Mendoza, Argentina —
In the parlance of the mountaineer, I failed.
But in the language of the questing adventurer fully engaged in the game, my harrowing leave-taking of that snowy pile of rock was success.
"The summit is optional, the descent is mandatory," were my husband Richard's parting words at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport two weeks ago, and they echoed in my fogged, lethargic brain as my lungs dangerously crackled and oozed, my strength dwindling precipitously and ever accelerating in a dance with death so unromantically called "HAPE" high-altitude pulmonary edema.
Was it Liszt in my head on that dark, icy morning as moans and coughing woke me? More likely, it was not a vision of my own demise but rather the rest of my life calling begging that I return below the clouds.
"Evacuation" is a funny term implying speed and efficiency. Mine was a chaos of clothes found, boots pushed on, a rag-doll body forced to stand and slowly marched thousands of feet down and down and down, tied to a lovely Argentine who never stopped urging me, "Good job, Ali! You must walk now! Good job!"
What, I ask myself, sends us to such risky places? Is it a testing of ourselves, a seeking of indescribable vistas, a desire that in utterly stark and danger-filled places we somehow find who we are and thus carry a strength and peace into the ordinariness of our lives? The reasons we give shift or, more likely, simply can't be pinned down. Maybe we just don't know why.
As I slowly recover in Mendoza's vineyards at the foothills of the Andes, I'm surprised and a little amused that with the end of the adventure I sought here, I'm thrust into a new one. But certainly not the kind to write books about or to develop an awe-filled following. It's way more internal and private. I know I'll return to the wild and unknown one day; that's a given. But at this moment, I'm recalling the brute strength, the grit, the confidence and determination and the hopeful attitude it takes to reach any summit, are skills I already possess; albeit, in this case, I'd venture to add I picked up a new one: a demure graciousness that allowed me to decline the invitation to my Totentanz.
I'm missing all of you and the music we share that inspires us to greatness. I'll be back in a little over a week.