The Acclimatization Climb: Reframing the Rejection Letter

November 30, 2020 § 12 Comments

By Michele Genest

My sister-in-law is just starting to think about submitting stories to magazines. When we were chatting about our writing the other day I told her I’d been collecting rejection letters lately, and quoted John Haggerty, founding editor of Forge Literary Magazine, who said rejection was the default state of the writer.

Barb said, “The default state! If that’s the default state, isn’t there another word we could use? Something more positive than ‘rejection’?”

I thought back to the trek around the Dhaulagiri Massif in Nepal my husband and I had undertaken a few years ago.

“How about ‘acclimatization’?”

Barb said, “Explain.”

*

On Day Eleven we reached Italian Camp, about 12,000 feet above sea level, and were five days away from climbing to French Pass; at 17,500 feet, our highest pass. At breakfast on Day Twelve, Scott, an informal leader in our small group, announced that in consultation with our guides, he was renaming our “rest” days. We would now be calling them “acclimatization” days.

“In other words,” he said, “We will not rest today. Today we will hike up to 13,000 feet, to acclimatize for tomorrow, when we will reach nearly 14,000 feet.” So we abandoned our plans for washing socks, reading, snoozing in the sun and drinking tea, and set off on our acclimatization climb.

For the first time on this trek, air was hard to get. Inhales were frequent and deep, exhales hurried, to get to the next inhale. Scott said it might be a good idea to push it, go a little faster, expand our lungs. And so we pushed it, moved a little faster, breathed a little harder. And it felt like pushing, pushing, against a block of resistance with our chests.

We reached a stony plateau, the end of our hike, and stretched out on the ground. Our guide Devi attached bright new prayer flags to a faded, tattered sling of flags strung between two ancient cairns. Choughs flew at eye level up the valley, across the flanks of Dhaulagiri peaks One, Two and Three, their black backs shining in the sun.

In a small hollow we found wild rosehips, as big as apples.

We rested for a while in the thin, clear air, and turned to go back down.

The next day we climbed to 14,000 feet, one foot after another, breathing carefully, and reached Japanese camp in good time and in good shape.

*

When I finished the story, Barb said, “Yes!

We decided: we would rename “rejection” letters. They would now become  “acclimatization” letters—not a rejection, just a moment to pause, do some squats, hoist our knapsacks onto our backs, get back on the path, expand our lungs, and climb to the next height. 

There, we will hang prayer flags.

We will watch choughs fly at eye level, shining in the sun.

We will find rosehips, as big as apples.

___

Michele Genest lives and writes in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. Her work has been published in Geist Magazine and national newspapers. She is co-editor of two anthologies of Yukon writing, Urban Coyote and Urban Coyote New Territory. She is currently writing a memoir set on a Greek island and in Toronto in the 1980s. Find Michele at borealgourmet.com.

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