Sunday, April 15, 2007


"Endeavoring Vertically"

When Groomeo and I first met and were wooing, he worked as a naturalist at an environmental learning center. What this meant, on a day-to-day basis, was that he tromped around trails with a bunch of fourth graders and expounded on such lofty subjects as water ecology, whitetail deer, beavers, and seeds. Most frequently, he had to teach the two "backbone" classes of the ELC: a ropes course and rock climbing. On the surface, these seem like awesome classes to take and to teach...which is why every school bringing its kids to the ELC signs up for them. This means, then, that every naturalist has to teach Rocks and Ropes courses an average of, oh, a hobgobjillion times in his/her career.


Indeed, by the time naturalists wipe the sparkly dew off their tanned eyelids, they often realize that they'd find a trip to the mall in the Big City terribly refreshing. I mean, there are generally no whitetail deer running through J.C. Penneys, and there most surely isn't a ropes course in the hallowed mallhalls next to the Baby Gap, much less a rock wall to climb (unless, of course, you visit Minnesota's Mall of America, where all things are possible, from buying catsup at The Lake Woebegon Store to taking whacks in a batting cage). For jaded naturalists, the mall is a cool, shady haven, where they can buy socks and look at overweight people drinking sugared sodas and not be bothered, for two blessed hours, about the diminishing number of heirloom varieties growing on the planet.

Most definitely, Groom was not craving more time at the climbing wall or out on the ropes course. Thus, I knew it was love when he agreed to belay me (not nearly as titillating as it sounds) and make possible my first-ever rock climbing experience.

Adapting to the outdoorsy life, I started my afternoon of rock climbing with a 7-mile trek to the ELC on the Superior Hiking Trail, which is, itself, pretty much made up of rocky ascents and inadvertent slips 'n trips.


By the time I got to the ELC for our climbing rendezvous, I was plenty bushed. As I worked on recovering, I stood there, at the bottom of that climbing wall next to Groom, eyeing the myriad options of routes up the thing, and thought, "Maybe if I do a swift ninja move and catch him off guard, I can snap his tibia and make a break for it before he can tackle me and start strapping me up."

Woefully, I liked him well enought that I wanted him to consider me a worthy helpmeet in life--which entailed de-emphasizing to him my my love of celebrity gossip and the occasional pack of double-stuff Oreos in the hopes that he could imagine me fitting into his existence--so I girded my loins (literally, by strapping on the climbing harness) and gamely requested, "Just say nice things, no matter how much I complain, okay? I may try to point out that not only is it inane to climb a mountain simply because 'it's there,' it's even more ludicrous to climb a wall because someone built it and then proclaimed 'it's there.' When start crabbing out loud, tell me my arms look really buff and that you've never admired anyone more than you do me at that moment."

With the terms agreed upon, I began my ascent. This meant, naturally, that I stood in front of the wall for some long moments, adjusting my harness and helmet, trying to ascertain if someone had hung a ladder onto the wall that I could just shimmy up.

The ladder-lacking treehuggers. No luck. It was time to really, really start, lest the romance take a hit.

I tentatively put a foot out towards a hold, retracted it, started a hand upwards, retracted it, and then adjusted my harness some more. I also did some important behind-the-ear scratching.

Right about then, Groom stuck the belayingropethingy under his body and laid back on the floor, resting his hands under his head, settling in for the duration.

The long-suffering tolerance inherent in his pose made me take action. I put up a foot. Then, well, you know, retracted it.

After much hemming and hawing, I finally launched myself up the wall. At this point, I know I should emphasize how important and life-changing that difficult ascent was--how it taught me about decision making, trusting my abilities, and the depth of my strength.

In actuality, it was replete with suckage.

I had no idea where to put my hands, how to make it easier, or how to get my arms to stop visibly shaking. If anyone else had entered the room, I might have sobbed.

The Groom, knowing me instinctively, occasionally gave a quiet suggestion for a better handhold--but mostly stared at the ceiling and let me muddle through (and this, ladies and gentleman, is the key to the ongoing success of our marriage). When, after an eternity, I finally reached the top ledge, I heaved myself over and sat there, quivering, noting, "I might need to stay here for a few minutes. And is there any other way down, like a rescue helicopter? One with some graham crackers on board?"

Outside of emulating Mary Martin in Peter Pan, however, it seemed I would have to climb back down on my own steam. But I bolstered my spirits with an assured, "Oh, coming down is always easier in everything, right?"

