Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Crag X and Purple Horse May 26th, 2008

               The river is high, and all things are flowing strongly and well. Many hikers abroad, few of them even a foot off the trails. I take the first left turn into the woods after Gus’s Gambit and wander in deep shade, minding the mud, stalking the great heron,

Blue Heron, contemplative.

and almost stumbling over the painted turtle planted on the path like a little boulder. Past the table block that fell a few years back from its ancient seat on a tiny cliff, pried by patient roots;

 The Uncarved Block itself, at home.

 past the tiny creek seeping into the river, where swallowtails abound; past the still green tarn with a mud turtle sitting sentinel just where a giant rotting trunk plunges into the opaque liquid;

and on to Crag X, well hidden now in riotous shade just a step off the trail.

The common endemic species Boulderidioticus Potomacus.

            As usual my first duty is to survey the poison ivy. It is still nicely suppressed but that cannot last long as the great mother plant draped on the central tree is fruiting strongly - I will not say nicely. I resolve as I have so many times before to bring a small hatchet next time. I cache my gear and solo seven routes, leaving out only the short 5.10+ that I have done so many times before; today I take up the launch position several times, but each time I imagine missing the bucket and twisting my ankle on the rocks below, so I abort; it is an absolute prerequisite to launch that one must be able to firmly visualize latching that bucket to the exclusion of all else. I feel strong and adept, having energy to spare even on the hard 5.8 with the little finger slot that is so essential to one’s momentary survival at that point. The sun is beating down now and I wander through a few minor problems down near the river, and soak up the healthful ultraviolet with my shirt off; my psoriasis is on the run. Rich, muddy memory of the years and decades gone flows through my half-empty head. Crag X has become a central redoubt in my life’s image bank, a reference point of undimmed beauty and perfect love of the world, part of the star map of my spirit if you will. 

Crag X and the Great, Grey, Greasy Potomac River

            A continual stream of hikers chatters past on the trail; none of them see me. I am mindful that the Nature Conservancy now considers this whole area their bailiwick, to close as they please in favor of the undisturbed existence of certain rare species. One climber of my acquaintance has been asked to leave on three occasions; another says the park super told him that no climbing areas are closed. I see a few small signs here and there indicating that hikers may not step over a certain log. I shall of course follow my ancient paths and ways of the past quarter century, not unlike those bears of certain highland heaths that have worn individual footprints, rather than paths per se, in the heather. 
            I bid the local skinks and bumblebees adieu and hike to Purple Horse, stopping en route to view more turtles on logs, accompanied by a whole flotilla of immense catfish lazing in the shallows as, at the other end of the pond, several gentlemen are intently fishing. At the Barn Roof I lace up, chalk up and climb it in the usual manner, but with unusual ease and total confidence at the top, where more commonly some uncertainty tends to lurk, sullying one’s pure enjoyment of the little overhang. I’ve now settled on the best sequence: counterintuitively I place the right index and middle fingers in the nice bottomed slot, which is more balanced and less strenuous, and then gently rising I cross the left hand over to the
exit bucket on the right and walk off.   Young boulderers: please master the most efficient use of all the holds below that exit move before soloing.  You could hurt your ankle if you run out of steam.

The Barn Roof.  Start at the shaded bush and angle up rightwards.

           As I am walking off and at the top of the ‘old route’ gully downclimb, a portly gentleman of some vaguely official capacity politely explains to me that to climb in this park, as in the park across the river, one is required have a ‘belay line’ set up. Rather than get sucked into a boring discussion of this foolishness I simply promise that I will do so at my earliest convenience, and we part on pleasant, if spurious terms. According to him a hundred grand of taxpayer money has just been spent the previous day on two helicopter rescues of foolish river-waders; he does concede that climbers rarely need rescue here, and I concede that fools do dumb things, to be sure. I did not expound on my long-held conviction that fools should be allowed, nay, encouraged, to kill themselves with their dangerous frivolity, thus improving the environs and reducing the national debt all at once. Such views are taboo, after all. 

Igneous Cubism!

             As I lounge at the base a woman arrives: fortyish and clearly some sort of ultra athlete, alarmingly ripped, cut and honed. She asks me to watch her car keys as she climbs the gully - which makes no sense; the keys weigh nothing and could be clipped to her pants. It can’t be a gambit to make my acquaintance, as she downclimbs in a minute or two, grabs the keys and takes off quickly for a family barbecue. I just hope she doesn’t suffer too much later from the poison ivy at the base that she carelessly brushes through even after I’ve pointed it out to her. One does what one can.

This is a remnant of the Great Lost Sigil of the demon now referred to by the cognomen Purple Horse. It cannot be used, having been half-melted and fractured during the Thaumaturgical Wars of the ancient era of Mu. It can only be seen in certain illuminations and in certain odd states of mind. It still possesses the benign power to send the imagination off on a comet to marvelous places. It is written in the Book of Lost Utopias that Purple Horse attempted to bring an ultimate enlightenment, or perhaps a sort of spiritual orgasm, to all beings through a plangent vibration in the structure of n-dimensional strings, but when this process was activated some few beings were simply too stupid, causing a sort of catastrophic snapping-back in the harmony of the universe and eventually sticking us with the so-called civilization we now endure.

             Off through the woods and onto the towpath: photos of canoeing fly fishermen on Widewater, three shirtless lads lounging on the tiny rocky islands therein, a man carrying his Jack Russell under his arm like a football, yet more sunbathing turtles including snappers in a pond right next to the towpath, and a huge buzzard 

 "I am the Buzzard King! Look on my wings, ye mighty, and-" "Ahh, can it, Bill."

lazily flapping down the canal about twenty feet in the air. And as I near the parking lot, a police car easing down the path, flashers on and the three likely lads in the back; alas - they have sinned against the republic by risking the deadly, swirling maelstrom of Widewater (read, placid pond) to take their indolent ease on those small but sacred natural islands. And so we are ever more separated and alienated from our own world.

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He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls.