The Free Soloist Who Fell to Earth
Plus, container gardening
A couple of weeks ago, I took Beckett for a quick lunch jog so my husband, Will, could get a little work done on the farm and I could escape my computer. My plan was to log some miles and ditch the stroller and Beckett with Will so I could immediately head back to work. But when we rolled up, my husband wasn’t running the tractor on the upper field as I’d expected. I found him sprawled on our kitchen floor with the fattest ankle I’d ever seen. Enter: Pure chaos.
Before kids, sprained ankles were annoying, a common injury you had to wait out. But if you’ve ever tried to wrangle a 16-month-old, you know that you have to be mobile and fast to do it. Suddenly it wasn’t only our weekend plans to bike to a local breakfast spot and dog jogs that were shot, but everything from cooking meals to trying to get my work done required 110% of my energy while also trying to manage a little dude running around, pulling the dogs’ tails, and getting into everything.
Will’s ankle is almost totally healed now, which meant it was doable for me to head to Denver for a work trip over the past few days. But when I got home at 1 a.m. after three flight delays and exhausted from the fun but all-consuming design sprint I’d been a part of, guess who decided it was time to party.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that life has been happening lately, and typical challenges are a lot harder to overcome with a toddler in tow, so I had to skip a couple of Sticks and Stones sends, and I’m keeping this one on the brief side, given that I’m running on fumes. As always, thanks for reading. I hope to be back on track after this.
What I’m reading
When free soloist Austin Howell died in the summer of 2019, the headlines read as they normally do: There were a lot of phrases like “fatally falls” and “falls to death” and “killed in 80-foot fall.” What most, if not all, of them failed to mention was that Howell was struggling with his mental health. Some close to him suspect this was a direct result of the brain trauma he suffered following a fall from an indoor wall in 2008—and another TBI in 2015 when a piece of gear pulled out as Howell climbed the first pitch of El Cap’s the Nose.
In this long read for Outside, Michael Levy beautifully documents Howell’s adventurous life, while also exploring connections between TBIs, mental health, and rock climbing.
I followed along as he soloed 19 different 5.12’s, a grade that many people spend their lives trying to climb with a rope on. Many of the routes were in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge and had little margin for error—an overhanging 5.12 could be as steep as the underside of a church dome; a vertical 5.12 might have grips the width of a dime’s edge. One time he free-soloed over a mile of technical terrain in a single day. The number of people in the world soloing that volume at that difficulty can likely be counted on one hand.
Howell saw his free soloing as the product of careful, sober analysis. He spent hours ahead of each hard climb satisfying what he called his “preflight checklist,” making sure he’d accounted and planned for all the variables that could go wrong. But the annals of climbing, like other extreme sports, are littered with stories of risk-takers who convinced themselves that they could reason their way out of catastrophe.
Read “The Free Soloist Who Fell to Earth” here.
I’ve read Anne Helen Petersen’s Culture Study newsletter since it launched—and was a huge fan of hers long before, too. So, of course, the moment she mentioned in her latest send that she would be starting an offshoot of it focused on gardening, I was all in. I love plants. I’m married to a farmer, and yes, my 3’x3’ berry garden looks pretty pathetic next to his massive field of vegetables. But since I moved in, I’ve slowly been growing “my yard,” which now features an herb garden, some hops, several trees, and a massive wildflower garden that I planted for my two beehives. Over the past few years, I’ve gradually become more obsessed with my little slice of the five-acre farm I live on. (I also hoard houseplants like the millennial I am.)
AHP’s first edition of Garden Study, as she calls the newsletter, does not disappoint. It’s dedicated to container gardening and features lots of helpful advice and some truly lovely photos.
When we bought this house (on an island of Washington State, Zone 8a) there were bountiful pots filled with Home Depot plants. They were gorgeous, in that moment, but as I’ve written about before, they were planted to sell the house, not to be with the house. I didn’t really know how to care for them other than to water every few days, and that’s what I did…until the next Spring, when I realized I had a whole bunch of pots (probably 15?) of various quality and no idea what to put in them. Thus began my container gardening self-education.
This is my third summer of pots, and I’ve had some real beauties and some totally hilarious experiments. But “how do I start container gardening” is one of the questions I get most often, so I’m going to start by sharing some real basics of what I’ve learned and am continuing to learn.
Read “Container Gardening Explained” here.