“In Seattle you haven’t had enough coffee until you can thread a sewing machine while it’s running.” ~ Jeff Bezos

Christmas 2009 was over and New Year 2010 blew in here like a Western Gull riding a Pacific storm while I mostly lay in a state of torpor.  Much of the freshly expired holiday period blurs in my mind, thank-you-so-much to a stomach virus-sinus infection combo that kept me on the move while simultaneously gasping for oxygen and hoping for a quick death to ease the headache and cramping  — not a pretty sight at the time, nor a pleasant thought now.  Cynicism would argue that misery and loathing dominated my winter celebrations.

Truth would quickly rebut, though, with smiles reflecting off the shiny stuff that still stands out in my mind, interludes and bookends in the form of marvelous memories to go along with the maladies.  I’m back at home in the Pacific Northwest and thankfully spent the holidays with my family. The people I love best.  Even with the stresses and strains that normally attend the adult experience of such holidays — meals to be planned and prepared, schedules to be coordinated, gifts to be thought about, shopped for, purchased, transported and wrapped, (and then paid for in January, … or beyond), the visits with or from extended family and friends, and for most, the continuing work schedule — the holidays were long enough to allow some good ones in the otherwise miserable scenario described above.

Little children — my grandkids — are in the forefront of holiday exhilaration.  They’re perennially on my “Bucket List.”  Lucas and Nadia are their names.  And one of my delightful memories from this last Christmastime features grandson Lucas, 5, at front and center.  He’s an athletic and fit little guy who harbors an abundance of pent-up energy — ALL THE TIME!  Even when he’s burning it at a high rate!  (Which is most of the time, I might add!)  Like his mom, I’m at a loss to fathom or explain how he can go so hard, so long, and still end the day with more energy than is fair to the sane adults who are the flummoxed onlookers.  I have long ago given up on my logical (but only cerebral, UNrealistic) conclusion that “he’ll be slow to get started in the morning, what with the level of his activities today.”  He hits the ground running every morning, hardly slows down during his consumption of copious amounts of breakfast foods — or whichever is the meal of the hour, —  and continues the burn right on through the day.  His afterburners kick on at about 4:30 p.m. when most of the adults are ducking for cover.  Believe me, he’s about as close as anyone I know in fulfilling the description foreseen by Jeff Bezos in the quote at the top of this writing — the part about threading a sewing machine while it’s running. 

When Lucas was in Seattle last summer, a bunch of us family adults spontaneously took him to REI’s flagship store in downtown Seattle, thinking he might like to try the climbing wall there.  It’s a large specimen, measuring 65 feet in height and presenting some pretty challenging faces, at least for newer climbers.  And for a 5-year-old, one would argue that it is indeed a daunting spectacle, rearing its head into the glass-ceilinged sky above.

Well, on that summer trip, the climbing roster was full and we learned that an appointment ahead of time is required.  So Lucas’ possible climb was put on the back burner “for another time.” Shortly thereafter, he disappeared from all known adults in the store and we were frantic, hearts thumping and stomachs in our mouths, with the thought that he’d been kidnapped.  Thankfully, (whew!) it turned out that he’d “only” walked off to explore the store on his own.  It’s a big place, sprawling over two full floors on a full city block, with lots of doors and nooks and crannies to hide a kid, so the adults’ fears of having lost him for good were not without merit.  After our initial panic episodes, and upon finding him safe but a little recalcitrant for having been reeled in against his will, all of us adults switched into “You’ve-had-it, young man!” mode and marched out of the store with him in tow — no further thoughts of letting him climb a wall.  We’d already climbed all the walls we wanted to, trying to find him!

Enough of the hair-graying flashback.  Fast forward to Christmas Eve, 2009.  I had gone back to REI on December 17,  when he arrived in Seattle for the Christmas holiday, and made an appointment for Lucas to climb the wall.  He went with me to do that and, as we neared the entry door, I had gladly received his promise that he’d stay right with me and we’d make the appointment first, then look around.  We did that in pretty good form, although I had a little distraction from an insistent young boy who “REALLY NEEDED” a new set of expensive climbing shoes.

“Maybe when you’re 14,” I said.

“But Popop, I need them tomorrow to climb!” he said.

“Nope,” sez I, several exchanges later. 

Christmas Eve broke chilly and bright in Seattle.  When I reached Jessica’s house to pick up the aspiring climber and his parents, Emily and Kip, Lucas was on full ready, motors revved and waiting for the drop of the starter’s flag.  Fully dressed with hair combed, face shiny and shoes on (an unusual condition for him) I could almost feel his nerves twitching with anticipation.  After appropriate goodbyes to all within earshot, we piled into the transport and made tracks the few miles to the REI store.  Lucas could hardly contain himself while the store attendant confirmed our reservation and talked to the climb master to firm up procedures.

