbs First Ascent on Karambony Tower, Madagascar
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  • Inside the Mind of Ethan Pringle – Climbing Jumbo Love (5.15b)
  • Sachi Amma - Second and Last Ascent of Tinipi (5.15a), Borneo Earthquake
  • Adam Ondra Flashes Jade (V14), Don’t Get Too Greedy (V13) after Vail WC
  • LIVE: 2015 IFSC Bouldering World Cup, Vail
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  • VIDEO: Hazel Findlay - Giving El Cap's Pre-Muir (5.13+) a Try
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  • Anna Stöhr and Alban Levier Take Gold in Toronto
  • LIVE: IFSC Bouldering World Cup Toronto 2015
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  • VIDEO: Tommy Caldwell Cruises Ice-Covered Crack
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  • Kev Shields – High Solace: Demons, Depression and Solo Climbing
  • VIDEO: Raw Power vs Flawless Technique
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  • LIVE STREAM: European Bouldering Championships 2015 – Semi-finals
  • VIDEO: Gord McArthur - The Man Behind the Machine
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  • Logan Barber Frees The Firewall (5.13d)—Hardest Trad Line in China
  • Sherpa Future Fund and Account of the April 25 Everest Avalanche
  • A Second Earthquake and A Shorter Everest
  • Dai Koyamada Sends Three-Year “Super Project”
  • Chris Sharma Onsights Snuff Movies (8c/5.14b), Catalonia, Spain
  • Calling All Non-Sponsored Climbers
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  • Melloblocco 2015: World's Largest International Bouldering Festival
  • Dean Potter Sets New Half Dome FKT
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  • Big Men: 5.15a First Ascent by Iker Pou, Spain
  • A Summitless Year for Everest? North Side Closed, Retreat from the South
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  • VIDEO: Chris Sharma Sends El Bon Combat (5.15b/c)
  • Angie Scarth-Johnson, 10, Climbs Her First 5.14b
  • VIDEO: Yvon Chouinard on the Today Show
  • VIDEO: Lynn Hill, Real Life Superhero
  • Sufferfest: Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright on Nat Geo Live
  • Angy Eiter Sends Era Vella (5.14d), Spain
  • VIDEO: Sasha DiGiulian on the Deep Bond Between Climbing Partners
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  • Geyikbayiri Saved: Climbers Stop Mining Operation at Turkey’s Largest Crag
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  • Training Beta: Mark and Mike Anderson’s Guide to Hangboard Training
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  • Q&A: Sonnie Trotter On Estado Critico (5.14d)
  • Alex Megos Downunder
  • Roads, Bridges Washed Out At Red River Gorge
  • Kai Lightner Sends His First 5.14d, Era Vella, Spain
  • Sonnie Trotter Sends Estado Critico (5.14d), Siurana, Spain
  • Ramón Julián Puigblanque: Two 5.14d's and Two 5.15a's in Four Days
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  • LIVE: 2015 SCS National Championships
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  • Alex Megos: Japan Sendathon
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  • Ashima Shiraishi Climbs Possible 5.15a
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  • Golden Moment: Bill Ramsey Sends 5.14b at 54
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  • VIDEO: Alex Megos on Lucid Dreaming (V15)
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  • LIVE STREAM: Climbing Works International Festival 2015
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  • 2015 Rock and Ice Photo Camp Enrollment Now Open
  • Q&A: Ondra Sends Necessary Evil, Says Failures Are Reasons to Train
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  • New Paltz Climbing Gym Burns Down
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  • Kwon YoungHye Sends World's Hardest Mixed-Climbs In A Season
  • Everest: Reroute Through Khumbu Icefall for the 2015 Climbing Season
  • Sachi Amma Sends 5.15a on 4th Attempt, in Santa Linya, Spain
  • Royal Canadian Air Force Sgt. Missing After Ice Climbing Accident
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  • Puccio and Woods Both Claim 9th ABS National Title
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  • Sneak Peek: The Dawn Wall Issue Is On The Way!
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  • Nalle Hukkataival Cranks First Ascent of Kintsugi (V15)
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  • Climbing Film "Meru" Makes it into the Sundance Film Festival
  • Q&A: Jason Kehl Proves that Hueco Tanks Is Far From Climbed Out
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  • The Film "Valley Uprising" is Now Available Here
  • The Dawn Wall Goes Down!
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  • Dawn Wall Update: Jorgeson Catches Caldwell, Final Push Begins
  • Dawn Wall Update: Jorgeson Sends Dyno, Two Pitches Away from Wino Tower
  • Gadd Wins Ouray, Again
  • Dawn Wall Update: Jorgeson Sends Pitch 15!
  • Dawn Wall Update: Caldwell Sends Last 5.14 Pitch!
  • Sasha DiGiulian to Compete in Ouray Ice Fest
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  • Dawn Wall Update: Caldwell Sends Pitch 16!
  • Dawn Wall Update: Caldwell and Jorgeson Both Send Crux Pitch!
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    Video Spotlight
    Tom Randall - First Ascent of The Final Round (5.13c/d, HXS)
    Tom Randall - First Ascent of The Final Round (5.13c/d, HXS)

    John Long: What I've Learned

    12-Dec-2012
    By

    In this special appreciation salute, John Long reflects on his life's challenges and grand adventures, from his writing to climbing to women and death. First published in Rock and Ice No. 196, April 2011.

