I played with him this evening. It was funny, seeing his face and immediately knowing without a doubt that I'd seen him online somewhere, but I couldn't figure out where.
It was from that "Time for Three" interview, that's where.
I'll have to introduce myself. I wonder if he thinks my face looks familiar, too... ;)
He'll be performing Brubeck's concerto on Saturday, that's what.
"Hurry, look, before it takes off!" My hiking partner pointed.
The mountain goat paused on the crest of the ridge, eyeing us cautiously before dashing off to the other side.
In a matter of moments, the small herd that accompanied him traversed the same ridge that had taken us the better part of an hour to cover, and headed for safer territory, among such treacherous angles that no other living creature would dare follow.
It suddenly occurred to me that the primary survival skill of the mountain goat is to become such an acrobatic elitist that its death-defying abilities buffer it from all predatory danger. Up on the crags, life hangs on the balance that exists solely between goat and mountain.
Fascinated, I brushed the snow from my gaiters and began my descent.
It could possibly be dismissed as coincidence, but it is happening far too often anymore to go unnoticed.
I'm driving in my car, listening to some music. I get out and go shopping. Or drink coffee. Or hike. Or even turn in for the night.
The next time I get in the car and get ready to turn on the ignition, be it twenty minutes or eight hours later, I subconsciously start humming a tune. I turn on the cd player, and I'm humming the tune exactly where it left off the last time I heard it.
I don't think I could replicate this nifty trick on demand; I'm too absentminded to focus on it for such an extended period. As many things as I forget throughout the day, like orchestra rehearsals and toothpaste, it's hard for me to understand why my brain has chosen, of all things, to carefully dog-ear my music when I put it down.
If it's true what they say,
that less is more,
As I glanced out at the expectant eyes of the hushed audience, I observed that I felt completely calm and confident for a change. Of course I would be; after all, it’s not like I was staring death in the face this evening. No, I already got that out of the way earlier today, thank goodness.
In past Octobers, my outdoor activity usually drops right about the same time as the leaves on the birches. After all, my Okie upbringing was largely devoid of subzero expeditions into formidable arctic terrain. So, come October, I’d trade in my trail shoes and running shorts for the high heels and concert black. I figured, as long as I had something to occupy my time, I wouldn’t miss seeing the light of day for a mere six months while my favorite trails lay buried beneath feet of snow. For eight years, I’d been able to get by with such a philosophy, but if you want to remain a true Alaskan and stick it out for the long haul up in this land, you can’t ignore the other half of the year that constitutes winter. Any seasoned Alaskan will tell you, winter must be embraced with the same enthusiasm as summer, or you’ll eventually crack. Either embrace it, or save up for extended Hawaiian vacations.
This September, I began hoarding gear and hyping myself up for the snow that was soon to arrive. I continually eyed the distant peaks and checked the forecast several times a day for signs of snow. Finally, the termination dust began to creep down the slopes in a white veil. I excitedly laced my new waterproof, screw-studded trail shoes and gaiters and headed to the nearest mountain, Skyline. Though the base of the trail still lay covered in golden aspen leaves, it didn’t take long to follow the trail’s straightforward course up past the tree line and into the snow. As I moved, I composed my thoughts:
I'm traipsing 'mongst the dead and dying;
crinkled corpses line the way.
Through barren bow and branch, I'm eyeing
Clouds of condescending grey.
Come, ye snow gods, send it flying!
Windblown drifts bring no dismay.
Don the gloves and Goretex linings,
Damn the winter! Hike away!
Saturday’s itinerary originally had me ascending to the peak of Skyline, traversing a twelve-mile ridge, and descending on the Fuller Lakes trail. But when the heavy skies refused to cooperate, I conceded to an abbreviated version: reach the summit of Skyline and continue along the ridge, weather permitting, until 3 ½ hours had elapsed. That would give me enough time to return and still get cleaned up for my evening Mozart performance.
