It is yesterday evening. In a break between episodes of Stranger Things, Emme and I run outside to throw a frisbee on the freshly mown lawn. The evening has cooled and the sun is below the horizon and it is beautiful out. We turn and catch and spin and throw, grass clippings collecting between our toes. It is only Emme’s second time with a frisbee and she is getting better quickly. I make a long leap for an errant throw and go tumbling across the lawn. It is fun and I bounce back up and we stay out another twenty minutes.
I think nothing of it until an hour or so later when I start to experience a sharp stabbing pain in the front of my right foot when I flex or touch it, and what feels like clicking when I move it. I keep it raised and iced for the rest of the evening. The pain wakes me up several times overnight, and by morning it is swollen and tender. It seems like a reasonable thing to get it X-rayed to be sure no small bone is cracked. We are waiting to leave so that we can take Claire to a friend’s house in Norwich on the way, and it occurs to me that the forecast is for rain in the afternoon, and that it is probably harder to climb a tree with a broken foot in the rain than it is dry, so I had better get to it. I say as much to Kim, and she looks at me as though this were final proof, if any were needed, that she married a moron.
Clearly, I can only climb if my right foot never touches the tree. I don’t want to invite either further injury, if it is broken, or more pain, even if it is not. I have never tried climbing the tree with only one foot before, so it will be an interesting experiment. I am able to haul myself up the ladder with two hands, hopping on my left foot from rung to rung. Once in the tree I make my slow way upwards, relying much more heavily on upper body strength than usual, doing pull-up after pull-up to lift my left leg to the next branch, holding my right leg bent behind me, like a woman in a movie being kissed. Sometimes it is not a pull-up I need but a dip, or what would be if my body were lowering between branches when instead I am rising up between them and then getting my right knee onto one of them before lifting my left foot to the same level, holding the trunk with my arms, and standing up. It turns out to be manageable, if a little arduous. But graceful it is not. It is awkward and slow. I have been shunted back to beginnerhood. I waste energy, I am clumsy, my movements are tentative. Several times I attempt something and have to try a different move to make it work.
I wonder, if this is an injury that takes a long time to heal, what it will be like to do this every day, what it will be like to do it in the rain. But it is deeply satisfying to stand there at the top, looking across at the hills. It is gratifying–and I am grateful–to have made it up with only one leg. I breathe for a while and look at green receding into softer shades of greenish-gray, then start my slow way down.
When I finally make it to the bottom to limp my way back across the lawn to the house, I have completed the entire climb without my right foot touching anything.
Several hours later the x-rays find nothing broken. It is most likely a damaged ligament or tendon, and I am to stay off it as much as possible to let it heal. I will have a good week’s practice to perfect my one-legged climbing technique. Maybe this is a good thing, where the tree is concerned, if not in the rest of my life: beginner’s body, beginner’s mind.