    WRITING: How do you write lightning and a nocturne onto the same page? That’s all a matter of style, which is all that matters. I can’t tell you how to do it—nobody can—but I’ve learned a few things in my 35-year career.

    Structure, voicing, characterization and so forth take ages to master, but these are important only if you get some clarity on style. A person gives off a certain sense of being, a visceral feel. In prose writing that aura is called style. It’s slippery, largely intuitive and includes tone, attitude, temper and half-remembered feelings that stick in your throat. And that’s what you have to somehow hack out onto the page.

    A writer working strictly from the mind might have polished form, but might never have style. You know when style works or is lacking, but it’s damn hard to define. Music criticism gets us close.

    Consider vibrato, pulsating the pitch above and below a given note, a lot or a little, fast or slow. The aim is to add expression (style) to vocal or instrumental music. Vibrato is so common and seemingly so natural that many consider it the mark of a relaxed and mature style. Yet trumpeter Miles Davis, arguably the greatest stylist in the history of bop and post-bop (Cool) jazz, used to play with little to no vibrato.

    Another trumpet prodigy, and a former mountain-biking partner, told me that “Taps,” the solemn U.S. Military melody used for flag ceremonies, funerals and “lights out,” is almost impossible to play because you’re obliged to play it straight. No vibrato.

    Why does losing the vibrato make “Taps” so difficult and Miles Davis’ playing so iconic? Simple, said my friend. Vibrato covers the inability or guts to play each note straight up, without the mustard and hot sauce typically used to mask one’s lack of emotional commitment to the music. Vibrato is melodic sap, a method of goosing surface passions. To play without vibrato, you must have perfect pitch. And every writer is a torch singer working an audience of ghosts.

    About those torch singers. Most critics feel the truest gauge of a singer’s voice is to stick her with a stripped-down ensemble, just a piano, bass and drums. This lack of accompaniment accentuates vocal gifts and devotion, or exposes a frightened poser.

    In literature, vibrato might be a showy word choice, info dumping, brainy references, noodling, commentary or wisecracks. For years I used all of these devices, and it took no commitment at all. But to ever embody the resonance of “Taps,” or Miles Davis’ Porgy and Bess, you have to present with that stripped-down ensemble. You have to step up to the mic naked and let rip a riff, played plainly, sans bellowing and do-dads and self-absorption. Whatever style you have, that is how you find it. And once you find it, just as they do in poker, you have to write “all-in.” Not easy.

    ==

    Climbing

    When I first headed for Yosemite, I was 17 years old and had no idea who I was. Then I met Jim Bridwell, de facto lord of Camp 4. From our first route together, I saw how measured “The Bird” was per the whole climbing process. It took a while, but slowly I stopped muscling through things and started noticing life, in all of its dark and dazzling facets. So ran the process of learning to take myself seriously, of appreciating what the hell I was doing, even as the pitches flew past.

    Wall climbing helped shake me awake. I’d tie off taut on a tapering ledge. The sun would set as conversations fizzled, both my feet dangling in the silent night. Finally I’d run out of smokes and would find myself forcibly present, marooned half a mile up a rock face. I couldn’t change channels or even change my mind. When I finally surrendered to the granite bench, the parched throat and the whole shimmering clusterfuck, I’d synch up with my life and for the moment experience freedom while being literally tied to a stake. Later, I’d go way out of my way to make the first and second one-day ascents of El Capitan.

    But what I most took away from climbing was not velocity, but the capacity to decelerate into my skin and into my life.

    WOMEN

    My life is paradoxical, full of discord and not-knowing. But there are also moments on the bed in the lamplight, and you want to show up for these because that’s where the paradoxes resolve themselves, where for the time it takes a tear to dry, we taste the openhearted freedom. And it’s often just a look, two palms flushed together, all the simplest things.

    I’m thinking about one time in the Valley, at the tent cabins over in Curry Village. I must have been a sophomore or junior in college. For going on four years, I spent all 90 days of summer break climbing and carousing in Yosemite. I no longer swallowed life whole, just wolfed it down unconsciously, tasting little. But my relations with girls were still Neanderthal—either wham-bam, or erotic wrestling matches lasting so long the poor, beleaguered wahine begged for mercy, getting none. That night in Curry Village everything finally and mercifully changed.

