1995. I’m nine years old. My best childhood friend and I are eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at my kitchen table. I look out the large bay window and watch my father’s herd of Holstein dairy cows graze in the alfalfa field. Their muscles ripple and quiver as they try to dislodge the hoards of flies from their backs. A lite breeze pushes through the screen door along with the sweet mustiness of their manure. Ceiling fans churn and I wash down my last bite of sandwich with a glass of whole milk.
I eye the clock in our kitchen, it’s one in the afternoon. My mother settles on the couch to watch Days of Our Lives. She’ll be occupied for the next hour. I grab my friend’s hand.
We grab our cups and plates and set them in the sink. Then we scurry to the front door and lace up our shoes.
“We’re going outside,” I yell.
“Okay,” my mother waves. As I shut the door, I hear the TV voice over, “Like sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.”
We dash to the barn and grab our bikes. I pull a yellow rope from my father’s tool wall and thread my skinny arm through the coil and sling it over my shoulder. On our bikes, we bomb across the yard and peddle a short distance to the bridge at the end of our road. We set our bikes on the shoulder and I walk to the middle of the bridge. I tie one end of the rope to the guard rail and toss the remaining coils over the side. The bridge is 20 feet high and the water is low. My friend peers over the side.
“I’m not going to climb that,” she states.
I slither under the electric fence and scramble down the bank. I wade across the shallow creek and grab the yellow rope. The bridge is built on two cylinder tunnels with cement sandbags. Cool water seeps through my shoes and I look up at the center column. My friend’s hair glimmers in the sunlight. I take the rope in both of my hands and pull downward as hard as I can. It holds. I tie the wet rope around my waist and begin to climb. The stacked sandbags provide good holds for my feet and hands. As I make my way up the wall, the rope slacks around my feet and I realize it’s not offering any protection. I might as well be climbing the bridge without a rope. Oh, well—this is what I saw in the magazine. At the top, I’ve run out of sandbags to grab onto and the guard rail is a few feet from my grasp. I inch my feet up and army crawl forward. Soon my whole body is on horizontal ground. I smile.
“That was awesome!” I pull up the rope and untie it from my waist. “I’m going to do it again!”
“Uh, Bethany,” my friend points to a figure trotting towards us. Oh, no. It’s my mother. Quickly, I untie the rope from the guard rail and try to hide it in the tall grass. Maybe she didn’t see it.
She saw it. Her eyes are hot and she folds her arms across her chest. She knows. She knows everything.
“Get back to the house.”
She snaps her fingers. My friend and I obey. My heart pumps more wildly than it did when I was climbing. For the rest of the day, we’re restricted to the backyard. We retreat to the tree house my father built in a large cedar tree. From the upper deck, I rest my chin on the railing and I look down the road. I don’t like seeing my mother upset and I don’t like getting in trouble. I’ve learned my lesson. Next time, I’ll ride my bike to a bridge that is further away.
Yesterday, I turned 33 and I spent the day ice climbing at Chapel Pond in the Adirondacks. A friend and I climbed Chouinard’s Gully—a 300 foot, multi-pitch route. As I tied a figure eight knot to the harness, I thought of the little girl who’d once tied a yellow rope around a guard rail. The Climb is a space to celebrate what has brought me the most joy in life: Playing outside. This blog is a platform to explore the amazing things people can do with their own feet and hands. It’s a place to promote the inspiring and progressive movements in the environmental and recreational field. It’s a place to discuss the history and social norms that have promoted some and denied others access to wild spaces. It’s a place to celebrate the healing power of nature. And lastly, it’s a place to honor our true human instincts. To climb, run, and play.