I just climbed a dam in ballet flats. I started my trek with them and ended without them.
I’ve taken a few days off to reconnect with myself, my inner child, my inner artist. I spend so much of my time in the very center of my city and decided to take a drive out to a large reservoir west of town.
Kansas is so flat. And I love that. The big skies dwarf me and every now and then it helps to put things into perspective to remind yourself that you’re a speck of dust on a big blue dot that’s traversing the spacetime continuum. It makes your problems seem small in comparison to the bigger picture, which brings a sense of much needed relief.
As I drove past the megalithic dam, I wanted to climb it. I’ve wanted to climb it since I was a kid. It’s very nearly the closest thing we have to a mountain or large hill in these parts. As I drove towards the structure, surrounded by prairie dotted by the occasional homestead, I swear I heard the cry of a soul who’d died on that prairie over 100 years ago. This woman, who was alone, had come to terms with the length of the remaining winter, the remaining rations, and that her lover would not make it back to her with provisions. She logically thought through what needed to be done and she’d transcended her desperation and was quite at peace with dying alone on the cold prairie. That memory-wave swept across the plains as I tuned in like a radio. I felt admiration for this woman. Perhaps this interception was a projection of my imagination, and I gleaned from it that we are to die to ourselves many times within the course of a lifetime.
Paulo Coelho writes about walking across an iced over fountain in the middle of Switzerland. There was no ‘reason’ behind what he was doing. It wasn’t logical. But the act of doing it brought him to both a place of trust in the universe and confidence in himself and brought him utterly into the present. He did it, just because. It’s a good exercise to get out of your comfort zone. It’s how you grow.
So as I slowed my car down, still not sure I would climb, I knew that just the act of slowing my car down was aligning me with the act of climbing this hill. There was a No Trespassing sign. There were probably snakes, and stickers, and ticks. I was wearing ballet flats and the grasses were as tall as me in spots. But I had left my phone at home, specifically so that I wouldn’t be distracted by any opportunities to be a Kansas kid that might present themselves. And I decided to go for it.
I parked my car on a dirt road, got out, and crossed the street. I stepped into the prairie grass and down into a little ditch and worked my way back out of the ditch, step by step. The grass grew higher around me and seeds began to fill my shoes. I kept on. I tried to look for snakes, to step lightly, to keep an eye out for poison ivy. The flat of the land began to curve upward.
I kept walking, taking tiny steps, feeling how the incline made me slip in my own shoes and I began to wonder if I’d be better off without them. I integrated myself into my new reality, and the tall, well rooted stalks of grass offered themselves to me, they beckoned me to hold onto to them, they told me they’d keep me steady. I learned quickly that I could part the grasses and create a path, ever upward on a 45 degree angle. I stopped halfway, seeing that I was as close to the top as I was the the bottom and it had seemed like only seconds had gone by in my ascent. I felt strong and continued, making it to the top and feeling like I’d done what just a few minutes earlier seemed next to impossible. I looked out over the crest of the dam, shored up by concrete in a banal expanse of visual respite. I saw the mouths of hungry catfish opening like lotus blossoms at the edge where the water met cement.
I let go of a gasp. I made a whoop. And I sat. I had scratches, my shoes were filled with a padding of grass seeds. I found a tick crawling on my ankle, and I wiped it off me, knowing there were probably more. I looked across the expanse of lake and sky, and I felt a sort of nothing, a sort of calm. The moment didn’t last long. I wanted to make my way down. And now there were new thoughts to conquer. I was afraid of falling, of slipping in my shoes, of being caught. Just as I thought that thought a car drove past and honked, so I waved, thinking how out of character this whole venture was for me, which is exactly why I needed to do it.
I scampered my way down, leaning back, realizing that if I fell backwards the angel of the hill would catch me. The same plants that were swirling in the wind and giving me vertigo to look at offered themselves to aid my descent. I planted my heel firmly into each step, and took the climb down inch by inch, using the stocks of grass like reigns, and they cradled my feet making me feel more secure. Halfway down, again, I paused, feeling how doable this whole thing was. At that moment, my worst fear came true and I fell backwards, catching myself in the soft grass. I took this as a directive, a chance to try something new, and turned around to climb down on my hands and feet, like going backwards down a ladder. It helped and I was at the bottom of the hill walking towards the road in no time.
No snakes, no cops to tell me I was trespassing. Just an adventure, bringing me into the present, pushing me out my comfort zone, challenging me. And without this written record, no one would know that’d happened but me. I’ll never climb Everest, but for just a moment, I could begin to fathom the appeal.
I got in my car, driving home, itching from grass scratches, and crawling with a few ticks I picked off and threw out the window as they climbed my neck to reach my scalp. The ride home was uneventful. My shoes were ruined and I threw them away, they only cost about the same amount as my latte. I walked into my bungalow and headed straight for the bathroom. I stripped slowly, looking for ticks, and found only one. I hopped in the shower, scrubbing, shaving, and adding peppermint oil to my shampoo and soap to repel any ticks I might’ve missed.
Clean and rejuvenated, I poured myself a water and sat down to write this, this meta-expression of me.