"Actually, Joce, most people really dislike descending; they can't see where they're going, and that makes them uptight. In general, folks dislike the descent much more than the climb up."


Suddenly, I decided to sit a whole lot longer up on that ledge. I envisioned a rich life of solitude and fasting there, where I could replay the film of GREASE in my mind on an endless loop. Who could ever get tired of "You're the One That I Want," after all? And the dance contest, when Sandy in her prim, white dress gets knocked off the floor by Cha Cha from St. Bernadette's? And then, when Rizzo tells Kenickie on the ferris wheel at the school carnival that she's not knocked up? I could have milked that masterpiece for weeks before even thinking about heading down off my Ledge of Cinematic Nostalgia.

Eventually, though, my stomach growled. It occurred to me then that the first three days of fasting are a big buzz kill; plus, I'd forgotten to wear my adult diaper. The downward deed had to be done.

During the climb down, I did, in fact, experience a little life lesson, a sort of rocky epiphany: I am someone who likes a blind descent. When I can see everything clearly in front of me, I get anxious and work too hard. On the other hand, when I only have an intuitive sense of what I need to do, I can plunge ahead, or backwards, as the case may be, much more confidently.

In short, the descent was groovy. I slithered down that wall quicker than Kate Moss and Pete Doherty can stammer: "What white powder? We just ate doughnuts and got some sugar on our noses, fer gawsakes."

Back on the ground, I decided I'd done enough of proving myself to my beau. It was time to get real and let him know I'd not be hankering to climb up that wall again any time soon, no matter that it was part of his career; I'd tried out his stuff, and now he could get okay with my bidness.

"Hey, Groom-To-Be, I gotta tell you something: I actually just really like reading PEOPLE magazine and scarfing down the occasional Wendy's single classic burger, no pickles or tomato. But I promise I will always go on hikes with you and ooh at aspens and stuff."

"That'll work," said he. "Haven't I told you that when I biked from Seattle to Minneapolis, I had to stop in northern Montana and find a drugstore in a town of 200 because I knew PEOPLE'S Best and Worst Dressed issue was coming out that week? So, yea, let's go for hikes and all, but when we do, let's gossip about how Gwyneth Paltrow named her firstborn after, hahahaha, a piece of fruit. Like that would ever happen."

And, thusly, our vows were written.


34 comments:

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Heehehe! Enjoyed this post very much. I like how you convey something of immense value like the intimate relationship between you and your husband and yet keep us smiling and laughing. Indeed the lesson is better remembered cause we had so much fun reading it.

My wife joined me for a 8 hour hike to the top of the tallest mountain in the State when we were dating. She walked funny for the rest of the week and hasn't gone hiking with me since.

BeachMama said...

You are a brave girl. I too may have done it once, may have. But, I truly prefer hanging out reading a magazine. I'll go for hikes, but no rock climbing for me :).

oreneta said...

That was beautifully written. Strangely enough my husband and I also did a bunch of climbing while we were in the courting phase, and on into early marriage...we only stopped when I couldn't fit into the harness anymore with grublet number one growing too big inside me. Seems I liked it more than you did. We unfortunately were indoors at a gym...a shortage of climbable stuff outside in the immediate area....

Hammer said...

You're braver than me :) I get vertico on tall escalators.

Sounds like you have a cool realtionship. groomeo lol that's clever :)

Jill said...

That's really funny. Courting just seems to bring out the adventurer in everyone, doesn't it? I'll never forget that mountain bike ride from hell. When I said I liked to ride, I really meant ON THE ROAD, not on a mountain.

Em said...

I'm most impressed! I do not have a love of heights...so I'm thinking I would NOT do what you did. But I applaud your efforts and your courage.

marvin said...

"...but mostly stared at the ceiling and let me muddle through" made me smile. I recognise this!

Thanks for a great post.

lime said...

wonderful. sadly i dont get to go rock climbing with mr lime anymore because i dared to show him up on ledge walking. twas not my intent to dash his fragile male ego against the rocks but it seemed to work that way nonetheless....

my4kids said...

Loved the post. I liked the word groomeo also, to funny.
I haven't been rock climbing but plenty of hiking just not that into heights. I still kinda close my eyes on road trips that take us around the sides of mountains. Really I don't want to see down.

lushgurl said...

