Matt Niswonger

SPRING THAW: From sadness and loss to hope and opportunity

From record snowfall and collapsing roofs to coastal flooding and broken levees, this winter has pushed us to the brink. Long winters take a toll on the emotions. This can lead to exhaustion, and the inability to function well. Pretty soon your productivity grinds to zero. Nothing gets done and life feels overwhelming. Spring Thaw

Recently, I found out a close friend and former climbing partner committed suicide. We had lost touch over the years, but he was still a big part of my history. We climbed El Capitan in Yosemite together in 2000. We worked well as a team. He was one of the most caring people I’ve ever known. His name was Scott Fey.

When we launched Adventure Sports Journal back in 2001, he was at our launch party. Scott gave a toast to mark the occasion. He got teary eyed as he shared how inspired he was by ASJ. He really believed in what we were doing.

I met Scott in 1999. We were taking a big wall class together at Pacific Edge Climbing Gym. We set up a bad hauling system together and made vague plans to climb El Cap. We were both ambitious and lighthearted at the same time. When our instructor told us our hauling system was terrible, we both laughed.

When I learned of his passing, I was climbing at Pacific Edge but it was almost 25 years later. A mutual friend asked if I “heard about Scott.” A sense of dread came over me. I knew she was going to say Scott was dead. I could see the pain in her eyes.

That was a couple weeks ago. I’m still struggling to come to grips with it. I feel guilty because I let my friend slip away. Clearly I wasn’t there for him in his time of need.

I have a bunch of unresolved feelings about Scott. Learning about him was my “winter moment.” It was like I was in denial about how hard this winter has been. Then I heard about Scott and I saw the whole thing in context. This has a been a hard fucking winter. For a few days after I learned about Scott I felt numb.

An old  saying in Buddhism goes, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” The point of this teaching is impermanence. We are all in a state of transition. Every season gives way to the next season. At the end of it all lies the mystery of death. Life is a journey that comes to an end for all of us. That’s what makes it so precious.

I’m not saying this winter has been all bad. In between the storms, my friends in the Tahoe area are enjoying the most snow in decades. I’m just saying it’s been particularly long, dark, wet, and heavy.

But now change is in the air. Spring is coming and I’ve got a sneaking suspicion it’s going to be outrageously green, buoyant, and beautiful. Fun is on the horizon. A hard winter is giving way to a wonderful spring. It’s almost time to dust off the mountain bike and hiking shoes.

I know Scott would want me to embrace spring. When it came to climbing he was always my greatest cheerleader. He was at his best when when we were struggling to make progress on a big climb in Yosemite. When things got hard and scary he always stayed positive. That’s why his passing came as such a shock. Learning about his death was the hardest part of my winter but he wouldn’t want me to dwell on it. He would want me to embrace a happier season.

I survived this winter by meditating and going to the climbing gym. Now the sun is shining. I can dwell on winter or I can embrace spring. I’ve already made my choice. How about you?

Welcome to spring 2023. In this issue we embrace a new season and mark the passing of a long hard winter. We can’t pretend it’s been easy but we can say we are ready for whatever comes next. Whatever fun lies ahead is well deserved. Spring Thaw

RIP Scott Maurice Fey. 1968-2022

— Matt Niswonger

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 9-8-8. The Lifeline is free, confidential, and always available.

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