All posts by Tracy

Going Green, deliciously, in Great Britain

Travel is an inherently messy business, something that produces a fair amount of ambivalence –angst, even, at times — in the eco-sensitive travel writer. So it’s particularly gratifying when I find a destination that makes it easy to reduce my impact along the way.

England is just such a destination, with recycling bins everywhere, a vibrant “Buy Local” campaign and public transport that aces ours in every way. EasyJet, the budget airline I booked for my side trip to Spain, made it easy to offset my carbon footprint by checking a box and paying a few extra dollars to plant trees or invest in renewables. Picturesque walking and cycling trails crisscross the nation, and people actually use them — a lot. And a couple of our destinations — Totnes and Dartington — I later learned are important innovators in a desperately needed transition movement toward a sustainable economy.

In London, we toured the Borough Market, a celebration of all things delicious, with a strong emphasis on locally sourced, sustainably grown food.  This market was pulsing with color, aroma and flavor when we arrive on a Thursday morning, with everything from artisanal cheeses and breads to fresh morels and artichokes to pig snouts and sausages vying for shoppers’ attention.

The Borough Market has been a key player in Britain’s food revolution in the past five years. “This Market is part of our new food story,” said Adrian Bevins, a London-based food writer who gave us a whirlwind market tour.

Enter Peter Gott, a hog farmer from Westmorland County. Dressed in plaid flannel, suspenders and bright red socks, he could have played the part of a British country gentleman farmer on TV, if such a role existed.

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Gott was among a handful of regional producers who brought this market back to life.  “Ten years ago, this place was derelict,” he recalls. “London was a desert as far as food was concerned.” A market stood on the South Thames since the Roman times, and in this very spot for the past 250 years, but industrial agriculture and the advent of the supermarket had reduced it to a few produce stands amid all the parking lots. “The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker were being taken over, pushed out by the factory farms.” 

Gott read Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation” and decided to do something about it. He and a handful of other producers organized a monthly market that grew month by month. Soon it went biweekly, then weekly. Word about the “Farm to Fork” movement began to spread, and a snowball effect began. Big-name chefs like Jamie Oliver became regulars, sourcing their restaurants at the market and through its producers.

Randolph Hodgson, the founder of Neal’s Yard Dairy, was another founder. His company has been credited with saving the craft of English farmhouse cheesemaking in Britain from being driven into obscurity by the corporate cheese industry.  As I heard his story I sampled a savory Cheshire cheese and a Westcounty farmhouse cheddar, heritage cheeses that linger on in the tasting-room of my mind. But it was the crumbly Coolea Irish cheese that stopped me in my tracks and made me go back for more.

Here’s a quick tour of the Borough Market:

But the Borough Market was just the beginning. Nearly every restaurant showcased on our Visit Britain tour made a point of choosing locally sourced and sustainably grown ingredients. Here are a few:

Alfie’s, the delightfully offbeat restaurant named for a dog at our pet-friendly hotel in London, the brand-new and trendy Bermondsey Square Hotel in Southeast London; 

Ottolenghi, an amazing experience packaged as a restaurant near Almeida Theater. The restaurant is described as Mediterranean which to me means hummus and falafel — which is fine with me — but the dishes I sampled here were something else entirely, and each was a work of art.

Rick Stein’s fabulous Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, which together with his other four local restaurants and cooking school have transformed this  picturesque Cornwall fishing village into a foodie’s paradise;

Jamie Oliver’s truly inspiring Fifteen Cornwall, a spectacular restaurant overlooking the surfers on Watergate Bay. This restaurant doesn’t stop with locally sourced ingredients; Oliver hand-picks 15 local Cornwall youth from disadvantaged backgrounds and teaches them to be socially conscious chefs.

Michael Caines Dining in medieval Exeter, Devon County, a hotel restaurant whose chef is so famous his restaurants need no other name;

Last but certainly not least, we dined right on the farm in rural Devon in an innovative “field kitchen” at Riverford Organic, winner of the London Observer’s 2009 Best Ethical Restaurant award. The establishment offers farm tours right along with your meal and markets tens of thousands of fresh “veg boxes” around the country.  This one was my personal favorite, and I’ve now got the cookbook to prove it.

John Brand: From Farm to Kitchen

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It wasn’t easy to improve on the two landmark River Walk restaurants that John Brand took over nearly a year ago. But Brand’s passion for the farm-to-table concept and sustainably harvested ingredients has taken two winners – Las Canarias of La Mansion del Rio and Pesca of The Watermark Hotel and Spa – and pushed them over the top.

