Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Don't Look Down

My parents took me to Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park when I was too small to remember much. What I do remember is a picnic. I’ve since imported pictures of the panorama from later trips to the spot, but the original-authentic memory is eating grapes. Big purple grapes. On a golden-brown log. Legs dangling over the edge of a steep slope that went on forever. Down. Down. Down. The bag of grapes slipped and starting rolling. My eyes went big. Watching the bag go end over end. Nothing to stop it. Down. Down. Down. The thought came into my little head that if nothing would stop the grapes, nothing would stop me. Suddenly I became aware of my precarious perch. I threw my legs over the top of the log, ran back to the Dodge Caravan crying. Shoved my face into the crack of the seat and waited to go home.

It took me years to trust anything tall. Longer still to climb anything. I still can’t go up without thinking about how the trip down might feel if things were to go badly. Ski lifts, suspension bridges, hikes on narrow trails along vertical slopes—make me nervous. The fear of heights is not irrational. Everyone has it to some extent, mine is just louder. It means well, and has a good point: falling hurts. Those who dismiss this point are the ones who fall off tall things and break themselves.

Mountaintop views may be sweet, but they carry with them a real risk. Views like those, for all their stomach-twisting lip-biting trepidation, can be sweeter for those of us who can appreciate the scenery while not forgetting danger that comes with.

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