    I pushed away to the edge of the bed and admired my then-girlfriend, “Roxanne.” Just this once I wanted to savor the whole shebang. Looking at her—21, tanned, fit, spectacularly naked, perfect in the lamplight— I wondered how much more I could expect from life, and I said so. What a line, said Roxy, and I asked, To get what? I already “had the girl.”  And what might better even look like, if it wasn't Roxanne all over again, tomorrow night? If she knew, she wasn’t telling. We just hung there in mid-air. Roxanne was eerily silent.

    It likely was her first experience of being totally seen—a relief, she finally said, but terrifying. For the moment, we didn’t want anything else at all. But to answer her question, no, I didn’t know who I was seeing, what was happening on that bed, in that tent cabin, in Yosemite Valley. So I said, You better show me.

    She placed both palms flat on my chest—there was strong medicine in her hands. Then she leaned her face over mine. Have you ever tasted a tear? She kissed me and said she could only love for a few hours at a time. But what a few hours. Then she laid her head on my chest and we traveled. That might sound mawkish, but the encounter itself was stripped down, like torch singers in that empty bar, singing a melody so fragile it was barely there. These are the moments that make a life. That much I know for sure.

    ==

    Family

    I grew up with a vastly screwy experience of family. Adopted at two days old from a podunk community clinic in Indio, California—then the low desert asshole of Southern California—I was thrown into a cauldron full of people who looked, acted, thought and felt nothing like me whatsoever. Dad was a doctor, Mom was a scholar. Both sisters were brainiacs. I threw rocks at cars and loved to fight Mexicans, who gave me my nickname, Largo, which is my adopted name, Long, in Español. My family was an amalgam, custom made in America, combining German-Jewish and dustbowl Okie. Years later, when my adoption papers were unsealed, I discovered I was seven-eighths Irish and one-eighth Comanche (easy on firewater, Tonto). Anyhow, I couldn’t have felt more different and disconnected had I washed ashore on a palm frond.

    The first true relative I ever saw was my older daughter, Marianne del Valle, 10 minutes after she was born in the Clínica Maternidad Santa Rosa in Maracay, Venezuela. From the moment Marianne squinted out at me, life was never the same. Finally, I belonged. I had sought and found kinship in the climbing community, but blood is different, preverbal and radically robust.

    Like the time I was returning to Venezuela and got waylaid in customs over some document, and from the other side Marianne, then 5, dashed under the rope and past customs, through the special thresholds, tripping various alarms and flashing lights, ran up and death locked my legs. The soldiers just laughed. Marianne (nicknamed Grillo, or cricket, for her boundless energy) refused to go to sleep unless I lay down in the bed beside her. Every night I’d tell her to shut her damn trap and get to sawing that firewood and every night we’d spend an hour talking the most extravagant shit in Spanglish and laughing and arguing about everything.

    One time Marianne was pissing me off, can’t remember why, and I let my energy get big and I growled out a few words. Bearing down (I outweighed her by 175 pounds), I watched her recoil and her eyes fill with tears. I felt like dying. I grew up around physical violence and I saw all the accrued fear of those years in a face where I usually saw God. That’s when I understood that aggression, if not channeled constructively, will destroy the greatest things. And aggression is always a fallback position against stepping up to the mic naked and openhearted and telling the unvarnished truth.

    Marianne is almost finished with med school now. She was a foreign-exchange student in Germany and is fluent in Spanish, English and German.

    Best of all, she’s not afraid of life.

    Death

    ==

    I recall the early days in Yosemite and doing body recoveries, and how we never could talk to death. Words bounced off the prettiest corpse and the bag of bones as well. We saw plenty of both. Death has its own itinerary, listens to nobody and leaves no one behind.

    I was on Half Dome with two girls, bivying on Big Sandy Ledge when I first realized the absurdity of worrying about death. I spent the first hour worrying about how to get the girls out of their knickers. I apologize to the universe for having such thoughts, but I did. They just popped into my mind like grouse flushed from the hedgerow. The girls didn’t suffer these thoughts, at all, so my mind shifted to the next subject over, death, and all those eons before I was born, and how I never gave a shit about missing them all. So if I didn’t care about existing before I was born, why fret the afterwards?

    All In

    My life seamlessly blends flux with permanence and the unborn. I feel boundless every time I get outdoors and into the wilderness, or jump up onto a rock monolith, which is time in mineral form. I sense the immeasurable every time I pause and note the person on the bed beside me, and on the other end of our rope. I see something surpassing in the faces of daughters and strangers in need, and in the open eyes peering back from the mirror. My brain is only an evolved, evaluating mechanism and filing cabinet, but my soul can step up to the mic or the cliffside and experience the jumbo love that makes life shimmering and doable. Mysteriously, I can strike “a balanced concord with other voices,” which is the reason for the 10,000 forms as opposed to just the One.

    But to achieve that balanced concord I have to play it all-in, because I am, and sans vibrato, because I can.


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