His beef comes from a farmer in Floresville, his quail from Bandera, his grits from Converse and his tomatoes from Hidalgo County. But he’ll go much further afield to find the best-quality sustainably grown ingredient when necessary, such as the free-range veal he imports from New Zealand.

“If I can’t get fresh ingredients, I’m not going to serve the dish, period,” he said. This meant eliminating some longtime favorites, like the squash blossom and huitlacoche soup.

Another element came into play for the swordfish. “They’ve been heavily overfished for some time now,” he said. “We’ve come to the point that my kids aren’t going to be able to see those fish. And the crab they were using came from Southeast Asia, where they’re destroying the wetlands and making more people die from tsunamis.

“Besides,” he added, “If it’s really good, it doesn’t need to be deep-fried.”

It was a risky move. San Antonio’s River Walk draws a traditional crowd, fond of their fried foods and Tex-Mex and not as keen on cutting edge cuisine as some of the high-end resort crowds Brand has served in the past. A number of them demanded to talk to the chef.

“In most cases, when I explained to them my reasoning, they understood,” he said. “If it’s on the menu, we’d better be truthful and know where it’s from and know how it’s raised. If you can’t do it from scratch, don’t do it at all.”

Brand’s insistence on tracking his ingredients back to their source stems from his own beginnings as a Midwest farm boy, raising pigs and cattle in Nebraska. “There were two paved roads in the whole county,” he recalls. He earned his pocket money hiring himself out to local farms for $2 or $20 a day, he says. He still looks the part, his blonde and tanned good looks and a shy earnestness tempering his frank words.

He was the oldest of six, and they all took turns cooking recipes that Mom left for them on index cards. The ingredients were simple, so technique was everything.

“I didn’t know what a pomegranate was until I was 19 years old,” he laughs. “Salt, pepper and butter – that’s about all I had. Use what you have, that’s what I learned. And I learned you can’t cook with an ego. Leave the ego to the guests; let them decide what’s great and what’s not.”

Perhaps his aversion to industrialized agriculture stemmed from the time his father had to go to work for hog containment facility – a dreadful place to a sun-drenched farm boy. “Those pigs never saw the sun,” he says, shaking his head.

Despite his early affinity for cooking, he says, he never intended to be a chef. His first restaurant job was in Wisconsin at the age of 16, but it wasn’t until two years later, working as a cook in a restaurant in Spokane, Wash., that he realized he had a flair for fine cuisine. He worked his way up through the business over the next 12 years to some of the finest resort restaurants in the country in Aspen and Beaver Creek, Colo., Virginia and Scottsville, Ariz.

What’s most surprising about Brand, given the sophistication of his menus, is that he never received formal culinary training. Instead he learned from other chefs and from working his way up through the profession. It could be said, in fact, that he’s a farm-to-table chef in more ways than one.

Lunch is an excellent time to sample a few of his creations, when he has a collection of delectable “small plates” on the menu. Despite his aversion to deep-frying, he made a small concession to fine effect: the crispy jicama tacos, lightly fried and filled with fresh tuna, roasted tomato diablo, avocado and grapefruit. And his Stuffed Dates with Blue Cheese and Bacon, shimmering in an aged sherry and brown sugar crust, must be tasted to be believed.

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The desserts, from the Blackberry Tuile with Honey and Black Currant Tea Ice Cream to the Ecuatorial Chocolate Mousse, were simply divine.

Along the way, Brand read “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven,” an indictment of industrialized agriculture by Joel Salatin that strengthened his resolve to provide integrity in his ingredients. Now, when he’s not working or at home gardening with his three sons, he’s browsing websites like www.chewswise.com or www.blueocean.org to stay up on sustainability and food security issues.

It’s not easy, but it’s been rewarding – and San Antonio readers have just given him a resounding seal of approval, voting Las Canarias Best Hotel Restaurant of 2009.

A potluck for perilous times

My last trip was planned around a special event organized by San Antonio expressive arts facilitator and playwright Dianne Monroe. 

“I know it’s a long drive, but I’d really like for you to be there,” she told me the last time we met. Now when Dianne organizes an event, I always want to be there. She brings together the wisdom of another age with a childlike sense of fun and wonder and creativity. And when she began talking about The Great Turning, author Joanna Macy’s name for the transition times we are finding ourselves in, I listened. This event was nothing more than a simple gathering, but designed to break the ice to allow us to begin speaking of the previously unspeakable, nameless worries about global climate change, peak oil, economic crisis and pending doom that darken the horizon.