Upon entering the area of the climbing wall, known as The Pinnacle, Lucas’ energy surged even more.  He slipped into shoes and his climbing harness, then listened with rapt attention (Huh? A 5-year-old?) to the climb master’s instructions even though she was careful to leave no stone unturned in setting forth the rules and her expectations.  I began snapping photos with my Nikon, probably showing almost as much anxious energy as Lucas, making sure I maximized the possibility of some good pics of the experience.

As we approached the wall after instructions were completed, Lucas was hitched to the belaying safety rope and asked to climb a short way up, then descend to make sure he could do so safely.  That accomplished to the climb master’s satisfaction, Lucas was then set free to make the climb.  No one needed to use a cattle prod on him — he was off in a shot and moved rapidly up the vertical rock face.  Between my presses of the camera’s shutter release, I halfway mused to myself that, once he looked down as he gained height, he might slow down or change his mind and want to come down.  Dream on, Popop!  He only seemed to gain speed.  Meanwhile, his dad was using some coaching words from the ground but, believe me, they were totally unnecessary.  Lucas was clearly full of confidence and had the stuff to back it up.  I thought he looked rather like a sticky-handed, sticky-footed tree frog as he continued to gain altitude.  And when he looked down at us, he paused only to grin really big, then turned and continued his climb.

There were a couple of muscular teenage boys looking on, grinning from ear to ear at Lucas’ confidence and speed.  A couple of times they turned and commented to each other in low tones, then looked over at me and raised their eyebrows as if to say, “Yeah, man!”  They seemed as proud of him as if he’d been their little brother.  His coordination and physical strength, proportionate to his size, were impressive.

I did not time Lucas’ first ascent that morning, but I know that he wasted little time in getting to the top.  He’s like that in all his physical efforts; there’s very little wasted motion — well, that is, if you don’t count as “wasted motion” the anticipatory bouncing up and down that precedes anything he’s allowed to do.   When he reached the summit, the climb master instructed him to move laterally several feet to release and re-attach a carabiner to a new location so that his safety rope would function properly during the descent.  That accomplished, he then began to rappel downward with a look of familiar comfort and reached the bottom all grins and high fives.

During his climb, his dad had quietly donned a pair of climbing shoes and was prepared to make an ascent on his own.  But Lucas knew that there were only two climbs on the ticket, and he wanted to make another.  His dad graciously acceded and Lucas moved around to another face of the rock to embark on ascent number two.

I know I sound like a proud grandpa, — that, I am! — but I’m excited by Lucas’ energy, enthusiasm and interest in outdoor activities and sports.  I hope it’s never a be-all, end-all for him, but I am equally hopeful that his sporting interest and natural affinity will stand him in good stead as he grows to maturity.  I trust that his participation will help him to focus his confidence on teamwork, discipline, concentration, and the reaching of maturing goals that are steps toward coping well in a bigger, much more daunting world ahead.  That’s all a reasonable “Popop” can hope for.

Go, Lucas!

Carpe diem.  Vita brevis!

Michael

© Jan. 2010 by Michael E. Stubblefield – all rights reserved

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6 thoughts on “Climbin’ to the Top

  1. Well written and interesting. Jason loves rock climbing. He probably wishes he had more time to devote to it, but work has a way of dashing our plans for pleasure. Take care and always have a great time doing it.

    Jim

    1. Thanks, Jim. I don’t know how far Lucas will go with climbing, but I enjoyed watching him. I know such inside walls are far different than the “real thing,” but was pleased at Lucas’ pleasure through the process.
      I’d like to see more of Jason’s pics of climbing, if he’ll share them.

      You take care, too, and stay in touch. I trust Pat came through the procedure well?

      Michael

  2. Love your style of writing Dad. I feel like Lucas rushing to read the next sentence.

    That is certainly a great memory and one Lucas is very proud of.

  3. I am jealous of your trips to the Seattle store, having been an REI member since 1994. The Dallas and Reno stores weren’t quite that big. Rock climbing is a great activity that not only provides a sense of physical accomplishment, but also a sense of metal refreshment as your mind works to unlock the vertical puzzle in front of you. I’m glad he enjoyed it. I’ve found over the years that the younger climbers have both an excellent strength to weight ratio, and an amazing ability to make use of handholds and footholds that are difficult at best, and downright painful at worst, for us “bigger kids” to use. It’s also generally great for encouraging an attitude of resourceful problem-solving and determination in the face of adversity. Definitely not a bad habit to foster in children who have so many other, less worthy, things vying for their attention these days.

    By the way, climbing’s not just for the young – give it a try too! If you can take on a unicycle, you can handle the Pinnacle!

    1. I like your analysis of rock climbing’s attributes, Jason. And your advocacy for the sport is good. I’m really happy that Lucas is so enthusiastic about it — and sports in general, — because it offers those encouragements you mentioned. I might give it a whirl sometime!

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