When Groomeo and I first met and were wooing, he worked as a naturalist at an environmental learning center. What this meant, on a day-to-day basis, was that he tromped around trails with a bunch of fourth graders and expounded on such lofty subjects as water ecology, whitetail deer, beavers, and seeds. Most frequently, he had to teach the two “backbone” classes of the ELC: a ropes course and rock climbing. On the surface, these seem like awesome classes to take and to teach…which is why every school bringing its kids to the ELC signs up for them. This means, then, that every naturalist has to teach Rocks and Ropes courses an average of, oh, a hobgobjillion times in his/her career.
Indeed, by the time naturalists wipe the sparkly dew off their tanned eyelids, they often realize that they’d find a trip to the mall in the Big City terribly refreshing. I mean, there are generally no whitetail deer running through J.C. Penneys, and there most surely isn’t a ropes course in the hallowed mallhalls next to the Baby Gap, much less a rock wall to climb (unless, of course, you visit Minnesota’s Mall of America, where all things are possible, from buying catsup at The Lake Woebegon Store to taking whacks in a batting cage). For jaded naturalists, the mall is a cool, shady haven, where they can buy socks and look at overweight people drinking sugared sodas and not be bothered, for two blessed hours, about the diminishing number of heirloom varieties growing on the planet.
Most definitely, Groom was not craving more time at the climbing wall or out on the ropes course. Thus, I knew it was love when he agreed to belay me (not nearly as titillating as it sounds) and make possible my first-ever rock climbing experience.
Adapting to the outdoorsy life, I started my afternoon of rock climbing with a 7-mile trek to the ELC on the Superior Hiking Trail, which is, itself, pretty much made up of rocky ascents and inadvertent slips ‘n trips.
By the time I got to the ELC for our climbing rendezvous, I was plenty bushed. As I worked on recovering, I stood there, at the bottom of that climbing wall next to Groom, eyeing the myriad options of routes up the thing, and thought, “Maybe if I do a swift ninja move and catch him off guard, I can snap his tibia and make a break for it before he can tackle me and start strapping me up.”
Woefully, I liked him well enought that I wanted him to consider me a worthy helpmeet in life–which entailed de-emphasizing to him my my love of celebrity gossip and the occasional pack of double-stuff Oreos in the hopes that he could imagine me fitting into his existence–so I girded my loins (literally, by strapping on the climbing harness) and gamely requested, “Just say nice things, no matter how much I complain, okay? I may try to point out that not only is it inane to climb a mountain simply because ‘it’s there,’ it’s even more ludicrous to climb a wall because someone built it and then proclaimed ‘it’s there.’ When start crabbing out loud, tell me my arms look really buff and that you’ve never admired anyone more than you do me at that moment.”
With the terms agreed upon, I began my ascent. This meant, naturally, that I stood in front of the wall for some long moments, adjusting my harness and helmet, trying to ascertain if someone had hung a ladder onto the wall that I could just shimmy up.
The ladder-lacking treehuggers. No luck. It was time to really, really start, lest the romance take a hit.
I tentatively put a foot out towards a hold, retracted it, started a hand upwards, retracted it, and then adjusted my harness some more. I also did some important behind-the-ear scratching.
Right about then, Groom stuck the belayingropethingy under his body and laid back on the floor, resting his hands under his head, settling in for the duration.
The long-suffering tolerance inherent in his pose made me take action. I put up a foot. Then, well, you know, retracted it.
After much hemming and hawing, I finally launched myself up the wall. At this point, I know I should emphasize how important and life-changing that difficult ascent was–how it taught me about decision making, trusting my abilities, and the depth of my strength.
In actuality, it was replete with suckage.
I had no idea where to put my hands, how to make it easier, or how to get my arms to stop visibly shaking. If anyone else had entered the room, I might have sobbed.
The Groom, knowing me instinctively, occasionally gave a quiet suggestion for a better handhold–but mostly stared at the ceiling and let me muddle through (and this, ladies and gentleman, is the key to the ongoing success of our marriage). When, after an eternity, I finally reached the top ledge, I heaved myself over and sat there, quivering, noting, “I might need to stay here for a few minutes. And is there any other way down, like a rescue helicopter? One with some graham crackers on board?”
Outside of emulating Mary Martin in Peter Pan, however, it seemed I would have to climb back down on my own steam. But I bolstered my spirits with an assured, “Oh, coming down is always easier in everything, right?”
“Actually, Joce, most people really dislike descending; they can’t see where they’re going, and that makes them uptight. In general, folks dislike the descent much more than the climb up.”
Suddenly, I decided to sit a whole lot longer up on that ledge. I envisioned a rich life of solitude and fasting there, where I could replay the film of GREASE in my mind on an endless loop. Who could ever get tired of “You’re the One That I Want,” after all? And the dance contest, when Sandy in her prim, white dress gets knocked off the floor by Cha Cha from St. Bernadette’s? And then, when Rizzo tells Kenickie on the ferris wheel at the school carnival that she’s not knocked up? I could have milked that masterpiece for weeks before even thinking about heading down off my Ledge of Cinematic Nostalgia.
Eventually, though, my stomach growled. It occurred to me then that the first three days of fasting are a big buzz kill; plus, I’d forgotten to wear my adult diaper. The downward deed had to be done.
During the climb down, I did, in fact, experience a little life lesson, a sort of rocky epiphany: I am someone who likes a blind descent. When I can see everything clearly in front of me, I get anxious and work too hard. On the other hand, when I only have an intuitive sense of what I need to do, I can plunge ahead, or backwards, as the case may be, much more confidently.
In short, the descent was groovy. I slithered down that wall quicker than Kate Moss and Pete Doherty can stammer: “What white powder? We just ate doughnuts and got some sugar on our noses, fer gawsakes.”
Back on the ground, I decided I’d done enough of proving myself to my beau. It was time to get real and let him know I’d not be hankering to climb up that wall again any time soon, no matter that it was part of his career; I’d tried out his stuff, and now he could get okay with my bidness.
“Hey, Groom-To-Be, I gotta tell you something: I actually just really like reading PEOPLE magazine and scarfing down the occasional Wendy’s single classic burger, no pickles or tomato. But I promise I will always go on hikes with you and ooh at aspens and stuff.”
“That’ll work,” said he. “Haven’t I told you that when I biked from Seattle to Minneapolis, I had to stop in northern Montana and find a drugstore in a town of 200 because I knew PEOPLE’S Best and Worst Dressed issue was coming out that week? So, yea, let’s go for hikes and all, but when we do, let’s gossip about how Gwyneth Paltrow named her firstborn after, hahahaha, a piece of fruit. Like that would ever happen.”
And, thusly, our vows were written.