Inhabit Or Inhibit?

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It’s been a slow October for Fringe’s Folly.

It looks like it will be a slow November, too, as I will be spending the next three weeks at a writing workshop in Banff, and then fly back to the East Coast to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family. This may be the last post for a while.

I’m tying up loose ends before I fly, and one of the things on my “to do” list is a small note I made for myself on the bedside table. It says: “Inhabit or inhibit?” Sometimes I make cryptic notes like this for myself, halfway to sleep, to call me back to somewhere my mind was going sometime in the future. I forget what they mean, initially, but the letters and words serve as a trail of bread crumbs, and little quiverings and electrical flurries stimulate my brain, eventually, into remembering.

What I remember about “Inhabited or Inhibited” is this: when it comes to the land, it makes a big difference which you do. There are people that inhabit the land. They live with it, within it, among it, and they do their best not to disturb its larger functioning.

Then, there are those who inhibit the land. I never thought about it before, but that is the best way I can think of to describe what western civilization has done to the world it exists in. We inhibit the natural world from going about its business, from just sitting there in its slow cycles, from becoming the climax community it wants to become. We dig up dead dinosaurs and fill our cars and the air with them, we cut down big trees that have been around longer than Christianity, we dam rivers, we overhunt, overgraze, overfish, overeverything except for respect. I don’t think anyone could accuse us of overrespecting the land.

None of this is new, or news to you. One only needs to look at the Standing Rock protests going on against the North Dakota pipeline to catch a relevant modern whiff of my stream of thought. Some people wish to inhabit the land as it is, some wish to inhibit it from being what it would otherwise naturally be. We have no reason to be surprised, nor do we have any good moral justification to continue to turn a blind eye.

I’ve been feeling uninspired to write articles for Fringe’s Folly, lately, and I think this is why. This is a climbing blog, I tell myself, it has no place commenting upon political matters, upon the world outside of climbing. And, while there may not be an ethics police telling me what to say, the analytics certainly holds sway. If I write about the stokeystoke sickeysend gnargnar first ascent badoonga, if I give you more photos than words, the Fringe’s Folly community responds more positively. Traditionally, writing about sticky situations and tricky complicated problems that plague us, doesn’t garner many “likes.” I let that get to me. I allow that to inhibit me from inhabiting Fringe’s Folly more fully.

I think we all inhibit ourselves from inhabiting ourselves. The climbing community wants to care, but somehow, we seem afraid to. There’s this stigma against stories without happy endings. There’s a hesitation to share politically charged messages that don’t have the word “climbing” attached to them. I pitched a story recently about a program in Seattle, called Bold and Gold, that takes underprivileged kids into the woods to facilitate and foster a connection with what we call the natural world. The pitch didn’t get far. There was initial interest, but eventually, the editors passed. They have to get as much bang for their buck as they can. I get it. Just imagine if Fringe’s Folly had investors, and employees. Everyone’s salary would depend on how many hits we got. This blog post you are reading? I would chop it myself. In the end, you have to survive… in terms of modern media, that means clicks.

We can talk about Indian Creek, because it has been culturally ordained as a Mecca for our sport. But equally beautiful lands without climbing are at risk of industrial inhibition all the time, and we don’t hear a peep. Think of the Missouri River in North Dakota. Now think of it with climbing. How does that change the way you think? Would some of our trusted brands feel more comfortable investing time energy and resources into the fight if pocketed limestone flanked the banks that the pipeline threatens to spill into? Can our silence on the subject really be ascertained by something so puerile as a dearth of good stone?

The best we can hope for is to treat all things with an the ethic of inhabitation, rather than inhibition. For too long, we as climbers have inhibited ourselves and one another from saying that climbing is about gay rights, about feminism, about deep ecology, about black lives matter, about Syria, about the refugee crisis, about the presidential election, about the next presidential election, about the public land heist, about anything else in the world other than climbing.

Climbing is about more than climbing. Climbing is a vessel to better inhabit the world.

But better inhabiting means broader caring. Know that in today’s world, our clicks are our voices, and our “likes” are our dollars.

I propose moving away from traditional norms and archaic models for social participation as a community, and moving towards a future of uninhibited caring. I propose thinking deeply about that little bedside note: “inhabit or inhibit” in everything we do. “Will I inhabit or inhibit my relationship with my parents?” “Will I inhabit or inhibit the Black Lives Matter movement?” “Will I inhabit or inhibit the crag I visit today?” “Will I inhabit or inhibit the conversations we have as a community of people, loosely connected, by little other than a fondness for rocks?”

I know we can do this, because this is the very sort of thing that draws most of us to climbing in the first place. Climbing has done a great job of making us more present personally. Now, as people, the job we are faced with is to use what we have gleaned from climbing to become more present culturally, and to show that we care much more broadly.

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