The meeting was well worth the drive; the conversations were more uplifting than disturbing, and the concept is well worth sharing. So I invited Dianne to write a guest blog entry, which I will share with you below. Please drop her a line at dianne@diannemonroe.com and let her – and me – know what you think.

I give you Dianne:

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by Dianne Monroe

I was born with a bit of an apocalyptic gene, so I’ve been watching this global economic unraveling, wondering just how far it will go – at the same time wondering just how much global warming will cause the oceans to rise and if oil will run out before our use of it will make the planet completely unlivable for higher mammalian species.

 Actually, I’m an optimist. So what I really want to know is this – how do we, within this crisis, grow and nurture the seeds of new ways to live with each other and in collaboration with our planet?

I’ve been talking about this with my friends (Tracy among them) and wondering how many similar conversations are going on in living rooms and kitchens across the country – so I decided to invite some friends, and friends of friends to what I called “A Paradigm Shift Potluck – a gathering to vision what it may mean to be alive in this time and place”.

So after vegetarian lasagna, gazpacho and guacamole salad, we gathered to share our hopes, fears and the gifts we each bring to the flowering of a more just and sustainable world.

One person feared seeing her retirement fund disappear, another feared angry, hungry men with guns. One friend brought the gift of organic gardening, another brought knowledge of alternative medicine, still another brought the gift of listening.

People spoke of simpler times and places, of different ways of being and doing. A woman spoke of her mother who grew up on a farm during the Depression, where everyone grew their own food and traded with neighbors for what they needed. Others spoke of time spent living and working in Latin America, how different cultures recycled and reused so many things we routinely throw away.

I wanted to share an approach I’m developing, an easy way into talking about difficult things, that takes us out of our heads and into our hearts (away from our endless “to-do” lists and the hectic pace of modern life and into a place where we can really listen to each other and be heard by others). It’s an approach grown out of my studies in a field called Deep Ecology, that allows us to speak our truths, listen deeply to the truths of others, and seek ways to travel together through perhaps tumultuous times, carrying gifts we will leave for the generations to follow.

If you want to learn more about Paradigm Shift Potlucks, and a workshop I’m developing, called “Nurturing Seeds of Change in Uncertain Times” (I’m offering the first one on June 13), Please email me: dianne@diannemonroe.com.

Nighttime in Bukoba

The night outside my window is alive with sounds: crickets, night birds, a television from someone’s room, laughter from somewhere down below, and just now, a somnolent call to prayer. But underlying all of that, booming, throbbing from every direction, comes the sound of drums. Big, deep bass drums and a smaller backbeat, accompanied by big voices, harmonizing, and laughter, and the occasional joyful ululating cry of a woman, a virtual soundtrack from a Hollywood production of Africa.

It’s been like this every night since I arrived, my mind filled with warnings from well-meaning friends of the dangers of the African darkness. My first night here, I lay in my bed, my mind filled with images of what must be out there: I imaged some sort of primal ritual involving bare-chested, sweaty people beating giant tom-toms around fires. I sensed that something very tribal was going on, and that I needed to be a part of it.

I was torn. As a journalist, I know very well that the best stories lay on the other side of my fears. On the other hand, I had been warned that it wasn’t safe for a woman to be outside at night. I wasn’t quite sure what it was I was supposed to be afraid of: man-sized mosquitoes waiting to inject me with malaria serum or serial killers hanging out behind trees waiting to grab unsuspecting mzungus (the Swahili word for white people, of which there are very few in these parts).

I had hurried back to the hotel after the Internet café closed at dusk, trying to beat the clouds of mosquitoes that supposedly came out after dark here. As I stepped out onto the street, I noticed people everywhere – men, women, old people, children – probably heading quickly to the safety of their homes, I imagined. But they were not hurrying. It was quite dark when I arrived, and the mosquitoes never materialized.

Later, as I lay huddled in my bed under my mosquito net, listening to the commotion all around us, I ridiculed myself. I realized that probably the only people in town who were locked inside were Paula and me. I longed to go out and follow those drumbeats, to see where they led. But I didn’t yet know more than a handful of words in Swahili – enough to say “how are you,” “very well,” and “thank you,” but not enough to say “get away from me.”

Besides, Paula had offered to take me to a Catholic sunrise service, and she would be knocking at 6 a.m. So prudence being the better part of valor, as they say, I slept fitfully until just before dawn, when the drumbeat died away. My second night I worked until midnight writing stories from the previous two days. I didn’t imagine that, it being Sunday, a similar commotion would arise.

