Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Magic Carpet Ride

May 18th, 2014

Remembrance of Geoff, at Carderock.

                It was a fine spring day; the river was high, and Carderock was a sea of mud in all but the central core, from Biceps to the Dream. A crowd of mismatched persons of all types gathered in the parking lot and told stories, passed around old snapshots, listened to an old tape; trying to pin down a man who was widely known and liked, and instantly identifiable, and yet was also elusive, secretive and perplexing when one tried to get too close. He was notoriously averse to having his picture taken, yet many have surfaced, which might or might not yield clues to the man. Not imagining I had fewer years of his company left than I had anticipated, I was never systematic about recording his exploits or documenting him, though I and others often thought we ought to get together and do that. But eventually he became more at ease with my occasional camera, as does a wild animal with the naturalist's camera trained on its watering hole.


                  We stood around and talked, lunched on excellent potluck fare, drank lemonade in the shade, and eventually drifted away; some of us filtered down to the X and did a little very lazy bouldering, and lay around in casual conversation. There was a sleepy feeling, and lack of any ambition; I had brought toproping gear out of pure habit, but made no move to set anything up. I thought about the difficulty of really explaining even the few easier problems I can still remember well. A brilliant tapestry of intricate and beautiful problems, scrolled across a quarter century, lit by delectable sunlight, inexorably fades even as we try to grasp and hold it. What is indelible is the good-natured feeling of our interactions on that gray schist.



                  By weird coincidence, the day after the event Hannah ran across a set of photos in her computer taken in the fall of 2011, of a group of us goofing off at Jan's face. I did not remember them and don't even know who took them. One of them is a group portrait, shown below; and it is remarkable in that Geoff is front and center, smiling, at ease, and I think, finally allowing himself full and appropriate membership, in harmony with humanity, so to speak. Those who spoke of him at the event rightly stressed his very gregarious nature, his basic love of people and his willingness, nay, eagerness to teach and help others; I feel that it took him many years to grow out of, or at least soften, his distrust of others and his need to dominate any contest. I like to think this photo is evidence of that.



left to right: Steve Tise, Andy Bennett, Geoff Farrar, John Gregory, John Ely, Dave Rockwell, Chris Mrozowski.

I couldn't speak at the gathering; I knew that I would embarrass myself with a show of emotion. But if I could, I would have said something like this, clich├ęd as it is:

                   My name is Dave Rockwell. At a rough estimate I bouldered with Geoff about 500 times.  All men must die. As climbers maybe we are less squeamish about death than some, but it still stings. We've lost a senior member of our expedition, so to speak; and a loyal companion on the steep and rocky climb. We'll just have to continue on without him. But we'll keep close at hand the useful knowledge that he tried to get through our heads: which is that in fact we can solve problems that we're sure are impossible. Like:
                  “Geoff, I can't stand up on this! There's no foothold here!”
                  “Yes you can. Just hold your foot like I showed you and straighten your back. Now: just stand up!”
                    And we did.


                    L. Frank Baum specified that Ozma of Oz crossed the deadly desert, which is death to step upon, on a large magic carpet that unrolled in front of her and rolled up again behind her, as she was drawn in her chariot by the Cowardly Lion and the Hungry Tiger, and followed by her entourage. He probably did not intend it as a beautiful metaphor for life and consciousness itself, proceeding along over the meaningless abyss of the physical world through an inexplicable process of continual creation and amazement, so to speak. On this journey, our companions and our companionship on this strange carpet are everything. The rest is silence.




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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.