THE YOUNG CLIMBERS AT JOSHUA TREE HALL OF HORRORS
At the roadside pullout,
a group of them,
young men and women
among old stones,
across the road from Saddle Rocks,
arranged in parallel fashion.
A series of halls.
Faces forming as natural buffers.
On the northwest side of Sheep Pass Loop Road.
The list of classic climbs: Jaws, Lickety Splits, Lazy Day, Nurn's Romp, Buckets to Burbank, It, Ledges to Lawndale, Garden Angel, Dog Day Afternoon, Grit Roof, Cactus Flower, Jane's Addiction.
Highest rating: Exorcist--on the East inner wall. Three and a half-stars out of four. 10.5. Traditional.
At the table in the Mothership with Karen, eating crackers and cheese, watching the young men across from us put on their gear. Their van hatchback open before us, full entry into their wilderness lives. Joshua Tree. The national park where two deserts meet: Colorado and Mojave. Rangers explain it at the Visitor's Center. Young climbers sleep in tents or cars outside the park on BLM lands. Which desert am I? Which desert is Karen? Colorado and Mohave. The Exorcist in the desert. Camera on the table. Sun block and water is what we carry. Light backpack and trekking poles. The National Park established in 1994. Coming out of the Sierra Nevadas on Highway 395, we cut across deserts. The park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, higher and cooler. The Deserts distinguish themselves as you drive around the 1,235 miles. We ask the Rangers about the two, Karen and I, completing fifty years of marriage, what are the differences here? We ask each other: Are you California? Are you Mojave?
In the park. Out of the park. Lots going on. Young climbers. Student walkouts. One minute for each of the 17 murdered from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Students in Arizona march to Governor Doug Ducey's office. He doesn't appear. The papers? "Yes, kids can fix this. Keep up pressure. Hone advocacy skills. Become informed voters." Notes in the Mothership log quote Phoenix journalists from the Arizona Republic. I break quotations into lines.
Our young people
grew up watching adults
eviscerate public education
and genuflect to the NRA.
failed to provide resources
for mental health,
promoted policies that turned
the middle class
into an endangered species.
They are wide-eyed and savvy,
I can't imagine
how that won't upend everything.
It's silly to argue that these kids
what they're doing...
because they have
no ties to the powerful.
is a powerful thing
and these kids have it.
These kids preparing to go up this rock aren't those kids and they are. They're part of this. They know what they've been given. What's here. Rock, piton, rappels, amp. Awareness of who they are still low in the adult world. Their language turns up in crossword puzzle clues. Savvy. Locking carabiner, chalk bag, chalk ball, climbing harness. Tape and hexes. The harness secures a person to a rope, or anchor point. What I come to learn: Carabiners, a specialized shackle, metal loop with a spring-loaded gate, quickly and reversible, connecting components in safety-critical systems. Knife. Sun block. Water.
Joshua Tree. Jumping Chollas.
The rock along the cracks weathers into soil. Over years, rain and wind erode the soil leaving a boulder pile. Look for lines in the rocks called veins. A vein forms when molten rock is pushed into cracks in older rock. As the molten rock cools it forms crystals of quartz and potassium minerals. If the crust pulls away from both sides of a rock, or if the rock shrinks while cooling, vertical cracks form. When pressure on top of a rock releases, like when soil and rock erode away, horizontal cracks form. And when the rock is squeezed from the top and the bottom, x-shaped cracks form. Underground dams force water to the surface and form oases. Early Mormons thought these plants looked like the biblical prophet Joshua guiding travelers westward. Don’t confuse the Mojave yucca with the Joshua tree. Yucca has longer, wider leaves and fibrous threads.
Ropes, locking carabiner, chalk bag, chalk ball, climbing harness, climbing shoes, tape, hexes The harness secures a person to a rope or an anchor point. Carabiners, the specialized shackle, a metal loop with a spring-loaded gate, quickly and reversible connects components in safety-critical systems.
Knife, sun block, water.
How did these young people get here? By what word of mouth?
I love the yucca. My friend plants a yucca garden on the parking strip outside his house in the city. It's a forest. He gives me the stalks. I make gates with them. Chinese gates. Gates with no fences.
Rock Climbers at Joshua Tree
I see them from the Mothership, walk to them.
Small talk. Where are you from? Inland Empire. Ontario.
I was looking for a job in Wenatchee.
Wild fire. I didn’t get the job. Rod. Conner. Jared.
Exoccist. A crack that goes up this rock.
A slight overhang. If you fall. I’ve seen pictures.
Expand. Adds pressure this way. Our protection.
Heavy Pedal Bicycles t shirt.
Brian walks over, ready to climb..
Solo hiker, climber. Do you know these guys?
I just met them right now.
Walk behind them with the camera.
Jangle of the gear, walking.
Listening in. Brian. Steel Structural Framer.
Climbing between jobs.
Between the times.
During the times.
Living the times.
What do I see? And hear?
What does the camera tell me?
What am I to make of the young men in the parking lot, putting on their climbing gear?
Where might they take me?
If I can't go where they're going, I can walk with them a ways.
Their vision. It is not the vision their parents picked out for them.
Immersion is a way into wonder. Immersion is one way.
Immersion is my practice.
I have a pass into the park, but the young live outside it.
A way out of abstract beauty walks here.
A walk into cactus.
Walking into stone.
There’s the Exorcist. There’s the crack.
Are we doing a crack line? I love crack lines.
Haul the pack up on a rope.
How to cross to the big rock?
Approach climb from different direction.
Are you guys safe? I’ll put up an anchor.
This is fucking scary. How are we going to get down?
I think it’s one wrap all the way down.
Fuck. I’ve got to piss.
This one’s got chicken wings.
Toss me a spare beaner.
Oh I hate hauling. Fuck it. Son of a bitch.
We want that backpack.
Getting the four up to the crack.
I wish the start wasn’t so bad.
You’re getting me killed.
Yeah, this is a good day, too.
I felt so bad.
It wasn’t the climbing up part.
No, it was the descent.
Attaching a second rope
to kick the pack out.
There you go. Come on. Just breathe.
You’re in there. Just breathe.
Great feet. Relax. You’re fine.
There you go. One more.
Make your way up right here. Oooh, hello.
The young man who didn’t get the wild fire job summits first.
Oh yeah, And then you got that bolt.
The whistle. Yabba dabba doo
Son of a bitch
Finger locks and hand jams are perfect. you could hang there all day.
Frivolous. No heightened senses, heightened awareness. Life is different.
Energy. Live changing.
Run the rope through the chains and rappel back to desert floor.
Behind the camera. Behind the stone.
Permission to watch and walk.
Not able to do much. Steady the camera. Wonder.
Neither enthralled nor enamored with me, or the camera.
My walk with the kids climbing on stones.
Jesus doesn't stay in the parking lot.
A subversive feeling, this reaching,
this bag of chalk
hitched to my belt
at the back pocket.
13 March--30 March 2018
Joshua Tree National Park--Yakima, WA