You guys sound like so much fun! You are far braver than I am though, I've been offered Bungi jumping, hot air Balloon riding, white water rafting....UMMMM NO I think NOT!!!
I will hppily do all of these things vicariously through people like you LOL

Logophile said...

Mr. Logo started me on an outside rock face AT THE TOP.
By the time I got to the bottom I had to sit and de-rubberize my knees so I could climb
:p

Pendullum said...

I heldmy breath and just kept uttering Wow..Wow...
Oh Wow!

Jazz said...

I'd like to go down, but without havng to climb up. I'd no doubt kill myself on the way up...

Hoomjux! that's the word verification. Hoomjux... Bwah!

Diana said...

Ah. A marriage made in heaven. As my own groom hates heights and our only mis-hobby was that he loved to lounge on the couch, eating doughnuts and watching football, I had it much easier. I can get behind lounging and doughnuts, no matter what's playing on the TV. I'm very awe-struck by the heights to which you literally went.

Tracey said...

Wow...no rock climbing for me, not for anyone.

And...I'm handing one of those thinking blogs back to you. I know, I know...you've got one. Maybe two or three. But, hey, I got three in less than 24 hours and need to get rid of them. So I'm picking on you. If you can climb rocks, you can handle a few more thoughts =)

Glamourpuss said...

You're such a good read.

Actually, 'beavers and seeds' sounds very much like my weekend.

Puss

furiousBall said...

You just sank my battleship. You included a Babyshambles and Grease reference in a story about rock climbing...

BlogWhore said...

you are soooo from MN.

Princess Pointful said...

Very impressive.
I am not particularly good with physical coordination, nor with taking lessons from love ones in regards to skills related to physical coordination, so you have won my respect!

ldbug said...

Aw he sounds perfect! A guy who will let you muddle through. I always get pissy when a guy tries to continually give unwanted advice!!

btw I hate climbing down, that is really, really a talent to be good at it!! :-)

Mother of Invention said...

This is such a hoot! I loved it!
It's kinda like when I told my Jock husband (he was actually in Human Kinetics but was a long distance runner and rugby player)that I was on the university volleyball team and he believed me 'cause I was tall! I told him my nickname was, "Spike"!
It was too late when he found out I wasn't actually that athletic...the rest was history.

Dorky Dad said...

So do you edit his papers or e-mails in exchange for that? In what way do you flex your muscles around the house?

choochoo said...

hehe - maybe I should just forget about grad school and become a naturalist

Dan said...

And, thusly, our vows were written.

And then, of course, you went out and got yourself some powdered donuts (like Kate and Pete) and washed them down with sugared soda at the mall. Right?

You write beautifully Joce. Just beautifully.

velvet girl said...

LOL!!! I love the fact that he's into People. Groomeo sounds like a well-rounded man.

So... the climber in me has gotta ask... if you were on a toprope, why didn't he just lower you to the ground?

Diesel said...

You know how you can tell which side of a tree faces north, right? It's the side that Kate Moss is snorting cocaine on.

susan said...

You know, I've climbed a lot of stairs for my true love, but that's as high as it's going to get!

Top cat said...

I'm always amazed at the lengths we will go in the early stages of courtship to prove our worthiness to our prospective mate.
You did well grasshopper, you not only grabbed the pebble but the whole rock.
tc

Claire said...

I very much enjoyed reading this. My hubby is a jock who always enjoyed beating me at everything. Now that we're old, I can beat him in badminton and I love doing so.
LOL

actonbell said...

Oh, that's wonderful! You proved your love in a most fascinating way:) I would neverever rock climb. You da Woman!

urban-urchin said...

I learned to repel on a school holiday adventure trip to Devon, England. I HATED it and, began what must have seemed like a severe acute attack of Tourette's when I shouted every curse word in every possible combination all the way down that cliff. Up until that point I had been completely silent as I watched classmates disappear over the cliff one by one.

You are a brave woman. Oh, and I kinda like Us Weekly...

jen said...

In actuality, it was replete with suckage.

this is one of the best lines i've ever read. i was a climber in a past life, and fell and whacked out my shoulder. but regardless of that, while i never became one with the rock like some do, i saw it's intrinsic appeal.

Malnurtured Snay said...

What if you're the Jocelyn with another name?!

Anonymous said...

How many people read your blog? Impressive following. Always terrific and smoothly written. Have you read 'encyclopedia of an ordinary life'? I think you may like it. I hope you write a book. I mean, serioulsy, just do it.