I was wrong. I felt the inexorable force of curiosity pull me out of my bedroom and I found myself asking Judith and Mulungi, the girls in the reception, about the noise.

“It is the night clubs,” Judith said, apologetically. “It is bothering you?”

“Actually,” I said, “I was thinking I’d like to go. What do you think? Is it safe?”

“You want to go?” The girls examined me incredulously, and then burst into peals of laughter.

“You want to go dancing?”

A rapid-fire exchange in Swahili between the two ensued. The next thing I knew, Judith was leading me by the hand into Lundi’s Night Club. Past a lineup of police on motorcycles, apparently keeping the peace. Through a cluster of men, a few of whom eyed me curiously but said nothing.

The place was packed. A Tanzanian blend between hip-hop and reggae, with some modern African beat mixed in, pounded the air from giant speakers; light flashed from slowly rotating disco balls, flickering on the faces of the dancers. The entire nightclub, it seemed, was a pulsating dance floor.

Judith held tight to my hand and steadily wove her way through the crowd to the back, where the wall was lined with sofas and a friend greeted her. Nelson was his name, and he flashed a brilliant smile, shook my hand warmly and invited us to sit. He was a short young man, but what he lacked in stature he more than made up for in style. He was oddly but carefully dressed, in a collared button-down shirt trimmed in brown fake fur, a Rolex-style watch over one long sleeve and a brown knit cap on his head. I invited the two of them to a “Kili” (slang for Kilimanjaro, the popular Tanzanian beer) and they happily accepted. At 1,500 shillings a bottle, it wasn’t something they indulged in very often, I could tell.

As I looked around the dance floor, I noticed several people had brought in their own drinks – boxes of mango juice from the nearby duka (convenience shop) seemed to be the most common. Smoking was not allowed, so the air was clear.

I settled in to take in the crowd; in most ways, it could have been a subdued and less racy version of a U.S. nightclub. The dancers were all conservatively and respectably dressed, and the dance moves were graceful and in some cases joyful, but much less suggestive than what I’d witnessed earlier this year in a Padre Island nightclub.

It was, to be frank, a little disappointing. I had hoped to find a live band, African drummers, some authentic remnant of the traditional culture. Instead, I found an all-black version of American Bandstand.

No matter. I determined to settle in and observe the crowd. As with birdwatching, one must be patient in the observation of nightlife, and one’s patience is often rewarded.

Judith invited me to dance, and I agreed. I was the only white person in the club, perhaps in the history of the club, but nobody stared. I was within inches of other dancers, but nobody touched. One young man caught my eye and invited me to dance, and I looked the other way; my refusal was accepted with good grace, and he moved on.

What a contrast to my experiences in nightclubs in Latin America, where a blonde woman without a male companion is guaranteed an occasionally overwhelming stream of piropos – catcalls, compliments and persistent pleading invitations. Here I sensed the palpable protection of respect.

We made our way back to our spot on the sofa, where Nelson invited me to dance. I looked at Judith and she urged me on with a smile. I insisted that she join us. Soon Nelson was showing off his fanciest moves. It didn’t take long to observe that Nelson had his own style – more Diana Ross than John Travolta, and it dawned on me that we were in very safe hands with Nelson.

I began matching his twirls and flourishes and felt an exuberant laugh bubbling up from deep inside. I was in the middle of nowhere, Africa, dancing with my hotel’s receptionist and a gay man, and we were all having the time of our lives.

Suddenly, a serious-looking man came up to Judith and pulled her aside. She’d been trying to reach a friend on her cell phone since we were back at the hotel; it seems this was him.

She came back and continued dancing, though less animated than before. Finally she tapped my shoulder. “Tracy, let’s go,” she said, grabbing my hand rather abruptly.

“OK,” I said, waving a quick goodbye to Nelson, and we were working our way back through the pulsating crowd. “What’s wrong? Is there a problem?” I asked, fearing that I’d been oblivious to some sort of menace, or had somehow overstepped my bounds. Was my dress too revealing? My dance too free?

“No, no problem.”

“Is your boyfriend upset?”

We were out in the parking lot now, and the boyfriend was waiting, unsmiling, at the edge.

“He’s my husband, actually … but it’s ok.”

I was shocked – she didn’t look old enough to have a husband. But then, I had to remind myself, this was Africa.

