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April 23, 2011

Deep Play

“Alys, why are you doing this trip?” I suspect that, in the next few days, my sister Eleanor will ask me this very question. This question that she’s also asked in the past. It begs to be answered, which is why I’m taking it on in this particular dispatch.

The other night, our good friend Bill Long gave a slide show on his climbing Makalu, the fourth highest peak in the Himalayas, this was in 1954. As he talked, I recalled that this was an instance in which he and his fellow climbers engaged in what writer Diane Ackerman calls deep play, which is an activity or series of activities that require one’s full and undivided attention. She infers that deep play is usually risky, in part because the player is pushing themselves beyond their physical and mental limits.
I’ve engaged in deep play while participating in a ten-day mountaineering course in Conway, New Hampshire, during the Iditabike, a 200 mile winter Alaska bicycle ride, and a 63-day sea kayak trip in Southeast Alaska. When ice climbing, I had an arrested fall in which I unintentionally went backwards down a steep slope. When bicycling, I went down a hill too fast and nearly ran into a tree. When sea kayaking, I had to paddle hard to get out of some nasty tidal rips. I was then totally in the moment. But ironically, these events seemed to take longer than they actually did. Or so I later figured.
After, I relived them, first by writing lengthy narratives in which I went into excruciating detail. But as time went on, my narratives became like the above, quite short. I have not, to my knowledge, engaged in deep play in some time. Maybe doing trail blazing with Raudi and Tinni would count as such. But because I don’t think so, probably not.
So Eleanor, here’s the answer to your question. I, who spend a great deal of time in the past, need to be momentarily in the present. This will undoubtedly occur during the course of this upcoming trip. And too, I need to be able to later recount this exploit. These days, the old narratives are markedly short. New, more lengthy narratives, this is what I’m after.