When I was a lighty growing up, we had a section of garden fenced off that was allowed to return to nature. Ungroomed, with tall grass and an aging umbrella-esk tree, it was a tiny patch of urban wild: a convenient escape for mini-exploration. Any visit could reveal new bugs, flowers and critters in the leaf litter. We called it the Wasteland, which was somewhat of a misnomer, as it was hardly a waste of land.
The life one lives changes, as do interests; from wrigglers under little rocks to clinging from larger rocks. Or maybe it’s just the focus – I still marvel at those fantastical inside-outers (the reverse design of wearing your skeleton over the squishy stuff) but they are usually a sideshow now. The search for just the right vertical playground often takes centre stage, at least ostensibly so. I can’t really explain the allure, except that looking for insects in undergrowth, crags in ravines or crystals in the scree are all essentially the same: a treasure hunt. And you never know what you might find.
Recent injuries to the hanging rather than the walking limbs (for a change) have precipitated a spike in rambling missions of late. I doubt many will understand the drive that leads one to claw through yet more bloody spiky bushes on slanted, grovely ledges. Fewer still that can relate to choosing this over something much more ‘fun’, like doing some real climbing or getting sozzled at a braai – or both. However, it’s really quite simple: you never know what you might find.
I am not against globetrotting. It would be somewhat hypocritical (and silly) to limit one’s exploration, but I have certainly become pro local trotting. Expense and carbon footprint aside, there is satisfaction in both discovering and enjoying areas close to home. It is the jewels in the backyard that get forgotten while flipping through glossy images of exotic, foreign and enticing places. Yet it is these very gems that may be the bait to someone on the far side of the world. While we all seek variety from what we have, and the sedge always seems to have more chlorophyll on the other side, I have found that the more time I spend in certain places the more I like them, not less. Indeed, maybe it is the search for the detail in the milieu itself that keeps them fresh.
For example, if I had retraced the exact same walk on Table Mountain nine times since June, I would surely have gotten bored. Yet they were all slightly different, with varying amounts of virgin-ness. After each successive quest, there was one less spot I hadn’t visited and another cliff or two that I now knew something about.
In my extended natural neighbourhood I tend to wander alone, lost in thought or the absence thereof. Just the backyard and the reconnaissance choices therein. Sometimes I find something awesome, sometimes not, but the search is always worthwhile. Often I don’t actually know what I am looking for until its right there, and equally likely is that the pathside attractions steal the show. A hidden grove of ancient trees draped in old man’s beard, the micro-dew on a furry protea or the ghost breath of a sugarbird on a cold morning. It’s a damn fine way to spend time, if you are wired like me.
In some ways, that’s where the story ends. The simple fun of exploration. Regardless of what one seeks or whether it is forthcoming. No doubt, a special find does sweeten the journey. Yet, in another way, the story never ends – it’s a perpetually growing collection of complete and potential cycles, one of which could happen like this:
Look at photos from last trip, have idea, put on shoes, head out, swear at prickly bushes (often repeatedly), grin at pretty rock face, admire sunset, scribble some notes, came back with rope (avoiding prickly bushes), brush the puzzle, optimise the aesthetic, bring your friends, climb some routes, fuss about names, debate grades, take some photos while walking out. Back to start.
Often the actual climbing is the fastest part, a formality except for the really hard ones. These are the lurkers, they exist mostly on the pages of appendices and are neurologically tagged: ‘someday’. Which is fine. Some chapters spiral, others stall, blowout or tease, a few hibernate or get passed on. This book, however, is never complete. It is always being written, and the writer very much alive as a result.
Explore to find to know to enjoy. Repeat. This is what I do. Besides, backyard or distant land, you never know what you might find.
Check out the topo for this new little crag, The Springboard, here.
Thanks to Outward Ventures for supporting my antics.