Exposure: Ledges and decades to come

The rock formations that surround me are oblivious to my arresting emotions: they have no heed of human frailty and uncertainty; they will not yield for my benefit, nor soften their edges to make my progress more certain. It is I that have chosen to scale their heights, to enter their unforgiving world with the naive arrogance of humanity. They have not requested my presence and we have entered no negotiations to guarantee my safety.

The ledge is only a few centimetres wide and it is proving difficult not to slip, partly due to the shaking of my knees and partly due to the sheet of ice covering it. I feel the blood draining from my stomach and in a flash, my breathing has become so shallow that I can’t even reply to my rock scrambling companions’ question of ‘how are you doing?’

 Just breathe…slowly, deliberately, consciously…control my thoughts, contain the rising panic…let my body know it is safe…

…Bit by bit, moment by moment, breath by breath my body and mind calm, the trembling recedes, the nauseousness subsides and with a raucous whisper I am once again able to speak, ‘I’m OK…the sense of exposure caught me by surprise.

Minutes later I complete the scramble up the gulley onto the mountain top, able to enjoy the thrill; my fear experienced, stayed with and settled into.

This will not be the last time that I have this experience.  A few years later I am again scrambling, feeling a little like a mountain goat, heading up toward one of the most of notorious knife edge aretes in the British Isles. I am feeling excited and exhilarated. The gently swirling mist is shielding my eyes from the true expanse that is opening around me. I pull myself over the last step before the ridge and the mist clears …wow… I feel SO exposed.  I see why they call it a knife-edge arete. I fall onto all fours to stabilise my retreating body. I now understand why, when I did a Google search for Crib Goch, one of the search prompts was Crib Goch deaths.

I don’t want to suggest that the friends who I was with were uncaring but when I turned around, they all had a look of total surprise on their faces and a more than gentle hint of a smile. We did not expect you to do that, we thought you would just run along the length of the Arete with no problem. It’s strange the persona we present to others.

 Once again, I calm into and through the fear and have a great rest of the day enjoying the breathtaking views. When I return to the same ridge two years later, I know what to expect, the fear is less and what remains is the helpful hint of caution that risk provides.

In 2022 I find myself on another precarious, slippery ledge and this ledge is one I share with the whole of humanity.

Record-breaking temperatures across the UK: raging wildfires in Portugal, Spain and France; rain on the Greenland ice sheets; catastrophic flooding in India and around the globe. I wonder can these changes be stopped.  Maybe slowed and adapted to, but not stopped. We have had the chance to negotiate a symbiotic future with Gaia but seem to have ashamedly refused to keep our part of the bargain.

So it is on this ledge that I once again find myself slowing my breathing, being with my fear, and once again accepting that the physical world around me will not adapt itself for my benefit.

Breathe slowly, breathe deeply… breathe consciously…reach out to those around …acknowledge the exposure…be with the fear…settle the fear…continue to move…breathe…rise up…breathe…find new ways…breathe…be humble…breathe…breathe.

I sense I have named my fear, entered it and now feel it settling and tinged with a hint of exhilaration and anticipation – I wonder how all this will end.

 When I return to this ledge in decades to come, I hope I will be breathing calmly, walking with less fear, having come to terms with the ‘what is’ of the new ‘new’.