sun’s trailing light through the clouds.
the valley has spilled down away from us, i can see it lingering on the trees. they’ve said their prayers, lifted away the light. night is coming. the fastest way down is to rappel.
i am perched, hand to either side of the triangle, behind me the mountains, before me the gaping wide of valley’s heavy weight. he’s already climbed through, his voice drifts to me.
‘come on, shade. it’s fine.’
i step through. it’s a narrow slab of rock, it climbs from scree up to sky. narrow, wild, we have climbed its edges. i walked the rim of light to the summit, even while wind grabbed at my courage. i held the knife of hope against sky, bled my fears into the wide.
but down, down gravity pulls us now.
it’s my first rappel, a detail that snuck up on us both. morning had lightfoot come, painting the rock with light. and so we’d climbed and climbed, until the salt runs in between our words. and our words, they have been few.
a quick grin here, a shout for the rope.
out here, we are the very of being. rock and wind, sky and cloud, we match life to belief. i have held his rope, he has held mine. sun brings heat, cloud brings a coolness, and we are between trees, defying the pull of the ground. gravity becomes a kindness, a weight against my skin.
bit by bit, it no longer howls against my every thought.
now, stepping through, gravity wakes. wind between my skin and soul, gravity is teeth sharp, slicing past the light. it eats my courage.
‘come down here, shade. this is the rappel station.’
he is just down and to the left of the gap.
he perches easily, mountain goat solid on the rock. gravity never ate him, never reached out and broke the world. he climbs like light moving on water. easy, flowing from move to move.
i cannot move.
‘can’t i rappel from here?’
his grin slips out in dusk’s fading light. a flash of white under his helmet.
‘nah, that wouldn’t make sense. here look, i’m tying the knots. i want to show you how it works.’
‘do you have me? are you sure?’
my rope’s stretching down to his belay device, and he’s anchored 3 ways into the rock. we cannot fall. i know this.
‘i have you. i always have you. you can do this.’
and i am feet to rock, climbing down and away from the almost safety of the rock’s window.
‘here, you tie the knots like this,’
he’s shoving the ends of rope into my hands. i am fashioning my own safety. twist, turn, x to knot, i can make safety for us. even trusting, he shows me how to stand for myself.
‘this is the other end, i’m going to knot the ends. i like to do this for safety. you won’t fall off this rope.’
chains threaded, rope through my ATC, and it’s time.
i feel the weight of gravity, it’s pulling me down down down. valley’s floor yawns past me, a wide gaping drink of light and air brushed by trees.
‘do i have to do this? i don’t think i can. i really don’t.’
‘how else do you think we will get down? i should have let you know multi-pitch means rappelling.’
‘are you sure?’
‘trust me, you can do this.’
inch by inch, i lean back.
‘remember your brake hand, it’ll be ok. you can do this.’
i’m leaning into the rope, into the cams. feet braced into the rock, branches brushing my skin. air holds my fear, my voice freezes.
the valley dips into night.
knuckled into the rope, double-fisted behind my back, the rope falls into gray shadow. moon is peering half-lit, over the summit. one last whipporwill sings her way home.
smoke drifts over blue-tinged peaks.
everyone’s home, making dinners. ending the days with songs and hopes, dreams laid out with napkins. i want to be home, i have heard of home. it echoes strangely between the now and then of being. but the rope pulls me down.
letting go, i wait for gravity’s betrayal.
nothing happens, the rope’s so heavy and i am triangled into the harness’ straps, that i must work to lower myself. gravity remains kind.
while wild and dark comes night, tinged with smoke, dreaming of starlight. and so foot by foot i lower myself. until at last i am swinging, feet pushing from the rock. i drop drop drop, air sings in my ears. i am, of course, safe.
north has me, i am home.