Cantilevered

cantilievered
"Rocks can't care."

The GrandOtter and I shrank back from that first cliff edge. The Muse strolled right up to it, leaning out, peering down. Two thousand feet below, scree validated that gravity had been working there since before time began. I stood well back, finding some solid ground to sit down upon. The Otter warily edged closer. One dizzying glimpse over that precipice had satisfied all the curiosity I might ever muster. The Otter edged even closer. The Muse wanted to hop over the retaining wall so she could see even deeper down. The Otter finally edged right up to the wall. I walked back to wait in the car, unwilling to watch these darlings dangle so danged close to eternity.

The next morning, visiting another precipice, The Otter stood on a cantilevered boxcar-sized boulder snapping a 360 degree photo of the display.
I sat well back, grounding myself, just as satisfied with myself from twenty feet back from the drop. Since then, The Otter has been seeking out cantilevered cliff edges. She claims to experience deep tranquility there. I figure that she might have inherited this limit-testing trait from her grandmother. I inherited mine from my dad, with whom I waited on the ground while my mom and sisters went to the top of The Empire State Building. I'd been up there on previous trips, but I'd found my deeper tranquility with both feet firmly planted on supposedly more solid ground.

A visit to Southern Utah and Northern Arizona provides ample opportunities to stand on cantilevered cliff edges with no apparent support beneath. The cantilevered rocks seem substantial enough to erase any real threat, but the thought of all that empty space supporting the massive outcropping still leaves my knees weak. I understand that I'm scaring myself, that no actual danger hangs there. I still keep my distance. The Otter, recovering from multiple traumas, seems in better shape after having stood along those edges. Perhaps she's coming to accept that life itself hangs like a cantilevered cliff edge, always has and always will. While there's no real risk in any individual moment, tourists often enough fall into The Grand Canyon to remind any of us of our underlying cantilevered vulnerability.

I admire The Muse her apparent fearlessness. It might be that having been raised with both feet firmly planted on South Dakota cropland, she never developed what to me seems a natural human wariness of cantilevers. Nothing more threatening than farmers' guts hang over anything more threatened than oversized belt buckles in Dakota farm country. Out in the Utah and Arizona hinterlands, much more hangs in their unlikely balances, and the risk takers quickly separate themselves from the risk slackers like me. I understand that I also hang in unlikely balance, but I try not to dwell on this unsettling fact. I'll sit on a rock channeling my father while The Muse trash talks about what a ninny I am. I know that I'm a ninny. I rather revel in this knowledge.

Embracing risk has elevated itself into a feature in our culture. We're happiest when were leveraged to the hilt. We insist that gain springs from pain, that increasing risk commensurately expands reward, though we deep down understand the fallacy involved. We revel in poking our thumbs into convention's eye, thinking ourselves somehow more powerful for at least trying. Risk accumulates exponentially. One naturally leads to another and before too long, an overhang becomes genuinely threatening. I watched tourists scramble over barricades to catch quick selfies from closer to a crumbling cliff edge and wondered what they experienced out there. Exhilaration? Were they trying to recover from trauma like The Otter had done, asserting illusory authority over an indifferent gravity?

Rocks can't care. Forced by erosion into hanging there along eternity's edge, they stand indifferent to the ant-like entities scrambling over their surfaces. I might care too much for my own good. I might have missed much adventure in my life. I'm not an out-there kind of guy, though I recognize that I maintain ample cantilevers in here, too. Whatever else I imagine myself doing, I'm hanging over some cliff-edge, too, at risk for a quick come-down. Trama seems to be the wound remaining from experiencing some inherent peril and the struggle to accept the teetering reality of life. Recovery might result not from moving back from that cliff, but in finding an expected tranquility there.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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