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En plein air. (Adapt or Die.)

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Aug. 28th, 2012 | 12:14 am
music: Walking on Sunshine - Katrina and the Waves

Oh, this old world / keeps spinning round
It's a wonder tall trees / ain't layin' down

Neil Young, Comes a Time

It happened casually, as so many of my significant adventures have happened. Friends Peter Miller and Valerie Gardner were staying with us in Sutton, and picked up a tourist book, and thought they might like to try zip-lining at Arbre Sutton, would I like to come along?

I’d never tried it, but I knew that a zip-line was a wire you could hook to and slide downhill. I said yes without a second’s hesitation.

This is pretty much how it also happened in older/younger days that I found myself parasailing in Mexico ... and climbing on my own between tourist maps in the Swiss Alps ... and trudging up to the base camp of Everest ... and, most recently, biking down Bromont. It wasn’t ambition; it just felt like a neat idea during the brief opening of a window of opportunity.

It didn’t always prove to be a good idea.

Arbre Sutton turns out to be a cooperatively owned playground in gently rolling woods near Mount Sutton.

After we found one of the last places in their acre of parking lot, and discovered that since we hadn’t thought to make a reservation, we had a two-hour wait, and gave them a hundred dollars and change for the experience anyway, and filled out a medical questionnaire, and signed our agreement that nothing that happened would be their fault, and that yes they could use any photos or videos they took of us for any reason they liked ... all of which seems pretty standard these days ... has anybody besides me actually read the 28-pages of the latest iTunes agreement you have to say you’ve read (and approved) in order to download a tune? ... after all that, we rambled up and down several of the trails they maintain for cross-country and snowshoeing in the winter, and caught glimpses of what we were in for. Sliding down wires between trees wasn’t going to be the half of it, not even the half of a half.

/Users/the_writer/Desktop/Screen shot 2012-08-27 at 6.30.50 PM.png

At 1:30 we joined a group and were fitted for harnesses with carabiners (hooks that spring closed).

At 1:45 we walked up to an assembly station for a bilingual introduction to what instructors called “the game”, and were soon training on a ground-level practice area, attaching and detaching ourselves from pulleys and pivots and wires, being habituated to the rituals of redundancy (so that we would always have a secondary support if the first gave way).

By 2:15 we three, friends for many years, all now in our 60s, had let the younger and gung-hoer move along smartly, and were on our own, completely delightedly absorbed in making our own discoveries about how to surmount problems in three-dimensional space.

“The game” requires the players to move between platforms in trees, following paths that usually have gaps of different kinds. The paths are in sequences that have four levels of increasing difficulty (five if you count the level that allows children to be undisciplined and still live), but even the first adult level ... well, let’s say that when I had to grab hold of a thick rope and step off a platform 20 feet in the air, and swing over to a vertical net, and climb up it and along it to a higher platform, I made a mental note that I had to work on my upper-body strength.

Vertigo would be a problem if one had it, but the canopy of trees wasn’t threatening, and the pressure of the harness was a steady reminder that there was no rational fear of falling ... very far. Some paths on higher levels are pretty slack, or involve logs that can roll under your feet, or require you to step into stirrups that hang free from lines on either side of the path, or invite you to swing around oblique obstacles, or crawl through a slatted cylinder, or climb over the lip of a platform to handholds (or footholds) hidden below, or zip-line backwards from a platform and haul yourself up to the next if you haven’t kicked off hard enough. Always, except for the reprieves of standard zip-line slides, there was something bracingly new. What made this particularly enjoyable for us was the opportunity for mutual support and collaboration, both mental and physical.

After several hours, the challenges were starting to feel rather a lot like hard work, and an instructor, who had been monitoring us from below, added suggestions (and encouragement) to help ease us to the end of the third level. Maybe there will be a next time to complete the course, but we felt pretty proud of ourselves.

What made the experience feel so significant to me was a sense of four-dimensional connection with the natural world — the world of my primate ancestors who made homes in the trees, the world of my human ancestors who survived by adapting to changing circumstance, and the world of my long-past childhood, when I would examine every tree to see if it was worth climbing.

It also felt valuable because it was such an empowering way of taking some control of my life. We live in fraught times financially, politically, and even culturally, beleaguered by the pace of change in areas that used to feel constant. A professional critic is almost as obsolete as a chimney sweep today when being Liked thousands of times is a standard measure of cultural merit. And who needs a writer when it seems as if everyone is writing all the time? But this walk in the trees was a reminder that I can adapt. I will find new ways to contribute.

I was also inspired by the instructor who started us off and helped bring our journey to a satisfying conclusion.

She was a young woman named Silke, who had spent most of her adult life manning a desk for Hewlett Packard in her native Germany ... until last year, when she was impelled to make the huge leap to Arbre Sutton ... and metamorphosed into a Jane for wannabe Tarzans ... and discovered that she was a really happy person.

I pray that we can all achieve that flexibility. I am confident that we can all be that happy. Both choices are ours to claim. Many times the choice of our ancestors was “Adapt or Die.”

I recall that we are all descended from those who adapted.

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from: epistemologist
date: Jan. 3rd, 2013 05:29 am (UTC)

We are the children of successive natural selection. By definition we are all lucky to be here, aren't we ?

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