Archive | adventure

Running from a Purple Crayon Home

As a child, I took books seriously. Transported into their world, I followed their paths, smelling the smells, seeing the sights, experiencing the fears, hopes, loves, dreams and terrors of the characters without the barriers of pages, words, covers or time. I wandered the roads of England with Isaac the Jew in his cart, Rebecca looking over my shoulder as she tended to Ivanhoe who lay wounded in the back. I strolled from Longbourn to Meryton behind the Bennett sisters, holding my skirts up and stepping daintily if there was too much mud. Like Ender, I felt compassion and determination in the spherical confines of Battle School, breathing the air and drinking the water that had been recycled through the bodies of the other students countless times.

Perhaps because of the total immersion I experience in books, I never liked reading anything frightening or sad. I’ve never read Stephen King, and the Hunger Games, which I read recently, gave me nightmares for two weeks. Even a picture book like Harold and the Purple Crayon scared me. I was terrified by the fact that Harold never really — or so it seemed to me — found his way back home.

Harold has always been a sore spot for me. I know the book is considered timeless, and not being able to appreciate it bothered me. But on Saturday, during Bryan Collier’s speech at the conference, I had a moment of enlightenment, and now I know why I feared the book so much. “When Harold hang the moon in the sky, that was magic,” Collier said. “I’ve been chasing Harold ever since.” And suddenly I understood: that’s the meaning of true adventure — following the lines of the purple crayon through the book.

I had been terrified to follow Harold, because I feared losing sight of home. In my eyes, Harold ventures forth into an unknown world which he creates by himself, moving farther and farther away from his home, and when finally he wants to go back, he doesn’t know how to return. But Harold does not need to go back. He is making magic! He is on the adventure of life. His bed is where it always is, under a window framing the moon, and Harold can sleep there in peace because he trusts in the process. He trusts the adventure. He trusts in the impermanence of life. And mostly, he trusts that his home is in him.

For years, Harold has been calling to me to follow my purple crayon, but instead of following him, I’ve been sitting around moaning my inability to fly. Harold says, you want to fly? Here, take your crayon and draw yourself wings. You want to go home? Here, take your crayon and draw yourself the moon. You want to climb a mountain? Here is your crayon. Climb a mountain. Write a novel. Fly on the wings of dragons. Go on your adventure without any fear because you don’t need to look back. You have everything you need right there in your hand.

Which adventure would you like to follow with your purple crayon?
Do you have a picture book which scared you as a child but you can now see in a new light?

The Fairies Save Me from the First Line

Interspersed in my novel are sentences which have managed to hang on through five revisions and come out unscathed. There is one chapter that I love just the way I first wrote it: the dragons attacking, the aquatic monster raising curtains of water, and a young girl standing atop the monster’s watery shoulder, shouting suggestions in her ear. No part of the novel changed as much as my first line. After all, first lines are the first thing the reader sees in the book and must tantalize him or her into wanting to read more. Writers often attach great importance to their first words. In one sentence they try to hook the reader, give a hint to what comes next, present the world, the character, the action, and create a sense of mystery and suspense.

My favorite beginning of a novel comes from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead: “Howard Roark laughed. He stood naked at the edge of a cliff. The lake lay far below him. A frozen explosion of granite burst in flight to the sky over motionless water.” Can you see him standing there? I can. I read those words and knew this story would be extraordinary, that Roark would be different from anyone else I’ve ever known. It helped, perhaps, that I read the book very young. I’m not sure what I would have thought of Roark’s rigid perspective of life as an adult. This beginning, however, influenced me, and I have always striven for a similar effect in my writing, an unbending and clear introduction of what my story is about.

Of course, I have loved novels with less dramatic beginnings. The first two sentences of Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat always leave me feeling confused: “There were four of us — George, and William Samuel Harris, and myself, and Montmorency. We were sitting in my room, smoking, and talking about how bad we were — bad from a medical point of view, I mean, of course.” Somehow, these two bewildering sentences appeared endearing and characteristic after I got to know the narrator, but when I began the novel, I could not figure out why Jerome names six men when he says they were four but the book is titled three, or why he uses so many commas.

