retrospect: the day I broke my toes

ah, the day I broke my toes. I learned a lot that day.

last year I was working to bridge a gap between two boulders while trying to keep my structure as thin as possible. I tried twice, and both times the internal shifting in my cantilevered stack was too much for any amount of weight to hold up.

I started trying a third time, this time taking photos as I went along, knowing I would probably lose the stack yet again…. I was getting more and more frustrated, listening less and less to my internal sense of what needed to happen. I had a goal firmly in mind, and was ignoring the reality of my situation. the sun was going behind the cliffs I built in front of. I wanted to complete MY IDEA, my thoughts. I felt like I had to prove something. who to? I don’t know.

this was the last picture I took before it happened.

a group of kids came over to look at my stuff. they thought it was cool. I was too tired to be very polite, but I tried to toss a few pleasantries at them in hopes they’d be satisfied and move on. they started leave, to my relief, but one kid wanted to touch the rocks. I didn’t know,  but she didn’t speak english. I was asking her to be careful, to not touch it, that it was very fragile, but to no avail. she repositioned a single stone.

that’s all it took. the whole pile started to shift as she walked off, and they didn’t notice as the first rock fell. infuriated, I moved to steady the cantilever, but it was too late. the delicate balance I had set up was out of whack, and the whole thing was going to come down, and I knew there was nothing I could do to stop it. however, my pride and frustration got the best of me. I kept trying to keep the pile together, as it shifted more and more – it finally crumbled, and I jumped out of the way – but not far enough. a huge rock crushed my three middle toes on my left foot.

the shock of that kind of thing makes it so you don’t feel the pain at first. I grabbed a nearby stone and hurled it as hard as I could into the cliff face, shattering it, bellowing in my anger – all my work! all my progress! gone! and it was HER fault! now my toes were bloody and torn and I was going to have to climb back up the cliff and walk back to my car, then drive my manual transmission truck all the way home! as I walked back, I stomped angrily with every first step and treaded gingerly with every second; if the pain hadn’t been explosive I would have stomped with both feet. all I could think about is how much I wanted to scream at that stupid girl.

once I got into my truck, the pain was getting worse, but my mental clarity was getting better. yeah, that girl had made a foolish mistake, but I should have known better. I knew from the outset of my first attempt that this stack was too unstable and that my building materials weren’t right for the job. I had failed twice and seen an obvious alternative solution, but I had been too pigheaded to give up on my idea. worst of all, I had KNOWN that after the girl moved that one rock, I should have moved; I knew it was coming down. however, I chose my pride over my safety, fantasy over reality.

the next time I went to the beach (weeks later) I knew that I couldn’t get so attached to an idea, no matter how wonderful it seemed at the time. sure enough, I worked on a certain tower configuration, it was unstable, I stepped back and reconsidered my strategy. I ended up liking the result a lot more than my original idea, and I think it fit the site better. not only that, I ended up with something more ambitious.

and I also wore my boots.

so, next time you’re out there doing something dangerous or something creative, let go of your preconceived or self-indulgent ideas and rethink your process. you might like the outcome a little better, and you might not have purple toes.

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