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botany

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Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) blooming in front of the Monument crags at Smith Rock. By mid April these guys were everywhere.

 

I really thought I botched it. Instead of smoothly locking off to clip the second bolt, I hesitated, used some different hand holds, pasted my feet onto things I had never used before, and then I clipped it. “Shit” I thought. I was right about to embark on the  hardest part of “Darkness at Noon”, Smith Rock’s first 13a, and I was already screwing up. If there was any room for error, that was it. I had to climb the rest of the route flawlessly if I wanted to have a shot at it. The crisp morning had already given way to what would be a warm afternoon, with the temperatures seemingly elevated in the little “solar oven” created by the opposing rock faces on either side of me. “Why the hell am I doing this in the sun?” I thought. Looking up, I saw about 25 more meters of unrelentingly hard technical rock climbing that lay ahead. I shook out on a bad pocket for a moment, refocused and forged onward.

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Spreading phlox (Phlox diffusa) with Mt. Shasta in the background.

While everyone says that fall is the best time to be climbing, I say that “rock”tober is overrated because during the spring you can climb AND botanize!

Sometimes when I’m caught up in the middle of a sport climbing binge at a very developed crag with minimal approaches and maximum access to conveniences (like redbox DVD rentals and Pho restaurants) I forget that the pursuit of “being outside” is one of those vague yet eternal desires that was one of the initial catalysts that drove me to break from my casual 2 day a week climbing routine at the gym and go outside. That motivation has been much more sharply defined as I’ve progressed as a sport climber and found- joyously- that it offers me pleasures, satisfactions and challenges unlike any other outdoor activity I have ever experienced. A stroll in the woods is one thing, a burn on your project is another.

So, occasionally I get hyper-focused and move about my surroundings like an automaton- going to the same crags and memorizing the beta on my project as well as I possibly can. This process of honing in on micro-details – like the way a feature in the rock is angled and at what temperature you climb your best at- can be very rewarding and also offers a nice break from the “big-picture” emphasis that society seems to throw at us- even in natural areas. Whenever I pick up a brochure it tends to be dominated by photos of vistas or landscapes rather than a unique detail (the Smith Rock state park brochure is a notable exception, it features a stoic Ian Caldwell on one of the area’s hardest routes..)  However, sometimes this micro-focus makes me lose that “panoramic” human vision and almost forget that I’m rock climbing outside and not in a gym.

Until I see a blooming flower. Yes! Even in the corners of the parking lot at Smith Rock or behind the Yosemite Valley store flowers bloom , are pollinated and go to seed. That fundamental ecological process is present everywhere I go and I sure do love to geek out about it. So, this post is going to be dedicated to the flowers that grace my travels and whose beauty and intricate complexities that I- as a moving mammal – completely depend on, am intrigued by and will never fully comprehend. I lack the vocabulary and artistic talent of our most famous naturalists and botanists, nor can I draw anything that even resembles a breathtaking image of a flower … but I do own a fancy DSLR that I sometimes aim toward flowers!

 

So then I , an average human being on this planet, offer what I can; here are some images of flowers that I saw on my drive to Smith Rock and in Central Oregon.

(Yeah yeah birds and animals are also cool-did you know a Golden Eagle nest can be up to 12 feet tall and weigh 2000 lbs?? thanks interpretive Smith Rock sign from the ’90s for that little slice of trivia!)

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People often talk about the work-life balance, but in my life I don’t know which one is work, and which one is living, confused about where I truly belong; I feel alive when I’m in the mountains, yet I never stay.  Back home in the city recharges my soul, yet I inevitably grow restless and leave again to find fulfillment in the mountains.  Continuously I cross the threshold between these two worlds – worlds in symbiosis, incessantly turning over.  Both are part of my identity, yet I can’t exist in one forever, not without the other.  Like the sand that falls through the narrow waist of an hourglass, I am constantly pulled from one realm to the other.  This is my life in perpetual motion, a delicate dance balancing pleasure and pain, serenity and insanity. 

by Niki Yoblanski in her piece “the hourglass”

http://themilestickaway.squarespace.com

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Photo by Julie Vargo

The work-life balance has been a difficult thing to strike lately. Like the author so poignantly describes in that quote from her larger piece “The Hourglass” , I am constantly struggling to create an equilibrium between my career goals that I am pursuing here in San Francisco and my personal passion to play in the mountains. One unfortunate consequence of this tricky task is that I have completely neglected this blog. This, in turn, will benefit you, my few readers, because this will be light on text and heavy on imagery!

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I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
    in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
    of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time. 

-Jack London

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Unknown climber on “Visions of Impalement (11d)” at the Trinity Aretes

Lately, my ability to squeeze enough satisfaction out of my weekend warrior-ing to keep me content has been waning. Like Jack London, I want to live, though currently I feel as though I am simply existing. Existing between one work day and another, trying to wring out as much pleasure as I can from my brief trips to the mountains as possible.

Perhaps this sounds over-dramatic, but I didn’t always feel like this.  In fact my first month here all I wanted to do was stay in the city and explore my surroundings.  However, those were some strange times while I was battling changes in life that demanded my mental attention. I also was living in Bishop, CA where I was surrounded by endless outdoor recreation possibilities. Now that life has calmed down a little bit and my scenery has changed, the climbing spark has been reignited. I can trace this back, actually, to a series of weekends I spent sport climbing in the Trinity Aretes.

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