Tuesday, April 13, 2010

In Which a Large Rock, Again, Changes My Perspective on Life

Last week, before a brief bout of second winter hit the Czech Republic, I came home from work and was determined to enjoy spring on my own. I'm still getting used to living on my own (stocking the pantry, being the only one responsible for buying toilet paper) and being on my own (on Friday nights, I am beholden to no one). Korea, in 2008, was the first time I had lived alone during the fall. And though it was lonely, it pushed me to become more independent. Now, I am heading into my first spring alone. I am so affected by the seasons that while I may have learned to live alone in the fall, I feel like I'm starting from scratch with this whole being alone during the spring thing.
A series of jokes has led to a friend and I calling single life "Beartown." The extended metaphor is a comfort. I am watching the trees bud in Beartown for the very first time, it seems. The last time I wasn't living with a girlfriend through the thaw into the summer was 2005--and even then I was in a fairly big relationship with someone a few hundred yards away. I'm used to coming home on a beautiful day to a woman who will hang out in the grass with me. If she was busy, there were usually friends nearby with whom I might sit and watch the water.

But I find myself in Beartown, which happens to exist at around 50 degrees of latitude and thus offers sunshine well past what I am used to in early April, coming home from work with hours of daylight and good weather spread out ahead of me. And, honestly, sometimes when I close the school gate behind me and begin walking home, I feel like I have an ocean to cross before I can lay my head down. I have seconds and minutes and hours to fill up, which in the winter I was fairly content to do indoors, baking and listening to podcasts. But as the sun refuses to go down for hours after I arrive home, I need to be doing something more. Some days, I am exhausted from a long day of Hokey Pokey and battles of will with little people for whom reason is years away. Those days, the couch and a pair of knitting needles don't feel like such an admission of failure. However, after a good day of fort-building and gut-busting laughter, I am ready for more.

So, last Thursday, I decided to take a book outside and read. Having grown up in a harbor, the river pulled me to its banks. I walked along the path, looking for a spot where I could get closer to the water. What made me turn away from the water, I'll never know, but I caught a glimpse of a small cliff covered with grass, moss, and flowers. This was to be my spot. Instead of going lower to find seclusion, I would go higher. This is the direction my life has been taking--I've been picking height over depth for a while now, while not entirely conscious of the decision. This girl who suffered through sandy sandwiches every summer day of her childhood, has picked the mountains time and time again. Up I climbed and settled myself. I could see the river, I could feel the grass under my bare feet. In reality, the glacial erratics of Eastern Long Island and the cliffs that formed some ancient fortress for Prague aren't all that different, if ya' close y'r eyes. It's just rock. Rock, rock, rock. How I wanted to feel the rocks below my feet and the waves pulling the sand from around me. But this cliff, this cliff offered me something new! I could boulder here!

I climbed back down, having only read a few pages, and quickly returned to my flat, dropping the bag full of afternoon reading supplies as I opened the door. I changed, gathered up my gear, and headed back down to the small amount of exposed rock near the river. I'd never been bouldering outside before, I'd never gone rock climbing alone at all. I'm sure I was breaking all sorts of safety rules if not a few actual Czech laws. But I stretched and I climbed up a few feet. I looked to my left and set a goal. Two, three, four times, I got stuck at the same spot. I hopped down and tried to plan my route. I got back to the rough spot and could not find a place to put my left hand. I always like to take a hand hold before moving my feet. I realized that I needed to trust my instincts, moving my feet and allowing my hand to follow. When I made it across, I felt so accomplished. I had conquered so much. I had overcome my fear of going out alone and staked out a new spot for myself where I can read--content to be alone. Crossing that gap in the rock was like climbing Apsan. It wasn't really a goal I had until I found myself with nothing else. Now, beautiful days don't fill me with the dread of loneliness. I can again see endless possibilities instead of moments to fill up.

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