I wish I could tell you all about Clark in the exact way that my brain experiences it. But that has proven to be very hard to do, because there is something about that mountain that is so far from tangible, so far from words, so far from emotion, so far from human. I don’t even really understand what happens up there. It’s the most subtle of all feelings, something that glimmers into my consciousness and then, in the instant, it’s gone. And I’m left wondering–what is that?
I’ve been trying to answer that question for the entire five weeks we’ve been in Vegas without much luck. Every attempt to write about it goes like this: I stare at a blank word document for an hour or so. I check the weather forecast. I go pee. I eat some chocolate. I convince myself I haven’t had nearly enough vitamin C recently. I eat a grapefruit. I sit down again, the cursor blinks back at me. I notice it blinks in rhythm with the song that I’ve put on. I get annoyed of the song. I get annoyed of the quiet. There is a fly somewhere in the house. My shirt feels itchy. I write three words and immediately delete them. One single strand of hair has escaped from my ponytail. I braid my hair. I get too hot. I change shirts. I google “writing inspiration”. Somehow I end up reading an article about how it’s possible to eat too much kale. I worry about my kale intake. I write a paragraph. I delete it because I used the word “magical” three different times. I file my fingernails. I read a poem by some woman I follow on Facebook. It’s good. I tell myself that she would probably be able to write about Clark without any trouble. I google “how to have more self-compassion”. I write a few sentences but they sound exactly like the passage I just read about self-compassion. I delete the sentences. I make tea. I take an online personality test. I get through about half of the questions. I Snapchat a really close up picture of my eyeball. I notice a small bird that’s perched on our clothesline in the backyard.
Okay wait. Birds? Birds. That’s bringing up something for me. Bird by bird. Anne Lammot, is that you?
Just take it bird by bird, Georgie.
Okay. I can do that. Or at least, I can try.
When I was young, my grandparents owned a cattle ranch in Northern California. It was there that my life-long love affair with places began. The ranch was the first place I learned to love, aside from my own house, but I’m not sure that counts. It’s different. Even with the things that scared me about the ranch–the scorpions, the pool cleaner, the snakes, getting bucked off a horse, having to talk to the grown-ups–I still loved it, because I knew it.
The ranch taught me that we fall in love with places not for their ease or even their beauty, but for the ways in which they allow us to know them.
I think that’s why we fall in love with people, too.
We’ve been going up to Clark so Ethan can try Jumbo Love–the hardest route in North America. I’ve found a project up there too, and so has Spenser. Update: we are all getting our asses kicked.
Clark is difficult. Everything on that mountain is abrasive, and will cut you. But sure enough, I fell in love with it this spring. Every day we spend hiking and climbing up there, some new piece of Clark Mountain reveals itself. It does this in ways that always feel like a gift, an offering, a confession, a show. The wildlife that calls the mountain home especially behave in this way: the two falcons that nest on the third tier with their chicks soar out in front of the cave, twist and dive through the air currents, and pass in midair what looks like a small mouse from one of their beaks to the other. A family of big horned sheep stand motionless in front of us as we round a corner. A hummingbird dips her beak into the blood red blossom of a flowering cactus. A single cow stands in the middle of the road on our drive back to the highway. My shoulder brushes up against a small sage bush and hundreds of moths are released and flutter from its branches. The green, blinking eyes of a poorwill catch the headlight and glow in the dark desert. Four baby rabbits huddle together for warmth and form a single ball of soft fur. It’s even cuter than you’re imagining it to be. Lizards tuck under rocks as I hike by their sunbathing spots. A snake with dramatic black and white stripes stretches itself long in the evening, its cold belly sliding across the desert.
The whole thing feels so special and rare, like a meteor shower, but instead of being some unfathomable distance away, the magic is right there in front of me.
It’s so close I could touch it.
Of course, there are things at Clark that scare me. However, now that I’m grown, the things I’m afraid of have become a little more complicated than scorpions and pool cleaners. I’m afraid of Clark for how glaringly obvious it makes my imperfections. I get mad. I’m shy. I tell myself I can’t send a rock climb, or write a book. Sometimes I say the most wrong thing. I am perpetually hungry. I am a slave to my ego. Sometimes I don’t feel like smiling.
My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago. The day after she passed, I wasn’t sure if I could go up there. I wasn’t sure if I could do much of anything. But somehow, with the support of my friends and boyfriend, I got myself up to the third tier. I didn’t climb, but I leaned against a slab of limestone and shaded my eyes from the sun with the back of my forearm. I looked down the mountain, across the desert, up at the sky. She was everywhere. She was every wildflower, every wisp of cloud, every animal. I missed her. I missed the ranch. I missed being young. And even though as I got older I saw her less and less, I had never pictured my life without her in it. And suddenly she was gone.
The thing about Clark is that it doesn’t sugar coat anything, but it’s in no way pessimistic. It is so balanced I can’t even think of anything to say about it. That’s why I can’t hardly write about it. What is that, I ask. Over and over. I think it’s just all so real. Clark, the ranch, my grandma, every last one of us…it is all just so annoyingly realistic. There is nothing dishonest about living and dying. It’s not happy but it’s not sad. It’s precious but in no way rare.
I don’t know. I don’t know how to write about something so natural. All I know for sure is what I miss, and that I’m glad to have been where I’ve been.