“Bumping!!” I sang, cheerfully, as my left fist locked off, my right hand pulling the trigger to release the piece. The echo rang out from the walls surrounding us. The variability of leaning, jagged, straight, and detached rock did not belie the perfection in symmetry, illustrating the divine geometry that we, the worshippers, came to celebrate.
Here we had solitude. The black streaks in the sandstone didn’t betray us with the sun’s glare; we’d remain hidden in her shadows, scampering around and up and over the blocks around us. Impossibly, we were the only party at this wall today, but that wasn’t a total accident: we’d selected the routes for their shade, their inaccessibility, their remoteness. We liked it like that. The shade protected us as we skipped between climbs, lost children enjoying the abandoned playground.
Here we had camaraderie, but also found our own individual rhythm. Each one, on lead, breathing, plugging gear, pulling rope, swaying into the cadence our chosen climb gifted.
The chalk was pointless, the sandstone offering purchase with her granularity, the countless specs of ancient silica welded together to present this surface here, to me, now. The sweat, in its infinitesimal multitude, was thirsty, chupando with its beads any chance of help it would have given me. Fine, no magnesio. No different than normal.
Who was holding the rope that day — Mader? Johnny? I asked, quietly, facing all of them: “Please, give me the space, the support to go up — but no spray. No beta. I can do this.” They solemnly nodded, totems of the energies I’d harness on the ascent.
One piece in, then two. A few more, and I was on the shelf, splitter now above me, beckoning with open, perfect hands. I visualized the chain of gold I’d weave as I snaked up the corner. Pounding heart was no longer an issue. The beat had fallen away, back where it belonged as the silent bass in the music of my mind.
Months later, living in the land of my ancestors, I’d recognize that beat. The backbone of son Istmeño, of cumbia, of the drumbeat of the Colorado Plateau, of the plains of Spain, that beat was as steady, wild, and varied as the striations of cacao, rust, ochre, and brick that streaked the same rock into which I was folding myself.
Here I had a home. The chaos of color, the wildness of place, the sanctuary of solitude — it was made for me. This patria respires with the breath of my people past, present, and future. Our joint wildness — of human and of place — had been woven together over time so intrinsically that without the other, each would suffer.
Here, I found myself. At the chains, overwhelmed with gratitude, euphoria, and adrenaline, I heard the howl emerge from my chapped lips before I could stop it. Head thrown back, I called out. My fellow creatures below answered, a chorus of yips, barks, and bellows.