I used to tell people that I was afraid of heights, and I believed it to be true. I don’t like to fall, and I don’t like pain, and I’m almost certain that I would not like death. So naturally I’m wary of anything that increases the likelihood of falling, pain, or death. But my “fear” of heights is and always has been a product of rational thought, the normal caution of a person who doesn’t want to be hurt and who accepts that she’s a bit of a klutz (I inherited my mother’s ability to “trip over a piece of paper,” as she puts it).
But there are people who, I have since learned, fear heights in a terrible, crippling way. That’s not me. And once I realized that I wasn’t really afraid, I came to understand that I actually like heights as long as I know that I am safe. Some of my fondest memories are of ascending to the top of the Empire State Building in New York, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Scott Monument in Ediburgh, the London Eye in London, and the Space Needle in Seattle. And I think there’s almost nothing cooler than flying in an airplane and looking down at the the little, sky-reflecting mirrors that are, to people on the ground, large ponds and lakes. I don’t know whether it’s the view, or the feeling of being above it all, or just being closer to the sun and the sky, but I love to be up high.
There are all sorts of minor high points in the woods, including dozens of big boulders, gifts perhaps of some long vanished glacier, just sitting there in the thick of the trees. I see these high points and I often think to myself, “That looks like a lovely spot to perch.” I want to get up there and sit for a while, and have a picnic, or write, or just contemplate life. But I never do.
Procrastination and indifference have taken over too much of my life! They are, in their own way, as bad as the more obviously destructive behaviors, like drinking and drugging. There are so many ideas that I have, small ones like this idea of perching, and bigger ones, like ideas for songs and stories, that I never pursue. I keep thinking how great it would be if I did, and I never give up the idea that I might someday, but I keep pushing off any work that might lead to accomplishment.
So I decided that this month, as part of my ongoing war with these soul-destroying habits, that I would do three small things that I keep meaning to do but never get around to. I picked perching as my first goal. December is, of course, the worst possible month to make such a resolution. Not only is it a busy month dominated by Christmas preparations but, as luck would have it, I have a work deadline right in the middle of it. It’s also frigid outside right now. Who in their right mind would want to perch on a cold rock at this time of year?
Well, sometimes the worst time is the best time. However illogical that might sound, I figure that if you can do something at the worst of times, you can do it better at the best of times. The trick is just to get started. Do it once, even if the timing sucks. If it works at all, and you like it, do it again, and do it better next time.
A few days ago it started to snow, so I went for a walk in the woods. I picked a high point, and I swore to myself that I would perch there the very next time I went for a walk. The site I selected is the top of what was once a quarry. See how beautiful it is in the snow?
The very next time turned out to be the very next day. I didn’t have a lot of time or the right gear set aside. The snow from the day before had not melted much, even on the rocks, and it was freezing. But nothing was going to stop me. When I mean business, I mean business. So I grabbed a few essential items and out I went. My goal was to perch at the top of the quarry and write something (anything!), so that I could say that I had finally accomplished my goal of perching.
I sat down as near to the edge as I felt comfortable, and here was my view looking straight out at the trees.
And this was the view looking down. The snowy ledge you can see below my feet is larger than it appears to be in the picture, so I felt safe where I was.
Here you can see my “gear.” Yes, my chosen snack was a leftover piece of Easter candy, and it was tasty for all that it was out of season.
The rock was as cold as I thought it would be. I could feel it draining the warmth from my body the moment I sat down. And I was also immediately and surprisingly stricken by vertigo. I think it was the same phenomenon that causes me to feel nauseous when I try to read in the car. I was looking down at my notebook, but I could see the drop-off out of the corner of my eye. The part of my brain that I don’t control was looking down and the dizziness and nausea were its way of saying, “Ahem, you are in danger of falling into an abyss. Could you please move back a tad?”
So I did move back, and that put me on a mat of fallen pine needles. Pine needles make a pretty good cushion. I was then comfortable enough to write for 12 minutes, which isn’t too bad considering the conditions. My pen didn’t work well in the cold, and I didn’t write much of note except for a list of things to make, borrow, or buy for next time.
- Better pen
- Suitable cushion
- Suitable blanket
I like this list, because it speaks of a future in which I do this again, just more comfortably and, I hope, for a longer period of time. I’m looking forward to that, and to completing the other two of my three goals. Look for Part II and Part III of my Three Small Goals to be posted soon!