As though the snow gods heard my challenge, a deceptive flurry just above tree line joined forces with a nasty north wind to make for a bit of excitement as I neared the orange tool box that sat at the summit. I signed the logbook inside the box while sitting in the lee of a small rocky protrusion, debating what to do next.
Okay, I thought, since visibility’s down to about fifty feet, it would probably be wise to hike only a bit further. I headed back out into the whiteness. After venturing over a couple of knobby knolls and losing the trail altogether, it became evident that pressing onward wasn’t a good idea at all. I turned around and headed back to the box.
Only, I couldn’t find it. I retraced my steps back to a clearing, where they suddenly vanished on the rocky, windblown terrain. Where were my tracks? Wait... Which way had I come? Where am I ? Did I walk past the box and not see it? Is it in front of me or behind me?
It wouldn’t do any good to frantically meander further and further away. The worst thing I could do at this point is panic. Panic causes people to waste energy and make senseless decisions, which ultimately leads to disaster. Most accidents in the wilderness could be avoided simply by remaining calm and logically sorting through the possibilities.
I began kicking up loose stones from the ice to pile atop a large prominent rock. As long as I knew where this marker was, I wasn’t lost. From there, I decided I would take one direction at a time for a short distance out and back. If I was methodical about it, and if I kept close note of each route to and from the landmark, I had to eventually come across the orange box, whose location couldn’t possibly be more than five minutes away.
During this time, I thought about what it would be like to miss the evening performance. At least I had a good reason for missing it: lost on mountain peak in blizzard. How did this happen to me? How foolish I was, to scoff at winter like I did when I wrote that poem. “I’m sorry,” I called to the sky, “I learned my lesson, now could you please make it stop blowing just long enough for me to see something, anything?” Patches of clear blue taunted me above while I strained my eyes into the stinging white that continued to obscure my bearings. The snowflakes fell like death sentences. Frost clung to my eyelashes. The water I'd packed began to freeze.
And so an hour passed, during which I combed a mere quarter-mile section of mountain ridge. Only once was I interrupted, by the sight of something small and orange nestled in an otherwise monochromatic rock outcropping. I’d found the box at last! I hugged that stupid orange box like a long-lost best friend. Thank God, the Box!
I’ve descended the Skyline trail perhaps fifty times, and never have I been so grateful to skirt the same old pesky tree roots and stumps. Stepping back into the reds and golds of autumn felt similar to leaving black-and-white Kansas for Oz. I couldn’t wait to see my friends again, to be safe and comfortable, and home again.
Posing with my violin in front of my audience that evening, I felt no fear whatsoever. No, I felt grateful and secure. I felt a strange high, as though my life had been amplified. I thought about the story I was about to share with my audience, an E minor tale written by Mozart. Drawing the first downbow, I almost chuckled.
I finished the last of my pieces for the art show, only six days after George and I hung the rest of the show on the walls of the coffee shop. I'm looking at it now, the image of yellow devil's club in the sunlight, and I... Hmm, I'm not happy with it. I think it could have been more, although what I created says something in and of itself. Someone out there is bound to like it, but to me, it is a proclamation of why I'm not really an artist.
The implications of failure are heavy. I apply them across the board to see how I fall short of the white line that measures the achievement of my goals. In this shortcoming with the drawing, I see how I also fall equally short of my goals as a violinist.
Trying and failing, is it really all it's cracked up to be? I think it may have been less risky (and less tasking) to watch movies in the evening, to read a good book, or to settle into conversations with friends over coffee. Instead, I spent two weeks shuttling all my spare time over to the artwork, gambling on an unknown, hoping that this creation would finally embody the genius in my head, the true portrait of my heart.
It falls short. Most times it does, by different measurements each time. This disappointment should be familiar to me by now, but every time, I still feel uncomfortable and wish it would just go away.
Instead, the dissonance of my failure fuels the next attempt.
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