Tuesday, September 23, 2008

On Top

From the time I was very young I always knew that I had an innate fear of heights. It was, however, acrophobia of the moderate kind. I did not have the paralyzing panic of true acrophobics but put me on top of a tall building and make me peer over the side and I do tend get a bit weak-kneed and rather dizzy.

It was the same with climbing trees but only on a smaller scale. As a young lad I climbed trees with my brothers and childhood friends but I did not have the true agility and daredevil recklessness that separated the true climbers from the earthbound types like me who were more comfortable with both feet on solid ground instead of desperately scrambling for a foothold on a slippery tree trunk.

So when on one bright summer day many years ago the whole family decided to go out on an impromptu expedition to climb the old light tower on a small isolated and rocky outcrop just beyond the Lianga shoreline, I had second thoughts about going along. But youthful bravado knows no limits and go along I eventually did.

To help us on the climb, we brought along a wooden ladder about twenty feet high which helped us reach a deep crevasse on one side of the rock outcrop. From there, it was typical rock climbing complete with the frenzied groping for narrow, elusive handholds and footholds on the nearly vertical, sharped-edged limestone walls until one emerges into the flat, moss-lined summit. The rest of the climb was child's play and merely involved climbing up a concrete, spiral staircase to the top of the tower which towered more than a hundred feet above the tidal marshland.

When it was my turn to go up I tried to keep in mind the neophyte climber's mantra. "Don't look down, don't look down," I silently screamed to myself but look down I did a couple of times. I just could not help myself. Seeing the rocky base of the outcrop some sixty feet below sent cold shivers down my spine, my knees threatened to lock up and for a couple of anxious moments I simply froze, immobilized by terror.

But the embarrassing prospect of failing when all the others, even my sisters and mother, have succeeded with relative ease was a powerful motivation for me to dig deep from within myself and shake lose of the paralyzing fear. I frantically continued to clamber up, the sweat of fear stinging like battery acid in my eyes.

Then all of a sudden, I was free of the rock walls and found firm footing on the mossy summit, a sudden exhilaration quickly flooding through me. I was free! I had managed to overcome my fear when I needed to and lived to tell about it.

The climb up the concrete stairs to the top of the light tower, one hand on the protective tubular metal banister was anticlimactic. Any grade school kid could have skipped up to the top with ease but the view from the platform at the tower's pinnacle was spectacularly dramatic and breathtaking. It was worth all the rigors and terror of the climb up.

From the distance, Lianga lay placidly in the bright sunlight of the midday sun, the corrugated metal tops of the town's houses clearly visible and vividly outlined against the backdrop of the blue-green mountain peaks on the western horizon. And around the light tower and its rocky base, the broad sweep of the tidal mudflats and the white sand beaches on the town's southern and northern edges.

I knew that the climb down in a while was going to be a bitch. But I did not care. I was lost in the splendor and the magic of the moment. For a frozen moment in time, I was, for all extent and purposes invincible, a veritable Superman.

I was on top of the world.

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