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Seeking a Rocky Peak, Finding Self-Renewal

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Weeks of revising short fiction for two collections, halftime maintenance work on the Girl Scout ranch I take care of, and then a frustrating telephone session with a machine-generated voice telling me to select options and enter identification numbers: I needed to unplug everything and leave man's world behind for a while.

Dark granite cliffs fall east and west into the small body of water miles from the nearest human activity. In hot sunshine, I explore for a new route up the eroded, jumbled granite formation rising west of the pond. I've climbed to the top more than a dozen times, but never from this, the north side. I climb dark gray granite, over gray lichen, white lichen, red, orange, several shades of green, black lichen.

I stand and try to pick a route by eye, and then I climb. I backtrack and start over. I have two rules: I find an easy enough route to avoid falling; I see where I'm going to place my foot or my hand. I've never seen rattlesnakes or scorpions up here, but it is good habitat for them, and I have no desire to meet either animal close-up and unexpected.

Some of the stone I climb is one with the mountain. Some has eroded until huge boulders and smaller boulders lie on the stone of the mountain. All the granite has eroded into varied forms beyond fantasy or description.

I stand on a high point of stone. A secret garden grows below me. Enclosed by rock on all sides, decomposed granite soil supports three pine trees, three juniper trees, currant bushes, flowers, prickly-pear cactus, green grass in places, and bare, gravelly brown-to-pink soil in other places.

I climb down into the garden. I have passed within 50 feet of this garden, below it, on the other side of granite stone, and I have stood 100 feet above it, on the high point of rock I hope to climb. But because the granite formation held it secret, I have never seen it before.

I climb up out of the garden. The rock becomes too steep. I retreat and try another route, too steep, and retreat. I crawl under dense, low-growing branches of a juniper tree and between boulders steeper than I can climb. I climb granite eroded into hundreds of footholds and handholds, weave back and forth across the steeply sloping face, finding a climbable route that takes me gradually higher.

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