W

hen I suggested that we hike to a waterfall over the weekend, I conveniently forgot the fact that I have developed a bit of a problem with heights.

I haven’t always felt this way, all hot and weak-kneed when confronted with an actual, gaping maw, but I can point to enough occasions on which I’ve been beset with this precise reaction that I should know better by now. There was the time I was enormously pregnant with Marcel and a scenic drive around Southern California landed us at an overlook that had me taking tiny steps back from the edge as if no one would notice (including the sentient ledge, I suppose) if my movements were small enough. Or the time my friend and I drove off-road to visit a monastery and the whole left side of my world slid away into a beautiful (or terrifying, whatever) view of the Chama Valley. I completed the drive with my hands slick on the steering wheel, grateful that we would spend two nights at our destination before I would have to drive past that drop again.

Then, yesterday, during a hike to visit a small waterfall at Bandelier National Monument, I had to inch my way down to a seated position after the ground fell away around us, leaving us to walk to our destination at roughly eye-level to where the waterfall dropped over the edge and descended to the ground below.

“Are you okay?” Scott asked, and I lied and said something vaguely in the affirmative that sounded like, “Hmmmugnghgh.”

Don’t ask me what I was expecting. By definition, a waterfall isn’t a waterfall unless there is a precipitous drop of some distance involved. All I can tell you is that, in my mind, the waterfall could be up as high as it wanted to be, but I would be admiring it in all of its natural glory from down below, someway, somehow.

This was flawed reasoning, of course, wishful thinking colliding with real-world conditions that resulted only in my being doubled-over and gasping in what Scott helpfully described as a chute—a naturally-occurring spot in which runoff in a hard storm would have pushed me down and, possibly, out of and off from my scant refuge. Admitting that I have a problem with wild elevation doesn’t mean I can’t hike; it means that I have to choose my adventures with an honest eye toward the emotional circumstances in which I find myself. Otherwise, I am only making a mess—and not just out in the wilderness, either.