Saturday, 17 January 2009

Up Where We Belong

I left work on Thursday determined not to waste the precious weekend. I don't work Fridays, thankfully. Thursday night I was too tired to do anything much. I hauled the box of books to mark over in front of the TV, but I couldn't bring myself to open any of them. My mind kept revolting at the request for more effort. Instead, I picked up a book I'd got from the library - the autobiography of a climber, Aron Ralston.

I love to climb. I'm abominably bad at it, but that doesn't stop me. I took it up in the spring last year, and I am making slow progress. I can climb things I couldn't climb when I started, and I have a lot more confidence. I recently bought my first pair of climbing boots and a chalk bag to go with the one carabiner I own. The shoes are a wonderful bright blue colour, and have the appropriate name of 'joker'.

I digress. The mountaineer who's story it was, hails from Colorado. He was in the news about six years ago following a freak accident in Utah. I remember it being on the news. He'd been hiking in the canyons of the Utah desert, when he had dislodged a large boulder, which trapped his right hand. After six days pinned in a small gully with no food or water, he finally released himself from imminent death by severing his own (now long dead) hand.

This story is not just amazing because he survived against the odds, but it is truly inspiring to read about the lengths he went to to preserve life. He was not an amateur, by any means. This guy had already climbed most of the peaks in Colorado single-handed in winter. He wasn't some schmuck out for a wander with no equipment. He'd run a marathon the week before - in under 4 hours. That's pretty damn fit.

He knew what the odds of survival were; he knew what the chance of being rescued was - very slim indeed. He had moments of despair, but he didn't give up. Lesser mortals would have just succumbed to the overwhelming odds against them. It would have been easy to sit and wait for rescue, shouting at the sky for help, until death arrived.

I have been mulling this book around in my head for the past three days. Nick has teased me that it has not been out of my hand. Indeed it has been hard to drag my head back out of it. I am there, climbing snowy peaks, surrounded by clouds, dodging avalanches, abseiling down cliffs. Experiences which make you feel alive.

OK, I can't ski and I've never climbed a mountain except Snowdon (see travel blog), which is a very small mountain by pretty much anyone's standards. There's usually a little train to the top and a cafe when you get there. The point is: I like to be outside. Life is too short, and we have to pack in as much living as we can into our brief existence. As my late father used to say: No-one dies wishing they had spent more time in the office.

So, with my head in the clouds of Colorado's Rocky Mountains, I feel removed from the pressures of work. The petty scheming and verbal abuse that goes on. It feels so irrelevant, when I am standing on top of a mountain, even metaphorically. At this moment in time I could walk through a school day without registering any of the stress. If there is a challenge, then it is just testing my mettle for the real experience Out There. I am just honing my skills in mental endurance to see if I am a fighter or a loser.

I had this image in my mind of work being a storm up high in the mountains. The wind was blowing and a blizzard was swirling round me. I was being buffeted off my feet. The sensible thing to do, was to get down off the ridge and find shelter. There is no need to put yourself in the path of the storm. As a metaphor for my job it is perfect. I spend my whole working life trying to fend off this gale of sub-zero, killing ice when I should just hunker down and let it pass over. Survive, damn it! You can't win against forces this big: there are better ways to survive, and fighting them directly is futile and deadly.

So, I'm going to hunker down, let the storm pass and save my energy for actually living, rather than wasting it, by standing right in the path of its deadly blast.


  1. What an inspiring post! I remember that story on the news too about the hiker. I don't do much outdoors other than walk, ride bikes, mow the lawn, and pedestrian things like that. I have hiked up hills nearby with the kids but it was very difficult for me. I am a bit of a wimp I am afraid. I love the outdoors, camping, a good sunset, drive in movies...but I don't like breaking a sweat. :) I love your review of the book. It makes me want to read it!

    As for work, I don't even know what to say. It s such a difficult situation! I am sure there are so many pro's and con's to be weighed. In my entire life, I have been blessed (spoiled?) by not having a job I didn't enjoy, minus a couple that I quit after a few weeks/months. I once had a job I detested where the owner would smack me on the butt and ask me to run away with him and leave my husband. This is when I was first married, I was a cashier at the local grocery store. I left the job in tears one day, never went back, but faced a lot of debt and no real income to speak of from my husband. I found someone who wanted a part time secretary to come work in his home office a few days a week. He was impressed with my work ethic but couldn't afford to give me more he recommended me to someone else, who then recommended me to someone else, and the word of mouth spread about my ability to fix computers...
    Before I new it, I was self employed, working 70 hours a week fixing computers, doing secretarial tasks, and setting my own pay. It was great and such a needed blessing as there were no real jobs in this small town. Once I had kids, my husband was able to increase his income to a point where I could stop working.

    Gosh, sorry this was so long... didn't mean to hi-jack your post!!!

  2. Not at all! Hi-jack away! I would probably have slapped the grocery store manager.
    (I remember once, when I was about 20, I was walking down the street when a man just reached out and grabbed my breast. I punched him. It surprised the hell out of him.)

    I guess we don't know where our limits are until we have been pushed too far!


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