Sometimes life does not change at the margins


One moment you are looking over the top of Yosemite falls, down a 2000-foot granite cliff, water droplets splashing against your skin. The next moment you are looking death in the face, laughing about the way you are going to die.


I had summited El Capitan earlier in the day, also the lesser known, but more beautiful Eagle Mountain. I looked at Yosemite Valley from its highest perch and It brought me to tears.


I ended the day at the top of Yosemite falls. We were to make the trek home in the morning. The ground was granite, there were only three trees at our campsite, they had no right being here, up above the tree line. I set up my hammock, I laid down in it, I looked up at the blue sky, I wanted to fall asleep, but I knew I still had to make dinner, force calories into my starving body.


Then the hammock began to stretch. I could feel my back touching the shrubs just above the rocky ground. My whole body landed softly. I heard a sound, it was a vicious and loud sound, the sound of atoms ripping apart. I knew that sound. When I was a kid, I took a blowtorch to a ball bearing, I wanted the marbles inside of it, steelies we called them. The iron turned a deep red, almost translucent, it looked like candy. I doused it in ice water, and the metal broke apart, it was the sound I was now hearing. It was the tree. The tree was ripping apart. The tree is coming towards me, I had seen it since the beginning, but my brain could not process a 30-foot tree that weighed thousands of pounds breaking in half just from the weight of my body. The straps that held my hammock up were pulling it right towards my face. I had maybe 2 seconds, a lot of time I thought.


I swung my shoulders so that I would roll right, roll away from the tree that would kill me, but I could not move. I am in a hammock, the hammock has wrapped around me. I am tied up in my hammock, and this tree is headed right towards me. I will die.


“This is how I am going to die?” I thought, “A tree? Of all the dumbass, crazy shit I have done in my life, this fucking tree is going to kill me?” And as that tree came down towards my face, I had four distinct thoughts, the last four thoughts of my life. The first was just that.



“This fucking tree, this is how I am going to die?”



About an hour earlier we came to our camp. I saw those three trees. They were shaped like an L. My friend had set up her hammock on two of the trees, and because of the shape I could set up my hammock, using one of her trees and the tree that had yet to be touched. After she set up, she realized that her hammock was too taught, she asked me if I had any extra carabiners, I did, I had two. And these were not normal carabiners, these were top of the line, 5000-pound carabiners. The best carabiners money could buy, not the cheapo ones people usually set hammocks up with.


She readjusted her bed for the night, it seemed fine. She decided not to test it out. She thanked me, then asked. “Why do you have two extra carabiners?”


The second thought I had was regret, not the type of regret you hear about in movies and bad daytime television. I didn’t wish that I spent more time with my family, I didn’t think I should have been a better man, or lived a fuller life. No my regret was sharp and specific. I wished I had created more. I wished I had worked harder. I wished I had left more behind for my fellow man.



“I am more than I have become, and soon I will be forgotten.”



A month prior to this excursion, I was at an outdoor store. I was on my way to my ballet class. Lightning in a Bottle was that weekend and I needed to buy a new tent and hammock. While I stood in line, waiting to pay, it occurred to me that the hammock probably came with those cheapo plastic carabiners. Something about having this crap be part of my gear bothered me. There was no need for better carabiners, good carabiners are expensive, but plastic carabiners seemed improper.


I asked the checkout person where they sold carabiners and he pointed me towards the climbing section. I looked down the rack and found them, carabiners ranked for 5000 pounds. The best money could buy. I reached over the desk to grab two, and just as I did, I was yelled at.


“Sir! I will be with you in a second.”

“I just need these,” I answered back.

“Sir, give me one minute.”


The carabiners were technically behind the counter, but they were right there, and the employee was talking to another customer. I was already cutting my class close, I shouldn’t have even come to this store. The class was five minutes away and it was about to start, I hate being late, I can’t stand being late. I felt my anxiety rise, I lost my cool, I grabbed for the carabiners again.


“Sir, please!” He raised his voice. I wanted to punch him.


I listened to their conversation. It was the stupidest conversation I had ever heard in my entire life. The lady was asking about climbing gear, she had no clue what she was talking about, she wasn’t a hiker, she was not going to buy anything, I could tell this in two seconds, yet the conversation went on and on. I looked at my clock, it had been 10 minutes, it had been ten fucking minutes.


The third thought was complete and utter acceptance of death. I was at peace. I was now going to die.


“The other side will be interesting, or not interesting at all.”


Finally, the attendant came up to me. “Can I help you?” I think he hated me as much as I hated him.


“Yes, can I get two carabiners?” He grabbed two carabiners, and can you believe it? Two of the same color. I know I am not alone in this, I like all my carabiners to be different colors. “Actually, I know this is weird,” I said, “but could I get two different colored ones.”


He pulled the carabiners back, grabbed a five pack and handed them to me. “Here, these are all different colors.”


I didn’t need five carabiners, I needed two. Carabiners are expensive. A box of five carabiners was 80 dollars. 80 dollars! I was late for class, I hated this guy, I didn’t want to spend 80 dollars, but I did, I think for no other reason than that I didn’t want to see his face any longer. Because of that asshole I had three extra carabiners, three carabiners ranked for the best climbers in the world. Three useless carabiners, two of which, my friend borrowed to make her hammock more comfortable for sleeping.


I was trapped, I could not move, that giant tree coming towards my face, I had accepted death. Then, at the very last moment, it veered right. It veered to the very place I had tried to roll just one second earlier. My friend’s Hammock had saved me, each side had two carabiners, one of hers, one of mine, each of hers had snapped instantly, my two carabiners were not even damaged. The smallest corner of one hers held to the corner of my hammock strap like a baby might grab onto its mother’s thumb. Those heavy-duty carabiners had saved my life.


I went into shock, I was shaking, someone held me. I got up, I pushed the tree, it would not budge, it was thousands and thousands of pounds. It was now as permanent as the rock. I should have been dead, except for that asshole who sold me the extra carabiners.


I told everyone my fourth thought, “You will never know what joy is, until you see a tree veer away from your face at the last second.” We laughed, we ate. It was a complete lie.


Fuck this earth and mother nature, human life is special. I don’t care what anyone thinks or says. What we do, does matter. It’s not just about running around and having fun. There is something more, God knows I have no clue what it is, but there has to be. My dead body had to have meant something. A fucking hammock, I was killed by a hammock. Life can go in a blink. It has to mean something.


My fourth thought, just as I realized I was going to live, just as I saw that tree veer away from my face. Utter disappointment. It was the worst heartbreak I had ever experienced, the biggest defeat I had ever known. I had lost the state championship, my college application was rejected, my wife told me she no longer loved me. I am not proud of my forth thought. I don’t know if it is the thought you would have. I hope not. It was not a good feeling. I had just come to terms with death, only to have it torn away from me, like that tree was torn apart.


“I accept my fate, but my fate does not accept me.”



Buy the Book

remember to check and see if you are attaching your hammock to a dead tree!

And always remember, Yosemite is the best!



Author: John-Michael Thomas

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