“Please tell him it was my fault, Judith. I don’t want him to be angry with you because of me. Tell him I needed your help, that I am doing research for a newspaper article…” It sounded lame, even to me. He launched into her with a barrage of Swahili. She tried to defend herself – I heard the words “gazeti” (newspaper) and “ingereza” (English).

“Tell him I am so grateful to you,” I said. “Tell him that I said you behaved as a perfect princess.”

She tried to suppress a smile and she translated, but he didn’t budge.

I intervened with every apologetic word or phrase I knew: “pole pole, (sorry sorry)” “pole sana (very sorry),” and “samahani (pardon me),” which usually produced a smile – but he wouldn’t even look at me. It was clear that nothing would assuage him. Finally Judith shook her head and grabbed my hand.

“Let’s go,” she said, and we headed back to the hotel. “Tanzanian men,” she muttered on our way back. “You see what we have to live with? They don’t understand that you can just go to a nightclub and have fun with your friends. He thinks it’s something bad.”

Back at the hotel, I apologized profusely. Judith shook her head.

“He is fine,” she said. “I’m glad I went. Everything will be ok, don’t worry.”

The next morning at the reception, Judith was her usual reserved, professional self. Nobody asked me about the nightclub. It was as if it had never happed.

But that night, when the drums began, I smiled. I now knew what was behind the sounds, and I wasn’t afraid. For the first time since I’d arrived, I slept like a baby. And for the rest of my time in Bukoba, day or night, I came and went as I pleased.

Aventura en Potrero Chico

POTRERO CHICO, Nuevo Leon, Mexico – Less than half an hour from the crowded metropolis of Monterrey, the mountains rise in a spectacular series of limestone peaks that have come to be known as a world-class climbing destination. It started as a municipal park with a swimming pool and barbecue pits, but it didn’t take long for climbers to discover the pitted limestone face of these towering walls.

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 Today at the base of the mountains there’s a cluster of businesses catering to the climbers from as far away as Australia and Japan. We chose the cozy Posada Potrero, a picturesque retreat with houses and rooms for rent, grassy places to pitch a tent under the trees, a commodious pool with hammocks and a big communal kitchen that at night becomes a lively community of climbers from all over the world.

We arrived at about 6 p.m., leaving San Antonio at 9:30 a.m. and stopping at the border to buy Mexican car insurance and get car and tourist permits. We’d seen the mountains for an hour or more on the approach, but the hazy blue in the distance gave little clue as to what we’d find: a dramatic series of vertically layered cliffs, pointing heavenward like vast curtains of limestone. I couldn’t imagine myself scaling them, ever. But German and Marco had promised me there were beginner climbs, so I didn’t panic.

There was time for one climb before dinner, so we packed our gear and made our way up to the area known as the Wonder Wall. It was so tall and so vertical that my neck ached from watching German make his way up, leading the way in placing the rope at the very top to secure us as we climbed. I tried not to think too much about it as I stepped into my harness and borrowed shoes.

Unlike Enchanted Rock, where I first learned to climb, Potrero Chico is a sport climbing site, where thousands of routes have been marked and bolted. The bolt fastens a hanger, or a steel loop, that allows a climber to insert a hook attached to his rope, securing his way as he goes.

German had reached an impasse in the climb, and he was retracing his steps to seek another way. I couldn’t see how on earth he was going to make it to the next hanger; it was two body-lengths up a sheer wall, even for a giant like German.

“This doesn’t seem like a beginner’s pitch to me,” I countered. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a way up.”

“There’s always a way,” Marco said, as German felt his way along the wall. “It’s just a puzzle, and you have to figure it out.”

Figure it out he did, and the next up was me. Face to face with the rock, I found my friends’ words to be true. This stone yields its secrets to those who persist. I climbed five pitches during my three days here, working my way up to a 5.9, an advanced beginner pitch, and this with an arm injured in my previous week’s beginner climb.

My guides were Andres and Karla, two young climbers from Monterrey who seemed as much at home on a rock face 100 feet up as they did on the ground. Andres began climbing at 12, and by the age of 19 had scaled most of Potrero as well as Argentina’s Aconcagua, the second tallest peak in the Americas. Karla, at 27, is the single mother of Samadhi, a winsome 6-year-old who carries her climbing gear in a little pink pack decorated with teddy bears. Samadhi’s name is taken from the Hindi word for enlightened consciousness, or, as her mother says, concentracion — an appropriate appellation for a child who began learning to climb before she learned to walk.

