Elementary Physics

The truth about Index, the quaint Northwest climbing paradise-at least during periods of dry weather-is that deep inside the granite batholith, whose slow erosion has gifted us with copious amounts of steep stone to climb, more mysterious forces are at work. Theories abound as to why there are so many incredible routes in such a relatively small area of rock. They range from the quasi-scientific to the profoundly mystical, from potential hard nuggets of truth to mere fluff and folly. Here are some of the more credible theories to date; it is the sincere wish of this author that they honor the entire spectrum of possibility.

Theory 1: The Fifth Force- Gravity. Electromagnetism. The strong and weak nuclear interactions. The four fundamental forces govern the physical universe as we know it, from the almost inextricable fusion of subatomic particles and the emission of energy to the facility of communication via ionospheric wave propagation to the strange and exotic workings of black holes and galactic cores. At the Index Town Walls, in the center of an area known by climbers as The Country, is a tunnel bored into the dense, dark granite. Large enough for at least five persons to stand abreast and taller than any man, the tunnel is the product of drilling equipment tests. Since the 1990's, the University of Washington Physics Department has used the tunnel for more arcane purposes: to separate myth from hard scientific reality in the search for the elusive Fifth Force. The dense granite of the tunnel walls should, in theory, shield the test equipment from any interference and allow discrepancies in the expected gravitational measurements to be investigated. So far, no one has been able to produce truly compelling data validating the existence of the Force. However, at Index the clues are truly written on the soaring walls of granite as the Force quietly morphs the stone into five star climbing routes, covering them with moss and thorn shrubs in order to veil its inscrutable purpose.

Theory 2: The Bats are Not What They Seem- Bats are a perennial sight at the Index Town Walls, soaring through the gathering dusk to catch insects and screeching at the unsuspecting climber from cracks during the day. To wit, I had a close encounter with a bat at Index last year and ended up having a rather harrowing (not to mention expensive) rabies vaccination series as a precaution. Virus harboring potential aside, bats are a wonderful and useful presence anywhere, not to mention that they are rather fantastic creatures. But moreover, at least according to some sources, they are the focal point of a rather powerful form of mystical energy. Vampires may be one product of their eccentricities, but no vampires have been seen at Index for at least three years. Nay, the focus of this particular energy is rather peculiar: freeform stonemasonry. Inside the fissures and flake systems of Index Town Wall granite, a secret society flourishes. The bats have used this network of natural spaces as their microcosmic empire, communicating via sonar as well as a certain phosphorescent lichen they use for signalling. No one, of course, is privy to their most intimate concerns but rest assured, they have shaped the stone around them to their liking, using their acidic saliva to etch the rock. Of course, the routes we climb are completely secondary to their efforts; whether religious or simply pragmatic in nature, we cannot say. The only certainly is that their presence at the walls is much more than mere habitation.

Theory 3: Weathering- Prevailing wisdom would say that the features we use for climbing are part and parcel of a process of natural weathering. In the case of Index, since glaciation was probably minimal in the immediate area, the weathering would consist almost entirely of water runoff, freeze/thaw and wind-based processes. Yawn. How much more colorless an explanation could one devise? That the perfect flakes, cracks, knobs and other permutations of holds are all mere happenstance that we find under the layer of moss that covers the cliffs?

Other explanations might range from the mundane to the entirely fantastical, but one thing is for sure: Index is the cream of Washington rock climbing. Some cosmic rule has determined that every route must be of at least moderate quality. Another rule has determined that it must be sheathed in rain and slime for at least nine months out of the year. These rules are surely mutually exclusive. As for the truth behind the geological processes present at the lower wall: we'll leave that to the Fifth Force.


If Someone Else Said it Best...

...then why rephrase it? I guess that's not really applicable here, but it seems relevant somehow. I've been learning to play guitar for years. As is probably widely understood, one never really stops learning a musical instrument regardless of how long one has been playing, except by choice; it's easy to fall into habits that may at best hone techniques, but offer little in the way of provoking the new concepts and ideas that foster creative growth. I am an expert at wallowing in what I already know. One manifestation of this wallowing is continuing to play other guitarist's renditions of tunes that I have learned by ear. Still a rewarding pursuit in itself, playing by ear is great as a learning tool and as a practical means of better understanding music. It can also be a trap, as I've learned, because these are other musician's tunes that I know note for note and there is little room for personal expression within that constraint. I know that I need to refocus my efforts, but the other day I recorded myself playing a couple of them...and it was kind of fun. The recordings are overly quiet because I don't actually have a mic; rather, I used another piece of audio equipment that one usually uses for sound emission, not collection. Anyhow, here are a couple of short pieces, recitals, if you will.

The pieces included are two solo guitar arrangements: How Long Has This Been Going On as played by Joe Pass and While We're Young as played by Wes Montgomery. These recordings are my own (note for note) transcriptions played by myself.

How Long Has This Been Going On

While We're Young

As a footnote, the recordings are kind of low volume. Edit: changed the links.



Although I have a sense of deja vu (or deja ecrit?), I will continue. I haven't had a climbing project in a long time, as in: a route that takes a more focused level of concentration and execution of movement to complete. For the first time in years, I have spent the last month simply climbing with little thought given either to being 'in shape' or about completing larger and more difficult goals. Obsessing about my level of fitness has, in past times, taken a significant amount of enjoyment away from my rock climbing. Even last summer, during which I maintained a similar mentality, I still injured myself as a result of putting too much pressure on my finger joints trying to relive past glories. This year the idea has gelled even more firmly that I'm not training for a world cup competition, nor will I ever need or want to do so; pure difficulty (or the arbitrary 'bar' we set for ourselves) and the illusion of success are two of the bugaboos of anything we do here on Earth. They also are some of the things that drive us so strongly into these activities that to others may seem pointlessly trite. This suggests to me that a balance is necessary between the challenge and the joy of the activity. My personal experience is that these are not mutually exclusive by any means: if I'm not challenged in some way, that space of interest into which I delve while I climb (or write, or create music...) ceases to exist. The exploration of this space holds particular interest for me, as do the strategies we use to create this space and maintain its integrity and perceived value.

Climbing is problematic because, like other sports that involve feats of courage, strength and tenacity that are subsequently assumed to be measurable in some way (grades, times) the ego becomes a focus, emitting a spectrum of outputs from the constructive to the destructive. Anyone who seeks to excel at an activity, I think, is familiar in some way with this conundrum, either plotting a sensible course or succumbing to whirlpools of fear or egomaniacal tendency, or both in different measures. The balanced path is therefore the one that keeps us from spinning in place, looking forwards and backwards by turn, never really able to move beyond or to reflect meaningfully on what lies behind. It, of course, only really exists as a fantasy because all of us will spin from time to time.

So this is my meta-challenge: to maintain a creative space while allowing for difficulties and the vagaries of success, failure, completion, etc. Perhaps it could best be described as just rock climbing. I mean, of course, that it's as simple and as complicated as that: having the ability to look external and internal pressures, real or imagined, straight in the face and, while maintaining awareness of them, continue to focus. Sound cliched? A rather pallid insight, perhaps? Sometimes a realization of the most pedestrian truism is a revelation unto itself. This summer I have had the pleasure of rock climbing. By maintaining a pleasurable level of challenge and stopping just short of putting any undue pressure on myself, I have discovered that I actually climb more fluidly, more powerfully and with far more precision in this space than when I feel some strange, obsessive obligation to succeed. I've never experienced this degree of freedom before, at least not quite to this extent. It's really all so simple; it only took twelve years of toil and recurring injury to get here. Nothing for free in this life!