Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Frayed Green Rope

For the most part, I write my posts as if you were sitting with me on the porch or in the living room and I was telling you a story as I showed you some pictures I had in a faded scrapbook.  I've recorded today's post so, if you'd like, you could get an idea of what that might be like.  Listening to the recording is by no means imperative for the post, I just thought it might be fun.  You should be able to hit play and then read along:

I don't understand greatness.  Perhaps, I should begin again - I don't understand Greatness, capital G.  I recognize it when I see it.  It is easy to see it in the poems of the heart, the hymns of the soul and the stories of the wild mind.  It is easy to feel it in the psalms and symphonies and myths all imagined by Great men and women, their beauty and grace forever shining through the work of their unbounded imagination.  To even mention one would open a list that I could never finish, but you know them.  Yours might even be different than mine, but you know the Greatness I speak of.

You can almost feel - reach out and stroke, taste and smell - the kind of greatness Great leaders exhibit.  The genius and flawed captains of industry, the courageous and cold  generals of armies, the clever and guileful politicians of fame and infamy.  Destined Greatness perhaps, if you lean toward that, or unrelenting sheer damn will, if you'd like.

We celebrate, as well we should, this Greatness.

But, what of my greatness?  What of yours?  Did God only destine so many capital G's?  Is only a tiny fraction of all mankind past, now and forever, capable of Greatness?

No, of course not.

I was in a local hardware store, not a big boxy one, but a cramped Mom and Pop sort of place.  I needed some small propane tanks for a trip I was to make out West and I saw one-hundred feet of rope.  It was perfectly coiled and tightly wrapped and knotted off and I had to have it.  Oh, I had rope - some hemp rope for everyday stuff, a nice cotton clothes line, some nice thick green cording and some twine.  One does not go wilderness camping without things to tie and trust.  I bought that rope...

That was fifteen years ago.

I could probably stop for a moment and find out exactly what kind of rope it is.  I'm not going to because it doesn't seem necessary, I haven't known up to now.  It is a capable rope.  A decent rope.  A frayed rope.  It is a green rope.

You do not serve yourself or your rope very well if you cut it into smaller and smaller lengths.  I still have one very long piece that I have tried to keep intact.  I remember laying the whole rope down full length on a pinon lined forest road in Northern Arizona, near Payson, handling every foot of it.  I doubled it back in, pulling one end towards the other, the dragging loop kicking up the brown dust as the wind lifted it to the too turquoise sky.  I can still see the jagged anvil-like rock I used to anchor the two new ends of the rope.  I followed it back, and, with my Swiss Army knife, I made the one rope two.  I duct taped makeshift aglets onto the cut ends and coiled up the two halves.

Half still waits in the back of my truck with the jumper cables and the towels and the first aid kit and a good tarp and some unexceptional bungees and, well, a pool noodle.  Necessities...

The other half was used and reused and and cut and tied and...

One time, up in the same pine woods, I'd bundled that rope all a round a beaver dam-sized pile of sticks and driftwood and then to two longer skid like branches and then up to a chest harness.  I pulled it several hundred yards I'd guess to my campsite where I played with it and burned that wood with boyish zeal.

Another time I hung a swing I'd made out of a two-by-four scrap that I'd burnt holes in with a red hot piece of rebar I'd found on the side of the trail.  I threw the rope over the limb of a golden aspen, ran the two ends through the holes, wrapped the leftover up and around the board and sat and swung, up and over a creek, through the scent of the pines, in the yellow of a mountain sunset.

More recently, I used a piece of the rope to tie up a clever swing Nana had made for the boys a while back.

They seem in it a lot.  I've been in it - to test the rope, honestly - and it is mesmerizing and powerful to watch that old rope climb into that tree, into the blue sky, gracefully, confidently, and sway you like a dream.

