Great Heights

I wasn't always afraid of heights.

I could climb the tallest tree until the supporting branches thinned and bent, threatened to snap and send me earthward. I would climb down apartment buildings by the balconies, would scare girlfriends by hanging over the ledges.

I don't remember when my fear of heights began. It might have been the times when I fell. The time that I slipped on my way down from that great tree out by the old train tracks, south of Borden Farm, when I hugged the trunk as I came down and the coarse bark took the layers of skin from my arms. Or the time that I lost my grip from a balcony and fell from the apartment building. I was only on the second floor when I fell, plunged only about 12 feet into deep snow, but I had started on the seventh floor.

It could have been a lot worse.

I don't fear heights when I'm behind glass in a sturdy building or on a structure that is secured with high fences and railings. I wasn't afraid when I stood at the top of a crumbling tower at Harlech Castle, on the west coast of Wales, standing close to the edge, trying to capture a photograph of the courtyard below, my wife, holding onto a railing with one hand and the belt around my waist in the other, making sure the fierce wind that blew didn't take me over the precipice.

I once climbed up onto the roof of my home, to assess some damage to some shingles after a nasty storm. I climbed out a bedroom window at the back of the house, onto the gently sloping roof that covers our family room and then used a step ladder to get onto the main roof.

From the top, I could see beyond the neighbourhood. I could see the greenbelt to the north and the northern end of Nepean. Our area is on high ground, and downtown Ottawa is below our height.

You can see fireworks displays on Parliament Hill and Lac Leamy from Barrhaven. If I had the courage, if I didn't fear heights, I could sit on the roof of my house on Canada Day and watch the fireworks. I wouldn't hear the explosions but no matter: the firework display from Clarke Fields, on the western edge of my community, would provide the soundtrack. And if I chose to watch that display, I would have an unobstructed view.

But I become petrified on my roof. The one time that I climbed it, as soon as I had reached the peak, climbing on my hands and knees, as soon as I saw the northern part of our city in the distance, I wanted to get down. I was sure that I was going to slip, and that I would roll down the front of the roof and onto our front lawn.

I slithered, slowly, feet first, belly sliding along the roof shingles, back the way I had come, without assessing any potential damage. Instead, I called professionals. Let them take all of the risk.

Sometimes, I dream that I'm standing at a great height, on a teetering structure, and I find myself falling. In other dreams, I'm driving a beater car at great speeds on steep roads, and suddenly, there is no road under the car.

I have fallen from great heights in many dreams, and all the way in my decent, the fear is overwhelming, and yet, I never wake up. They say that if you hit the ground when you dream, you die in real life. How do they know that?

And what do they know? If that's true, I've died a hundred times. Because I always land in my dreams. Always, on all fours, whether I started in a vehicle or if I am knocked over a ledge.

I always land. And I'm always all right.

Comments