Over the Shoulder

Return to el Teide (Part 1)

It has been a month since I returned from Tenerife, and el Teide, on what was my third visit. As I expected it to, visiting the arid caldera and the volcano provided me with a lot of inspiration. The landscape is so imposing that it calls to be photographed, and I was lucky enough to be able to summit el Teide on foot in time to see the dawn. The latter was an experience I won’t soon forget.

In my shelves and on my floor at home I have scattered a cacaphony of photographs, unfinished essays on the volcano walk, shadows of sketches and scraps of stories. I think that there is potential for good writing in there – but, like seeing the volcano, my work definitely requires a revisit. Not that it will actually manage to encapsulate the scale and magnificence of the landscape!

My only finished piece so far is a three-part poem, inspired by a day spent rock-climbing in the Picos de Canada caldera. The background panorama was striking; but during the ascent, with your face pressed to the wall, the beauty of the background was lost in the fear of the moment. At the finish, though, the volcano appeared over the edge of the cliff – and cast a new brightness over the fright you just felt.

Part 1

Allow yourself to imagine this: a playground, bound in rock;
An easy, pleasing read between the lines – or a squeeze, and then a shock.
The playground now is heating up; how you wish you could downclimb
Off the reddened earth, plowed
By pressure and time.
And yet it stands unbowed
By the winds of change
Unlike you – don’t allow yourself
That smooth slide off the iron bolt, that swing from an upper bough, No:
Vow to haggle with the untrammelled Earth
Plough it, pound the Fraggel Rock
Climb with power, reach around, send the route, stand your ground.

Part 2

The umbilical rope dangles below
Tethers you to your sister, your home
Let the belayer be laden with a certain doubt – 
Her voice flies loud and it lands flat.
She grows cold in the shade that throws a shallow scowl
A little while longer – and then a smile
Una sonrisa, as someone rises over the brow
Beyond the penultimate bolt
You step up and over the boulder rises – behold! –
The shoulders and head of a bolder Mt. Teide:
Beholden to no-one, beheld in its beauty anew
A magical view
For no-one but you; you know,
The winds of change blow kindly here
The breeze has slowed and stole the fear of flight
Into the great unknown – but wait!
There’s still a flight of stairs to go
You must climb; 
A line of dew upon your brow –
Does climbing make you happy now? – 
But listen: take a second, pass the time,
Hear the wind and see the line
Of silver, singed by sun, that writes
el Teide’ on the blue skyline
The hue of hope; and think again
Of when you took the rope and rose – 
and guess what? – you were fine.

Part 3

There’s still a little way to go,
Down the straightened narrow line;
And yes your fear is burning bright 
Tigers clawing at your spine.
But you already did it! Ten minutes ago
Risking strife, and limbs entwined
And it was a breeze (to hashtag humblebrag)
So breathe – and go downclimb!

I’ve considered if this poem would work better spoken aloud.

Above: a view of me at the base of the climbing route that inspired the poem. el Teide is lit up in the background. The route was only graded 4+, but the rock and the surroundings made it feel more imposing!

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