It's funny, I just looked across the basement where I write and saw this:

I am more than certain I hung this up before the boys were even born.  A basement clothesline.  At the time for things like bathmats and wet suits and coats, slung between two giant sixteen penny nails I'd had to pound in with the side of the hammerhead, between the floor joists.  I knew at the time that wet mats and blankets and coats could get very heavy, and, perhaps I also sensed then that ever-growing little boys would jump up for it, missing, and then jump and grab it, and then hang on it, and then follow it to the steel I-beam, and from there jimmy away, across the basement, loudly avoiding the lava cement floor.

You've been to our back yard before, so I needn't explain all the time and hits and clashes and catches and cracks and bruises and cuts we've had there, but... but, have we ever come in together?  There is a free standing step that leads up to the screen door that leads to the porch.  It is an awkward step and you must open the door before mounting it.  This is not easy to do when you can only reach the handle from the step.

A little boy who is cold and damp and covered in leaves keeps standing on the step to open the door but when he does so, the door sweeps him off the step and he loses his grip.  I am watching from a distance, under the old maples, and the scene is both humorous and heartbreaking.  The solution comes clearly, suddenly, simply - the green rope.  I walk to the shed where the old half is waiting patiently.  I eye a length that seems just so and cut it off with the clippers I'd used in the long forgotten rose garden to cut off the flowers and clip the tips of the thorns.  The boy, Nick if you must know, is still baffled, and frustrated.

I have him stand down and tie one end of the rope on the handle and quickly, arbitrarily in retrospect, tie two knots near the bottom for easing grabbing.  I close the door, look down at the toddler whose been watching and say:

"Try it now."

He grabs the closest knot, pulls gently, climbs the step and walks onto the porch.  He lets loose the rope and the door slaps shut.

"Dood ide-a, Daddy!" he says, smiling on the other side of the screen.

I go and sit back down under the maple canopy, thinned by the autumn wind, and smile in the understanding.

You see, this was my moment of Greatness.

A yoke of purpose in a forest...  Greatness.

A golden swing over a creek...  Greatness.

A climbing line tethered to a dream...  Greatness.

A strong rope for wet clothes and the ghosts of boys to come...  Greatness.

A green frayed rope of hope...  Greatness.

I simply cannot imagine just how many times that rope's been yanked.  I'd guess it's been up there for pushing seven, maybe eight years.  It often gets flipped around and ends up caught in the door, half in, half out.  It has weathered uncounted blizzards and sleet-storms and rains.  It has been baked and faded in the summer sun.  And yet...

The other day I stepped out into the yard on a cool, late summer's night.  I'd never noticed it before, but I usually hold the rope and close the door gently with it to keep it from slamming.  I guess I just missed it, or it'd slipped out of my hand, but it wasn't there and the door slammed in the quiet night and I panicked.  Not because I disturbed the night or the sleeping boys or my reading wife, but because I thought the rope was gone.  It wasn't but my heart cracked at the thought of it.

Boys, someday you may find a short piece of dirty, faded, frayed, sweat and tear stained green rope in the back of the second drawer of the rag dresser here in the basement...  Now, you'll remember what it was, I'd guess, but hopefully now, you'll know why I saved it.

Thanks, for sitting with me on the porch of my memory for while.  It is nice to have the company.


  1. Well done, it will be wonderful for them to have your voice. I so miss my Dad and Mother' voices. And my love's. It if very hard not to hear a loved one's voice anymore. Wish I could explain why I have kept all the things I have here in Boxes and drawers. Don't think I could do it without crying. I'm so afraid they will be thrown away without anyone knowings why they were important. In fact I am beginning to throw them away myself because I am afraid.

  2. Good god, what a beautiful post. Got me all emotional over a rope.

  3. Great post, Bill. It's funny how the simplest things can have so much meaning to some people. My mom is a "saver" and when I go to her house, I enjoy going through closets and trunks and drawers and finding things that will bring back a memory of my childhood. The last time it was a simple eraser that I'd drawn to make look like a race car. Silly, but I remembered it immediately as though I was still in 4th grade.