Figures on a Landscape is a climb in Joshua Tree. It’s not a hard climb, but it is a classic multi pitch line in the park, and known for a run out face climbing traverse. The name always captivated me because of its poetic nature. There is something romantic that clicks in my mind, a harmony, a balance, where our expectations and worries leave us, and we morph and blend into the surrounding world.
The past week has been a strange one. I decidedly pulled off climbing for the entire week (almost) to allow my finger to heal, and took to the water. I found myself working long days without feeling like I was going crazy, but just sort of being able to accept. The waves started slow, but I allowed my expectations to soften.
On Thursday I knew that a swell was building, so I headed to the beach, expectations still low. The ocean was flat as a lake, so I threw on my trunks and swam to the end of the Ocean Beach pier and back. When I arrived back at the shore there were traces of swell lines far off on the horizon, so I chose to stick around and splash in the knee high waves, catching waves with only fins to assist, and flipping and rolling as much as possible. It wasn’t critical, but it was fun. I was smiling again, like a child, and I was laughing. I was happy.
The waves started to pick up, and I caught a wave which was complimented by a young woman. She had a boogie board, and she was as psyched about the water as I. We spent the evening splashing in the pacific chasing waves until our feet and hands were numb, and then we walked our separate ways when it got dark, but not before she said, “I’ll be here tomorrow at 1630.”
I replied, “It’s too late to do math.”
When I pulled onto Saratoga after work the following day, 4:30pm, I was welcomed to a parking spot closest to the beach, and I walked to the edge of the grass and watched the 4-7ft. pumping surf crashing in perfectly formed A-Frame peaks, offering unlimited bowls and shoulders. I felt happiness brewing in my stomach, and I ran back to my car, suited up and grabbed my fins. The swell had arrived.
I caught a perfect wave, a little shoulder, a little barrel, a few spins to add some flare, and I kicked out before the wave could swallow me whole. My head popped up and I heard a woman’s voice speak a familiar name: mine. Two shapes silhouetted on the horizon–figures on a landscape. Two people who refuse to be caged.
I haven’t drank in eight years. Round pegs who stopped trying to fit in square holes, we walked up Newport watching the interesting folks roaming a beautiful Octoberfest night, and I told her of my early sober days struggling to fill time on Friday nights. All I knew of Friday nights were drunken blurs and sped up highs. Once idle and restless, here I am walking the streets of Ocean Beach showing a stranger around–becoming not so strangers.
The next day I handled my business in the morning, finishing up the most urgent assignments and obligations and picked up my friend Tony and headed to the beach. The traffic was horrendous, and I think he was surprised by how much I’ve changed as I calmly navigated the chaos of a 100 degree Sunday in mid October in San Diego. A guy stole a parking spot right out from under me, and Tony’s mouth gaped open that I smiled and shrugged it off and laughed my way down the street in search of the next spot.
Once again, the waves were perfect, and as I dropped into a perfect corner barrel I was too infatuated with this pipe dream to punch through the back and was swallowed up and over the falls. I tumbled and rolled on the bottom and I popped up right next her. We both laughed, and after awhile we both got out and walked our separate, further delving into the sweetness of life.
I have an absurd definition of serendipity: organized chaos. It’s as though when we stop trying and let the world spin on its own it paints a picture of obscure contexts and moments simply attached by synapse–but these only exist when stop controlling and just enjoy the ride.
Today I went climbing. Did you see that coming? Surely. There were a lot of things I’d neglected throughout the week and weekend, and there were deadlines to meet and places I felt I was supposed to be, but here I was again–climbing. At the top of the third pitch after pulling the rope and setting my partner on belay I looked left and there he was, a shadow on the rock: the figure on the landscape.
He was me.