Adventurer Rebecca Williams holds her breath and takes a dive off of Looking Glass Rock in Utah–and discovers what‘s on the other side of fear. From “The Joy Swing,” in the 2023 issue of Deep Wild Journal, forthcoming this June.
“I scream. I go off that anxious edge into a free-fall of terror. The rope and the anchor and my belayer all do the job I trust them with my actual life to do: they catch me. And when I feel the solidness of my weight in my harness, the fear gives way to something else. A feeling I had not known enters: an altogether new and different cocktail of hormones and dopamine and serotonin floods my nervous system.
“I swing out between the vastness of the desert and the closeness of the rock. I swing in, past the rock’s orange edge, smooth and curved like the bone of some bygone leviathan. An earth-bone— this pile of petrified sand that was once above the ground, then buried under the ground, and now above the ground again. The whole of its aeons of silent existence now, in the pinprick of this moment, include me.
“As I swing out, the sky comes closer. The land before me is no longer a still and silent vista, but a space I can move into— with every swing into it, it catches me and with each swing back, calls me toward it again. I can respond to its beckoning, its siren song that commands everyone who has ever stood on such a cliff: Jump. Try to fly. The desert calls out insatiably in our hearts: This world has room for you. All you need to do is come toward it. There is room for my little body, my little slice of time.
“I am telling you something important: I am telling you what is on the other side of fear. The fear that we don’t belong. That no one wants us. That we aren’t worthy. This fear, which kills even the most joy-giving of souls, can be denied all its credibility on the end of a rope at Looking Glass Arch. At least it was for me. What is on the other side of fear is joy.”
Rebecca Williams is an artist, writer, and mother who lives in Atlanta, GA. She travels to the American high desert every chance she gets to rock climb, ski, and explore rivers. She will begin earning her MFA in Nature Writing at Western Colorado University in 2023. To read her essay in full, and the work of 51 other writers in Deep Wild 2023, visit deepwildjournal.com/subscribe
I LOVE THIS! Thank you, Rebecca.
What you have written brings fresh perspective to my own experiences taking risks in the outdoors.