Pushing Boundaries

Growing up, I was called a tomboy. That was back when such a phrase didn’t elicit PC eyerolls. It was also a time when kids weren’t cooped up. We were free-ranged. Even the youngest of us were allowed to roam around the neighborhood unsupervised all day.

Instead of playing with Barbies and Easy-Bake Ovens with the girly-girls, I was out with the boys and other adventure-minded girls climbing trees, skinning knees, and scouting out the secret treasures of my little corner of the world. Ravines swollen from recent rain needed wading. There were lizards and grasshoppers to catch, moth cocoons to take home and keep vigil over, and giant army ant hills to dig into and to watch with fascination as they instantly mustered their numbers to repair the stronghold.

And of course, there were all the impromptu dares to each other. In this kid version of one-upmanship we tested our minds and our bodies. We would push to see who could run the fastest, who had the nerve to climb highest in the trees, who could do the craziest death-drop from the monkey bars, and who was weird enough to pick up that gross leech we just discovered.

In this way, we found our limits.

As I bumped up against the outer bound of an ability, I’d plant a mental fence post. With each next limit, I’d drop another post. This went on another two decades until I’d marked and mapped the farthest extremes of my physical capabilities.

When you’re young, your body always seems up for the next thing you throw its way.

It is forgiving … up to a point.

Even the most indulgent parents becomes less willing to humor a child as they grow up. In the beginning, it seems trifling to give a toddler every small thing they want. Later, parents can still shrug it off when their older child places bigger and bigger demands on them. But when that child reaches adulthood, the demands start to seem unreasonable. Obnoxious even. That unsuspecting child is shocked and feels abandoned the day his parents refuse his next request.

So it is also with our bodies.

While we’re young, our bodies play along, humoring and enabling us. With that, we become spoiled, comfortable that our capabilities can be summoned whenever we need them. Soon enough we start to take those capabilities for granted. So much so that we are quite shaken when our bodies issue that first stern, “No.”

Whether it comes at age 35 or 50, that first refusal is a whammy. With each subsequent one (and there are many), the sting is lessened. You become accustomed to it. Each denial refactors our mental map, draws another fence post inward, and reduces the scope of those once expansive areas.

For me, the shrinking of some of these territories has been easier than others. Many I quietly accept as I adapt to the new constraint. There are a few that I push back against – refusing like a willful child to take no for an answer.

With dedication and effort, maintaining a favorite boundary extreme can be done. It requires constant watch and periodic testing of each post to make sure it doesn’t topple and take others with it. With that strengthening, it is even possible to push a post or two back outward.

On the road, Glenn and I have ample opportunity to explore our boundaries and push them back.  Like ranchers out riding fence, we’re rediscovering posts that haven’t been visited for a long time. As we do, we pick them up and dig them in, pushing them tight against the wire.

Hiking, climbing, leaping, we reclaim old boundaries marked in our youth, and we discover that we have free range of our capabilities.

At Pinnacles National Park, we tested our boundaries again while summiting its moss- and lichen-covered High Peaks.

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