The art of snake charming
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Does Doubt ever die?
That little scratch of an inner voice, a composite of all antagonists – I’ve tried to strangle it through my entire life, but it always comes gasping back in vulnerable moments. I long for a way to face it head on, but that only gives it more power. It lashes my back and I have to ignore it even as I feel spittle on the side of my face from its raspy laugh.
When I was a 21-year-old college student, I had an addiction of rock climbing without a rope. I liked the flutter of facing fear straight on, the focus and vibrant intensity of those moments. I’m afraid of heights and plenty afraid of falling, too. Climbing a 600-foot cliff with nothing but my feet and fingers to carry me safely to the top gave me a sense of empowerment.
My free solos became bigger and harder every week. I climbed before class, when Eldorado Canyon was still shrouded in long, morning shadows. I climbed up to ledges to do reading assignments and I climbed into sunsets. Every time I walked out the door of my apartment, I thought I was ready to die.
In retrospect, I was searching for direction. I was failing a class for my first and only time. My love life was confused and I didn’t know where I would go after graduation. In other words, Doubt was behind everything in front of me and the best way I knew how to face it was to step onto a rock and place my hands around the snake.
The serpent took me into the sky, its body rising endlessly from the ground. One evening, I looked down.
Yellow lichen speckled the red rock like flames above the rushing, boulder-choked river. Water crashed through the canyon with a steady, pounding rumble, but it was little more than a whisper amid the empty space I occupied. The rock rose straight above me for another 300 feet, and I suddenly realized I was stuck.
The little triangular ledge that sloped under my feet seemed to shrink as I contemplated a traverse to a finger crack that was my only way off the wall. My body started shaking. Dad was expecting me for dinner in a few hours, and I imagined him waiting at the table for his dead son.
At least I knew I was too distracted to climb anywhere safely. It took 20 minutes of meditating to rope my chaotic mind back into balance.
As much as I regretted my predicament, there was no changing the past. I had to accept the situation and reach for a solution at the top of a dangling question mark.
There is no escaping Doubt. There are no guarantees we won’t be destroyed at any moment, but we must always believe in something beyond failure or demise.
My girlfriend’s brother died when he fell down some stairs at home. Now Mandi fears random possibilities. She isn’t sure she’ll be OK even walking down the sidewalk, and it’s understandable.
She once had visions of a semi truck crashing over the guardrail in Glenwood Canyon and falling on top of us as we strolled along the bike path. She said she knew it was very unlikely but couldn’t help feeling afraid. Two weeks ago, a truck did just that, careening off an overpass in Avon, landing on top of a car and exploding.
Doubt has a strange way of manifesting itself into reality. That’s why we have to ignore it when everything is on the line, the shadow of the serpent behind us. Don’t look back, don’t second guess. Don’t look it in the eyes and make it real. Focus on the problem instead.
A friend of mine recently said it best after winning an 18-hour mountain bike race for the third consecutive time: “The brain is the limiting factor, not the body. … When you get that deep into the pain cave, you think about the lap you’re on, not about the seven hours that lie ahead.”
Truthfully, at this moment, I’m having doubts about my writing career. I feel stuck, rising higher on a mountain of debt. I don’t know where to go and the apprehension strangles creativity. Then I breathe and do what I do: Write.
Thanks for the inspiration, Darin.
– “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of the month. Derek Franz writes for the Eagle Valley Enterprise and lives in Carbondale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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