A great first line can be a treat, like the first bite of a truly delectable dish. “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” writes Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice what is universally acknowledged as one of the very best first lines ever written, “that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” My first line, not quite there, might still change and change again. I wouldn’t be so sure that it might not end up simply being: “Once upon a time in a faraway land there lived a princess who was not going to go on a birthday adventure.”

What is your favorite first line in a novel?

A Whole New World

Remember Disney’s Aladdin, when Aladdin, dressed as Prince Ali, takes Princess Jasmine on a carpet ride? They fly over Egypt, Greece and China, with wild horses, pelicans, and soft, huggable clouds. For Princess Jasmine, who lived all her life inside her father’s palace, and for Aladdin the orphan boy, any place on the face of this earth is a whole new world.

There’s a sense of wonder in this particular Disney song that appeals to me. The magic carpet ride gives Aladdin and Jasmine an opportunity to view the world, sitting in comfort much like a reader does when reading a book, while the view (or is it the story?) unfolds before them. Books, like magic carpets, are a vehicle for adventure. And lately, at least, it seems to me that most fantasy novels are taking us farther and farther away from what we know, into foreign, author-created lands.

There are so many fantasy novels published in the United States these days, whether for adults or younger readers, and so many of these fantasy novels take place in an entirely new world which the author has written into existence. This new world often comes complete with a map, new customs, people in colors and natural abilities different from our own, and exotic wildlife. It’s not that fantasy worlds have not been imagined before — Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Ursula K. LeGuin (to name my favorites) have all written a whole new world for their fantasies — and yet the sheer number of fantasies published these days amazes me and makes me wonder. Are authors reinventing the world, writing new countries and oceans into existence because the world has become so small? A global village, Hillary Clinton said. Perhaps our adventurous spirits as writers and readers long for new lands to explore?

Takes place in Greece-like Attolia, Sounis and Eddis

No more than a few years ago, Earth itself was a mystery. Many places were yet to be discovered: the heart of Africa, the tallest summits, Antarctica, the Amazon. Books reflected the Earth’s still pulsing potential for exploration. Fairy tales and early fantasy were located in the ambiguous “Once upon a time in a faraway land,” while myths, and stories of adventure took place in magical, as-yet-unreached places like the golden city El Dorado, the lost island of Atlantis, or the seat of the Greek gods on Olympus. The reader could aspire to see these places one day. After all, they were located here on Earth.

The dystopian fantasy world of Range

Today such faraway places as the Forbidden City of China or the Taj Mahal are familiar to most of us. With a click of the mouse I can see Antarctica and the summit of Everest without setting foot outside. If I chose, I could go there in person, and it will be my photos others will see with a click of their mouse. The world really is small, and I, for one, am grateful to writers of fantasy. You are stretching this planet’s mysterious magical appeal and my sense of wonder with your writing.

The Adventure of Reading

Going to first grade changed my life, but as is often the case with life changing events, this one is stamped in my memory with trauma. Blond pigtails, sandals, a big backpack with new pencils and notebooks. A good little girl. My father walked me to school and left, the yellow door closing behind him, trapping me in the classroom.

I cried every morning, but there was no going back, only forward. I did not know it then, but before me stretched nineteen years of school. In the future, I sat in classrooms jotting down science notes, calculating complex calculus equations and analyzing the supply and demand of Absolut Vodka. But not yet. In first grade I still had to learn to read.

My classmates and I had tiles of Hebrew letters and vowels, and we played with them, putting them into words. I remember thinking the word Ima, the Hebrew for mother, looked strange, my child sense of wonder admiring the particular shape of the word, the dot of the vowel beneath the elegance of the aleph. And so I learned to read.

At school I learned letters and words, but it was my mother who taught me to love a good story. At the library we scanned the shelves, searching for another book to add to our growing pile. I read Janusz Korczak’s King Matt the First, Sir Walter Scott’s chivalric Ivanhoe and Quentin Durward, Dumas’ Three Musketeers. I devoured every James Herriott I could find, All Creatures Great and Small, All Things Bright and Beautiful, All Things Wise and Wonderful. I laughed till I fell off my bed reading Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals, Birds Beasts and Relatives, A Zoo in My Luggage.

