Belaying with Nabokov
I was not, to be honest, having quite the weekend I’d wanted. I’m useless in the cold, and the month since Red Rocks was plenty of time for me to forget how to climb. Throw in a bad poison oak hangover and by Sunday afternoon, thoroughly defeated, I was content to sit with a Grigri and six layers on while the more robust specimens grunted their way up Generator Crack.
I found myself staring into an inky pool of the Merced just below the belay. Fallen leaves in russet and ochre had come to rest on a flat-topped rock submerged near the bank, and for a while I considered the mechanics of this. I followed pine needles and the high clouds as they drifted across the water. I studied the inverted pinnacles, how the dark-streaked wall emerged from the dim cloak of the trees.
A gust of wind rumpled the surface. Or rather, as it has to my dismay already been written—
The auroral breeze wrinkled a large luminous puddle, making of the telephone wires reflected in it illegible lines of black zigzags.
As the image stabilized I noticed a strange speck moving across the pool. Not an insect, not a fish—the water was still again before I realized I was watching the reflection of someone walking a highline on the Rostrum.
There was the jolt of comprehension and then, at once, the vertiginous, rapid flight of the mind’s eye from my vantage point on the riverbank to theirs, a thousand feet up on inches of webbing in the empty air. I saw their bare feet and the long, long drop, heard the wind, felt the sweat bead on my palms and tasted the adrenaline in my mouth. And—
For a moment, we were both in the same warm green bath of the mirror that reflected the top of a poplar with us in the sky.
Later, I stepped out from under the trees to look up the cliff face and watch the walker right-side-up. But the late afternoon sky was too bright for me to see something so small, and so the scene existed only in solution.
This, by the way, is why I write—even though I’ll never be Nabokov: for the things invisible except in reflection, for the perspective of the reverse.