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09 January, 2010

Ascent of a Man

I am the luckiest boy in the land. Sometimes I get to climb--trees, boulders, low cliffs for the most part--and it counts as work. A perch which reveals a site to the camera, a cave commanding a closer look-see, a ledge leading to more human habitat. The missions vary, but the fun is the same, my monkey self grins for the sheer joy of the climb, my crowness anticipates some fine shiny object up top. Meanwhile wheeling high above, a raven chukles at the teeniness of my ground-bound ascent.

This week I climbed a few boulders at the behest of my inner meerkat, who needed a look around. But the best climb was up a steep stream. It was work-related in the sense that it would give me an overview of the Deer Creek valley, but I didn't expect any finds amid scoured granite scree, and at least part of the allure was the frozen waterfall.

More clamber than climb, with a stable bed of dry boulders, the ascent was a piece of cake, safe even. A rational and just god might reserve the best rewards for the greatest efforts and epiphanies for the worthy, but I got my shiny objects anyway. The pool below the waterfall was a frenetic merangue, tossing froth and splash around its edges, which at 2000' elevation this time of year means ice. Encasing twig and boulder alike in rippling crystal, stalactiting from branches: ice. And on boulders in the splash zone: multitudes of marbles, cornlike phalanxes of kernels, thousands of little globs of ice stuck together. I imagined them as splashes frozen in mid-air and cemented to the boulder by the miasma of fine frozen spray.

These little globes, each a mirror and a fisheye lens, all more or less the same size but each unique, dazzling and befuddling. Thousands of suns and skies reflected on bulgy little surfaces, lens stacked on stygmatic lens, images of stone crystals refracted, distorted and flipped through each layer. General focus was impossible and isolating one globule among the multitude was nearly so, such was the optic trickery. Somehow the accumulation of thousands of well-defined iceballs, each a perfectly clear lens and polished mirror, added up to an impressionist effect.

Enough of the stone was dry to make reaching the top of the falls possible without having the climb the ice itself, but on either side of the torrent flowed a cascade of ice. From far below, I gazed on what I thought was a wide fall, but at the base pool it was clear that the most of it was ice, a snapshot of a fall stalled for the winter.

Above the top now and moving like a bug, limbs akimbo and body low, I moved closer to the lip, wanting to see the top of this rampart, to look down. And sprawled there, legs and belly laid on dry stone so my shoulders and head could crane out over the drop, I saw that maybe my fuzzy impression from afar had not been so far off. In the channel there seemed to be frozen sections. The ice's edges seemed to be splashing, sheets of it were covered in ripples like flowing water, and bubbles of liquid flowed through pockets of air between ice and stone. Had I had all day, I am sure I would have seen the ice itself flowing. Boulders glazed in a thin sheet of ice or glossed by water spray could only be discerned by touch. All boundaries and edges were twisted, obscured, turned round, refusing to be pinned down.

It was a fine climb, and had I never made that effort, little as it was, I would have missed these icy miracles. As it was, monkey me had a fun detour, crow me was rewarded with dazzling treasures, and my human mind was treated to optical illusions and a lesson on the mutability of boundaries.

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