I read all through the day and under my blanket at night. I hid my books under text books or in my drawer, tricking my mother into thinking I was studying for tests. I lived in books, imagining myself a heroine, going on an adventure, discovering new lands. And finally, since I’d been asking, the forces of heaven obliged. My parents took us for a year to South Africa where we experienced Apartheid firsthand but also explored exotic birds, elephants, lionesses and other wild animals, the Victoria Falls, and Kruger National Park.

Then, as though realizing that I have not yet learned to appreciate real life and was still sticking my nose into books all the time, a whirlwind of adventure ensued: California, the army, marriage, children, divorce, writing conferences, travel, rock climbing and so much more.

The adventures of serving in the army and having a new dog

I’m still crazy about reading, and I often wish that adventures were limited only to books, or at least came with a manual. I remember the little girl with the pigtails, her innocence, what little idea she had of what life still held in store. And I realize: I have lived a book, perhaps not edited by the best hands, but still with a great plot and lots of character development.

Home Sweet Home

Near the Flatiron

Last night, Dar and I returned home from New York City. I was beyond exhausted. More even than after twelve hours climbing on the Matterhorn. My muscles twitched and my back ached from the flight. My head hurt from not having drank enough water. Forget about vacation, I thought, I just want to stay home.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines vacation as “a respite or a time of respite from something,” and “a scheduled period during which activity is suspended.” I have never taken a vacation like that. I heard rumors of people resting on the beach, reading a book and drinking margaritas. I saw pictures from my friends’ trips in which they appear to be doing exactly that. But somehow whenever I go on vacation, I never sit down.

There is so much to do, new places to go, people to see. On this visit to NYC, Dar and I wore out our shoes walking some six miles a day, enjoying the Hudson, admiring the parks, window shopping and watching people. We checked out the city’s farmers’ markets and gluten-free restaurants. We met my family for dinner in Hell’s Kitchen after going on a tour of the Tenement Museum in the Lower East Village. We walked Broadway North to South. The only time we rested was when we ate, or when we sat through (only half) a musical.

Broadway

I love adventure. I love the thrill of discovering a new park, seeing a new street, eating at a new restaurant. I want to walk down the side streets and into dead-ends, just to see where they go. I like to leave the hotel early in the morning and get back late at night. And I don’t like to sit down. Not for long. And only if I have something to do, like eat or read a book, or better yet — both at the same time.

Running ourselves rugged in New York City was good, but my favorite moment was putting down the bags and opening my arms to the wriggling, tail-wagging doggies welcoming us home. There is no place like home. No matter how many times the thorns in my backside force me up from my chair and away to the wild world outside, I just love coming home. I haven’t seen a place in the world I would rather be than right here, where I am, at my messy desk, near my open window, with my oaks growing crookedly on the hills outside.

I wish I remembered that longer. Before July is over, I will begin making plans: camping in King’s Canyon, kayaking in San Juan Islands, climbing in Inyo National Forest. I’m just going to stop calling those trips a vacation, and admit to myself that I love my home, but I also love running around. Around the corner adventure beckons, my friends, and I must heed the call. I want to, because, after all, it is mine.

The Thief of Complex Plotting

Just as I stopped complaining to myslf, a week or so ago, about not finding a really good book to read, a book that would carry me away to far lands, I picked up Megan Whalen Turner’s magnificent The Thief. Sucked into the landsape of Eddis, Sounis and Attolia without a last glance behind me, I fell in love with Eugenides, the narrator, and his adventures. Three books later, and I’m worried — Megan Whalen Turner had written four books so far, but I am not ready to say goodbye.

Turner is a master plotter. Her prose sings. Her landscape maerializes before my eyes like a movie, sometimes a grim black and white film, at other times a colorful, musical adventure. Reading her novel is like taking a deep breath and diving into the clearest water, expecting to find the bottom of the pool below, instead discovering the rich life of a sprawling reef.

Have I told you yet that I love this book?

