It has been three weeks since P. and I returned from Red Rock Canyon, outside of Las Vegas. And still, my fingers peel. I look at them and think of snakes molting.
The desert was not warm. We climbed in sun only once, and wore our jackets even when we climbed. At night, I sat as close to the fire as I could, as if its searing heat could counteract the wind and cold whipping at my back.
My hands were the only part of me left uncovered during the day. Bundled in long underwear and hoods and hats, I worked my way up smooth, varnished sandstone the color of chocolate. I reached into cracks barely wider than my hands and hooked my fingers into shallow, round pockets. The fear I felt in the past was no where to be found. Each move seemed to stitch itself to the next, until I was trying to climb slower, reluctant to have each route come to an end.
There were snags along the way: too many people on routes, bunching up at belay stations; trying to navigate our way through Las Vegas without taking it out on each other; learning to trust in our skills and our systems as climbing partners. But I left ready, at last, to learn how to lead. With a long list of skills to learn before our next climbing trip.
I also carry that sensation that came from focusing on the point where my fingers met the rock. It was like meditation. Or yoga. Through my fingers, I could tell everything I needed to know about a rock without even knowing its name: is it smooth and slippery, or rough and sticky? Will my grip hold?
My fingers searched endlessly, as P. and I climbed through shadows and shade. They kept my mind focused on only the move in front of me, until I arrived where I’d craved to be: the top. Even as I arrived there, I already missed the act of climbing. Missed the feel of my hand as it fit itself to the rock.
Since coming home, I see that climbing is not the only time my fingers search. I look at the way they fly over the keyboard, or grip the end of a pencil–the closest I will ever come to touching my words. I focus on the way they knead P.’s shoulders at the end of a long day, feeling out the tight spots and working them away. They become communicators then, seeking as much to understand him as to tell him I love him. Writing, climbing, love. All things lead me closer to truth. Perhaps molting–the shedding of the old to make room for the new–is the right word after all.