“Resolve” © 2011 Judy Grahn

In my senior year in high school I became fixated on the range of mountains outside our Mesilla Valley town, called the “Organ Mountains” because of their stark spires. My best friend’s boyfriend Skip offered to take me up their steep sides, and my friend Jan came with us. The daylong trip became an initiation for me.

I’m not sure if Skip then took us up to the needle called “Little Square Top” on the left with its several small peaks or if he took us through the rim walls and past the “Dark Saddle” notch to the pointy pinnacle just to the right of “Organ Needle,” or even—which would have suited his nature—up Organ Needle itself. It’s all pretty much the same height, though Organ Needle is the highest, at 9, 012 feet above sea level.

The usable air had noticeably thinned as we puffed our way up solid granite, using hands, knees, elbows, reaching what turned out to be layers of toothy spires like a shark’s mouth near the top, stopping to rest among a number of them, in a wash of sand and brush nestled between the bare spikes. Jan sprawled exhausted on the ground. Skip went on ahead without us. In the time he was gone I realized that Jan was sexually attractive, lying on the ground, with her muscled working class female body and short dark hair. Plus, she was breathing heavily in the oxygen starved air.  My rush of feeling shocked me, since I wasn’t in love with her, and had not so much as kissed any woman, and I had to look away.

Skip returned, his long legs angular as he balanced in the narrow terrain of granite spikes now surrounding us.

“You should come on up—it’s only 80 feet up, it’s not hard.  And at the top, the stone is so thin and pointed you can practically throw your arm over it, and see the whole Tularosa Plain.  You can see into Mexico.”

We were surrounded by the teeth of the dragon, standing in the open maw, and she held her great breath. I looked at him, looked at the spire of greyblue mountain top not very far above us, and looked at Jan looking suddenly frail with her eyes closed on the ground.  And I said no. If she couldn’t go, I wouldn’t go either. Skip, watching me shake my head, was dumbfounded, repeated his entreaty. I looked at my feet as I shook my head, feeling both strong in my decision and disappointed that I wouldn’t get to see the other side, wouldn’t get to think of myself as a “get to the top” sort of person. Yet here in this grand moment, witnessed by the ever-changing Organ Mountains, I sealed my pact with women.  “Whither thou goest, I will go,” as biblical Ruth had said to her mother-in-law, Naomi.  And the inverse, “I will not go anywhere without taking you with me.”


September 2011

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Community Forum

  1. Judy Grahn says:

    If only the mountaineering credo could be an ethic of our society! the memory
    has made me wonder what it means to “get to the top”–what exactly, a social “top”
    consists of anyhow, and why it is associated with “success”.

  2. Martha Shelley says:

    I wouldn’t have left her there either, but I probably wouldn’t have been thinking about it being because she was a woman. The rule in mountaineering and wilderness trekking is that you keep to the pace of the slowest person in the group. You don’t leave anyone behind.

    I don’t really remember when I began to identify with other women in that “sealing the pact” way. When I was a child in the 1950s, I was so different from all the other kids in my class that I didn’t feel like I belonged with either sex. Flashes of understanding came over the years.

  3. Muin Daly says:

    I’m blest to have been taken along..

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