Rich, a rich tapestry of life and intrigue, a longing for adventure, love and life, the complexitie of being — I don’t know how she did it. How do you create such a world, so alive? No wonder that in each novel’s end note Turner says that the events there described are fiction, for how can one author’s mind encompass so much unless it was the truth?

I have always admired composers, their ability to hear separate threads of music, themes, instruments and turn them into one cohesive, melodic piece. Mozart, for example, surely was a genius. Or Bach. Beethoven. How were they able to hold all this music together to create their perfect concertos? I had not thought about novels the same way — yet here, in Megan Whalen Turner’s work, is a symphony of voices, characters, action, threads upon threads that somehow coalesce again and again into the most amazing, unexpected conclusions, shining a new light upon every written word.

Have I told you already that I love this book?

Eugenides is flesh and blood in mythological proportions. The gods speak directly to him, giving him their answers in short, clear sentences: go to sleep, stop whining. He is elusive, strong, a master swordsman, yet fragile, with an undeniable fatal flaw. I don’t want to tell you the plot of either novel, because there is no way to do that without spoiling the story. I read the first novel without an idea as to what to expect. Caught by the story, I read Eugenides’ adventure as he wished to tell it, in his own order and words.

What I loved about the series: Eugenides’ voice, the shifting landscape of his journey, the sea of olives, the dirtiness of prison, the arrogance of weak men, the beautiful yet cruel queen and the second, pants-wearing queen whose nose is broken. I loved the gods and their easy intervention in human life, the hidden temple, the isolation of Eddis, the friendliness of Sophos, the myths told by Eugenides and the mage. I loved the delicate, gentle love affair which slowly unfolds before the reader’s eyes without ever being acknowledged. And above all, the figure of the Thief, sitting high above the city, shrouded in the darkness of the night.


Which books do you love whose story, characters, or landscape carry you far far and away like this?

How I Climbed the Matterhorn and Came Back Alive — Last Chance

Evening in the High Sierra. After a surprisingly delicious dinner of gluten-free pasta, smoked salmon and steamed green beans, Dar and I lay on a boulder by the lake and watched the sun paint the Matterhorn in pink hues.

“We’ll go to sleep,” Dar said, “and you can make up your mind about climbing in the morning.”

“Cliff will be disappointed if I don’t climb,” I said, tracing in my mind the line of the north arete on the Matterhorn, certain that I will never set foot up there.

My head hurt with the heat of the day, not enough water, and the effect of the elevation. I took two advil and got into my sleeping bag, falling into a restless sleep from which I awoke frequently. The wind howled, shaking our tent and the trees outside as though trying to uproot and carry us back down to the Twin Lakes valley. All through the night, whenever I awoke, I could feel the soreness and exhaustion of my body and my mind, and I knew with certainty that I would not be climbing.

Heading out. Find my shadow

The morning dawned bright and sunny. Cliff woke us with a steaming cup of green tea and crackers and hummus for breakfast. I stretched, checking my body for signs of fatigue, but my tiredness had flown away with the night’s wind. My headache gone, I realized I wanted my adventure. The Matterhorn had been my dream for over three years, and here it stood, at my tent’s doorstep, beckoning.

“I might only walk as far as the beginning of the climb and decide to walk back,” I warned Cliff.

Cliff smiled.

The lake reflected back to me the faces of the mountains as we set out. Watching us from the lake, Dar grew smaller as we hiked farther up the steep uphill. There was no trail, just the rocks and the trees and the ridge top, and the two of us making our way through. I could feel no trace of the previous day’s exhaustion. I was strong and fit and ready for anything.

My only moment of joy

At the bottom of the glacier we strapped on our crampons and headed out. I loved every minute of it, the feeling of the snow crunching under my feet, the glow of it around me. Up and up and up we walked, making a staircase in the snow, till we reached the bottom of the Matterhorn and another slippery scree slope. There, we took off our crampons and hiked farther up, gaining more elevation, heading toward the beginning of the climb.

I looked back, searching for Tarn Lake, and wondered how we would ever get down. The glacier and the scree seemed so steep, the ridge so far. Tarn lake had disappeared as though it had never existed, and my heart quacked at the thought of all that ground.