With the same care that she coaxed her young daughter up the limestone wall, Karlita coached me up a 5.8 and halfway up a 5.9, meaning I’ve progressed to the level of advanced beginner.

Samadhi and her mother taught me a great deal. After our day on the wall, I feel I’m coming to a sharper focus and a greater mastery of my fear — poco a poco.

Climbing is about more than having a good time, as Karla taught me. It can change your life.

Rite of Passage at ERock

ENCHANTED ROCK STATE PARK – Deep in the canyon between the two pink granite domes that give this place its name, there’s a world parallel to the one most of its thousands of visitors see.

Jamie McNally and Kit Garcia, two veteran climbers from Austin, were my guides into the world of the climber, where this place is known as ERock. Climbing is a pastime I’ve been eyeing from a distance over the years, with various friends inviting me to accompany them. I’d always wanted to; I’d just never had the time. But now, as I approach the five-decade mark, I realize there’s no time left to procrastinate. It’s never going to get any easier. I’m never going to have any more time than I do right now. So I dropped my friend Jamie a line. And now, as I stood in borrowed climbing shoes, harness and rope, facing this near-vertical slab of granite, there was no going back.

A rope stretched from the knot at my waist, upward to an anchor somewhere beyond my view, and back down again to Kit’s waist. She was belaying me, pulling in the slack as I climbed, and gradually letting it loose as I worked my way down. She’d be my counterweight if I fell. Still, while the rope provided safety and psychological comfort, it wasn’t to be used as a climbing aid. For that, it was just me and the rock. 

“You guys have heard about gravity, right?” I quipped, tipping my head back to assess the situation and stalling for time.

“These shoes are anti-gravity devices,” Kit reassured me. “You’ll see. It’ll be easy!”

I heard a titter behind me and looked back. A girl and a boy, both under the age of 10, awaited their turn. Great. Now I had no excuses.

“But… where do I put my feet? I mean, there are no stairs here,” I pointed out, somewhat lamely.

“Here, you can start with your left foot here. Then you swing your right foot up to this ledge,” Jamie pointed to a tiny black knob protruding from the pink granite. “It’s huge!”

I wondered if my eyes were deceiving me. Nonetheless, I placed a tentative foot on the left ledge and another on the right, holding with my hands onto the rock in front of me for dear life. But there was nowhere to go from there. I was sure that if I lifted one of my feet, I’d slide down the face of the rock, shredding my exposed skin. I was stuck.

“Once you get up just a little further, it’s easy,” encouraged Jamie.

The onlookers urged me on. Clearly, I had become the center of a spectacle. There was no way to go but up.

I saw another place to step up, but only by using my right knee – a no-no for a climber, and I quickly discovered why as I left layers of skin on the rock. But I had gained ground. And suddenly, I realized he was right. The shoes were holding me fast to the rough face of the rock. I saw another ledge further up, then another, and soon I was clambering up like a 5-year-old.

“You’re a natural!” Jamie called up to me, encouragingly. “Keep on going!”

I stopped to catch my breath and looked down. Below me, Kit, the kids and their father cheered me on. Above me was Jamie, who had shimmied up by another route and was waiting for me at the top.

Gradually, as I began to relax and trust the magic shoes – and more importantly, my body’s intuition – I began to notice something strange. Gravity didn’t have quite as much power over me as I’d thought it had. It didn’t feel quite so absolute. I worked my way up to where Jamie awaited like a proud coach, snapping photos of my first baby steps as a climber.

“You know what?” I gasped, taking my eyes from the rock to look up at him for a moment. “My body’s not as heavy as I thought it was!”

That’s not to say it was easy. The next route we climbed, called “Jacknife,” was more than twice as tall as the first one and required negotiating an inwardly sloping wall. Jamie coached me to straighten my legs and lean back, keeping my body’s weight over my feet.  Fear of falling generates a tendency to hug the rock, which paradoxically causes the body’s center of gravity to shift forward, taking weight off the feet. This makes your feet more likely to slip out from under you. You have to let go of the fear to let your body work with the rock.

It was perched on a tiny shelf of rock atop the Jacknife, breathless, bloodied and bruised, that I began to understand why people endure what they do to enter this world. I looked across the canyon at the tourists toiling up the side of the main dome’s gentle slope and realized I had changed. What had once seemed a perfectly lovely, even strenuous outing climbing the dome now seemed — well, pedestrian. For a brief instant, I had become one with the rock. Now I realized that nothing would ever be the same.

Exhilaration!
Exhilaration!