Chicago, a flat and lonely terrain

by Emma Durbin, Co-Editor-in-Chief

March 8, 2019

Climbing excites me. Climbing makes me feel alive.
I combat my fear.

I dream of mountains.

Chicago has been a mountain village all along. I never noticed the near-vertical driveway down to my mountain lodge: a secret cabin on the creek. Maybe I was busy?


Igneous. More commonly known as volcanic. In liquid form; magma, or lava. Magma is for under the surface of the earth. Lava is for above. When I moved to Oregon, I dreamt the Siskiyou mountains were all volcanoes—erupting—I had to escape. Years later I learned of a cave in Mount Shasta that leads to another realm. That’s why I dreamt of volcanoes. I was not the only one who had volcano dreams.

I dream of mountains because I am lonely.

I wake up. I am trapped and isolated. The hot Chicago sun sweeps away my mass of dirt and rock and redwood. The Midwest is humid and flat. Empty. I suffocate.

It is important for an artist to have a hobby. Rock climbing is mine.


Sedimentary. The sediment: sand, grain, dust. 

Interlocking grains huddle for warmth.

I need a hobby.

My loneliness is not a people problem.

I played various instruments as a child, all of which I quit. I did gymnastics. Quit that. Ballet. Never taught the technique and didn’t learn any until after I’d quit. I did theatre in high school. Instead of quitting that one, I’m in school for it.

Something happens in the woods.

I outsource my confidence. I search for success in my Facebook feed. I search for love on Instagram. When I step under a tree, all this pressure is blown away. I am free to love myself by myself.

I have no joy outside my art. I am desperate.


Metamorphic. The original rock (i.e. limestone) undergoes high heat or extreme pressure, creating a new rock (i.e. marble). A pre-existing rock receives a makeover. On the menu: sauna, deep tissue massage. For our igneous customers only: our ultimate two-in-one package will turn your frown into a diamond. Money back guarantee.

I bike for transportation. Many people have told me that biking is my hobby. If I drove my car to work every day, would driving be my hobby?

I crave adventure.

It’s hard to bike uphill, but if I had to choose between my bike and the mountains, it would be easy. Mountains.


Polyurethane. A plastic material used for indoor sport climbing.

I begin climbing my first summer in Chicago. I am used to mountains, friends with cars, and day trips. Grizzly Peak, Applegate, Green Springs, Castle Crags, Table Rock, Rouge River, Illinois River, the Coast, and Pilot Rock. In the city I have a bike and the CTA.

My first climb makes my arms limp and my knees shake.

I run out of breath and into life.

I sign up for a gym membership that lets me explore another activity I dreamed about two years ago: aerial. I’d gone to an aerial class before, and we played around with the height of the silks. I climbed to the top of the thirty-foot fabric.

I go to aerial on Tuesdays and climbing on Thursdays.

Climbing gives me momentum. I use it in my writing.

Within weeks, I find myself skipping aerial and climbing instead. In aerial classes I learn tricks on my silk swing, but the fabric reaches no higher than ten-feet. I don’t get to climb. Instead, I sit on my silk swing and grow butt-bruises. Climbing is rewarding; I don’t feel like I am making a physical sacrifice.

Climbing on Tuesdays and climbing on Thursdays. Sometimes climbing on Sundays.

Climbing makes me patient. I am a more patient writer every day.

The plastic wall that I climb isn’t made of earth, but it gives some inkling of that joy I find at the top of Grizzly Peak. Some inkling of that adventure.

Climbing teaches me trust. When I trust the rope, I am free.

I sit a lot. In a rehearsal, in class, in odd positions while writing. I’m confined.

Climbing reminds me that I am alive. That I am human.


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