High Sierra Climbing described the route as “not too difficult,” and rated the climb well within my abilities. I turned my attention up instead of down, tied on my climbing shoes, double-backed my harness, put Cliff on belay, and got ready for a few hours of fun.

The terror of the way down

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

To be continued….

How I Climbed the Matterhorn and Came Back Alive — Up, Up and Up

Up, up and up we walked, single file, Cliff leading, Dar following, and I struggling in the back. High Sierra Climbing describes the approach to the Matterhorn: “This is a HUGE approach that starts out pleasant and gradually gets steeper, more difficult, and less fun.” Cliff estimated that we would take five hours to hike the five miles to Tarn Lake. I felt comforted by this number. To me, it meant we were going to walk slowly. To Cliff, it was a reflection of the steep and strenuous trail.

The path climbed steadily uphill, switchbacking by a creek that stampeded down a series of waterfalls. So symbolic, I thought as I fought to keep my shoulders back under the pulling weight of the pack: Here I am, once again, walking against the current.

The trail, meandering surreptitiously

After an hour, we had covered a thousand feet in altitude and about two miles distance. I quickly calculated: fifteen hundred feet in altitude and three miles to go. Not too bad, I thought. Everything is going to be okay. But the trail flattened, meandering in a lovely meadow by the creek, seemingly forgetting the “HUGE approach” promised in the book. I relaxed, let my guard down, started to enjoy the walk.

We had lunch on some rocks, basking in the sun, listening to the gushing creek. Collecting our packs, we found ourselves before our first real obstacle. The trail faded under a garden of boulders, reappearing to tantalize us only to disappear again below the rocks. Beyond the boulder field stretched the scree slope, reaching steeply to the sky. Suspended in limbo, no matter how often my legs lifted, my knees bent, or my feet struck the rocks, the scree slope still limited my horizon.

The scree slope. Try to find Dar and Cliff

My face heated. Dar and Cliff shrank, their tan clothing merging with the scree. The earth concentrated its malevolent gravity on my pack, my feet struggling to keep moving forward in the never-ending rocky landscape. Finally Cliff and Dar stopped against the trees. The end, I breathed out, wrestling with the last few steps to reach them. But no, beyond them the scree stretched upward, relentless, and above that, Cliff said, one more ridge.

My brain shut down. I slipped and slid on the rocks and the dirt, barely avoiding the trees. We stopped for a rest. Suddenly, a voice, a head. A Brit hopped up, jauntily swinging his long legs and arms. “Only a few feet, I think!” he announced, and continued his dash up.

Cliff smiled indulgently. “People always wonder why climbers have to turn around sixty feet from the summit,” he commented. “Sixty vertical feet are not the same as sixty feet distance.” Feeling wise and realistic, we followed the Brit’s hopeful footsteps. And there, not sixty feet from us, lay Tarn Lake, warming its frigid, glacial  waters in the sunny afternoon.

Tarn Lake

It had taken us six hours to get here. I stumbled, exhausted, barely taking in the scenery, as the Matterhorn serenely watched.  When I nearly crushed my finger, helping Dar set up the tent, he asked me to please sit aside. I looked at the snow and stones, the steep terrain leading up to the mountain, and in my head only one thought ran in circle: there’s no way I’m going to do this climb tomorrow. No way at all.

To be continued….

How I Climbed the Matterhorn and Came Back Alive — Part II

Carrying an over 40lbs pack on Mt Olympus

In Hebrew, we say about restless children that they have thorns in their rear end. An apt metaphor, I always thought. As a child, I did not have this particular problem. I sat for hours, engulfed in a book. But how long can I read about adventure before I wish to experience one for my self?

Every few years, I’d dip my feet in the sea of adventure, only to pull them back quickly in dismay. In the IDF, after enlisting with idealistic hopes and fervor, I found myself buried in boring offices with a boring job. Later, at Stanford, I decided to stay living at home. I  avoided interactions with my fellow students, becoming perhaps the only student in the world who had never been to a college party.

