I’ve decided, I like the way my hands look with climbing chalk in my fingernails.
I think it’s true what they say, hands do say a lot about a person. My hands are stocky, but very adept, strong, and hard-working extremities. I have a very firm handshake. Working with horses as a kid, bucking hay, and generally being a tomboy, gave me a strong grip that suited my stubby fingers. At that stage of my life it was usually dust and dander picked up brushing out a horse that found its way onto my cuticles and under my fingernails.
That just looked dirty and I was usually embarrassed if I was caught that way outside of the barn.
As I transitioned away from horses and into bicycling livestock dirt gave way to bicycle grease. I love using my hands to fix things, put things together, and make them work. In the community of bike shop employees greasy fingers are fairly well-accepted (although I used to know an amazing mechanic who NEVER had grease on his hands).
Outside the shop, bike-greasy fingernails just look dirty. I will still scrub my fingers raw just to remove stubborn grease before facing friends or the public.
Oh, but the climbing chalk, I like the way it looks. I’m not embarrassed by its presence. I rarely wash it off before I head home from my short bouldering forays. I suppose if you don’t know what it is, and you see me before I brush it all off, you wonder what I’ve been into to dry out my hands so. But, you know what? I don’t care.
This dirt, this white, soft, dusty layer of stuff, makes me too happy to care. Besides, I really do like the way my hands look dusted with the chalky powder. It helps me to embrace my strong, stubby fingers, rather than rueing them, by emphasizing their character in a way that barn grunge and bike grease can not.
Still girly in some ways, but not willing to fit a mold any more, I believe it’s time for me to learn to love what and who I am and that means not giving a care about having “beautiful” hands with manicured fingernails. Something that, expect for a brief couple of years in college, never fit my personality or lifestyle anyway.
Too, the chalk is a symbol for me; a symbol of listening to myself. Some time before my 50th Birthday, I started thinking about learning to climb. It took nearly a year, and a random prod from a friend to get me started. Even after my first stab at climbing, it took another couple of months to really dive in. Now, after feeling on the verge of obsessed with the activity, I understand why “I” was telling me to go.
“I” knew how good it would be for me. How did “I” know? I don’t know. But “I” was right, and I was right to listen (even though it took a while).
So why is this chalky existence so important, why do I find bouldering so much fun?
- I’m learning something new – bouldering routes are called puzzles for a reason. Learning to figure out how to solve these puzzles puts me into the moment just as creating art can. This bouldering thing has been a wonderful distraction. Gotta love that!
- I’m doing something physical – moving, sweating, even panting like I haven’t done since before my accident.
- I’m pushing my whole body – as a serious cyclist and skier my legs have had most of the past attention during athletic endeavors and it feels good to be spreading the attention to other parts of my body.
- My hands and shoulder are involved. I still have some residual stiffness, pain, and weakness in both my shoulder and right hand, from my accident three years ago. Clinging to and gripping rocks (faux rocks at the climbing gym) feels like the last bit of physical therapy I need to do to get back full use of these body parts.
- I can explore vertical habitats. On my first outdoor bouldering attempt I found it hard to concentrate on the hand and foot holds as I kept discovering interesting plants in the rock cracks and on tiny ledges. Most memorable was a wild strawberry situated on what was a good grip for my right hand. I expected ferns and sedums but not strawberry! Many outdoor bouldering spots are cleaned up a bit but this one had little plant surprises along with the puzzle of the route. I love that and look forward to discovering what else might be in store. I do think this will help me with reason #6, and compel me to go just…a…little…bit…higher.
- At some point I’ll have to face one of my biggest fears: heights. Crazy huh, someone with an innate fear of heights is learning to climb. So far, I have been very happy to work on short and traverse routes…but that is changing. I’m trying to improve and learning to push through my fear in order to achieve my goals. Since “I” is determined to do this, I know that’s part of why I’m picking up this pastime.
So here’s to chalky hands and new hobbies. High FIVE to bouldering!