I came to have these beliefs about myself: I believed in my own physical weakness, my need for comfort, my inability to handle physical hardship. I believed that while hiking (a favorite activity in which I limited myself to no more than 5 or so miles) I could not possibly carry a bag. I believed that I was a hermit, hiding from the world within the pages of books, unable truly to experience life.

Boy, was I wrong about that!

On Muir Snow Field, Mt Rainier

I suppose after years of yearning for adventure I should not be surprised when adventures catch up to me and flash-flood my life, but the me who lacks confidence in my survival skills still freezes with fright when an adventure arrives. As the Matterhorn trip came closer, I began to freak out, unconsciously knowing, perhaps, that this adventure was planning on breaking all the rules and leaving no easy way out.

I stressed. I reread the chapter on the Matterhorn in the book. I looked at trip reports on the web. I studied the map. Cliff sent an email with details. You’ll need boots and crampons, he said. I read about the glacier in the book, but somehow did not expect to cross it. Weight accumulated. I feared I would not be able to carry my pack. I worried about what Dar and I would eat for lunch, for snacks. I worried about not having a bathroom. I worried about the climb. I worried about my fitness level. I worried that I would not come back alive.

Solo campsite on Bear Mtn, Coe SP

At the same time, with all my heart, I believed that this trip would not come to pass. And why worry about something that is not going to happen? I tried to put the Matterhorn, Cliff, backpacks, crampons and glaciers out of my mind. I found other, more important stuff to worry about.

But the clock, persistent as ever, kept ticking. Days rolled by. And before I knew it, Monday was here, the car was packed, and the road was beckoning Dar and I toward the High Sierra, the Matterhorn, and an adventure out of this life.

To be continued…..

How I Climbed the Matterhorn and Came Back Alive — Part I

Behind me is Mount Starr King

My adored Yosemite Climbing Guide, Nate Kerr, was always suggesting adventurous climbs for me. He had early on realized that my rock climbing ambition did not apply to climbing more technically-difficult routes but rather to getting to out-of-the-way, wild places, where hardly anyone ever comes. Thus, he carried me on a glorious day to Mount Starr King, frightened me out of my wits on three or four pitches on the rarely-climbed Arrowhead Spire, and told me stories about Bear Creek Spire, Mount Russell, and the Matterhorn.

The dreaded Arrowhead Spire

Of all his stories, I fell in love with the Matterhorn. I studied the map, tracing my finger over Matterhorn Canyon, the Sawtooth Range, the excitingly-named Incredible Hulk, and a scattering of lakes and creeks which drew from my imagination the unstoppable desire of going there. After checking with the Mountaineering School in Yosemite, however, Nate came back with bad news. The Matterhorn was located in Toiyabe National Forest, outside the boundaries of Yosemite, and he couldn’t take me there.

The Matterhorn remained a dream, a place I wanted to visit. I read and reread the description of the route in Chris McNamara’s High Sierra Climbing. It seemed perfect, and I am quoting from the book: “It is not the best climbing in the Sierra, but appeals because it is not too difficult, and ascends a striking arete on a big and aesthetic peak. It’s one of the easier climbs that gives a complete alpine experience: a glacier, a striking summit, incredible views.” Trip reports on the web and their photos only strengthened in me the desire one day to climb this fabulous peak.

The Matterhorn serenely waiting for unsuspecting climbers

Fortunately for me, Nate is not the only rock climbing guide I know. A few years ago, crying at the bottom of Mount Rainier instead of the summit (as I did the year after), I told Cliff Agocs, representative of Bay Area Wilderness Training, that I will not be climbing Mount Rainier with the Climbing for Kids group. I felt I was not ready to handle the climb at that time. Though I did not climb the mountain that year, my involvement with BAWT remained stable, and my friendship with Cliff slowly grew.

Some time later Cliff left BAWT and began to guide climbers on Mount Hood, another mountain I had wanted to climb ever since I first saw it. We reconnected and began to talk about where we want to go, and when I mentioned my dream of climbing the Matterhorn, Cliff enthusiastically announced that he had also always wanted to climb it and can take me there. Dates and plans were swiftly put in place. The stage was set for the most unbelievable adventure of my life, and I didn’t even know it yet.

To be continued…..

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109