The Secret Language of Fences- Jeffrey Lange

The Secret Language of Fences

By: Jeffrey Lange

There’s this black iron gate that stands in front of the door to my apartment. It’s about five feet high, made up of spiked vertical posts with two horizontal bars running across. On my way home one day I stopped to open the door in the gate and it was jammed. For the smallest fraction of a second I found myself thinking: “Crap, how am I going to get inside now?” The fence truly couldn’t have been a smaller obstacle. All I needed to do was grasp the upper bar in between the metal spikes with my hands, place a sturdy foot on the lower bar, and then heave my legs up and over to the right of my hands in an easy side vault. It may have only been for the tiniest piece of time, so quick it can’t even be measured, but I allowed myself that single brief thought. This momentary defeat. by something so simple depressed me. Our environments speak a language to us. Sidewalks say “this way,” doors say “open me,” and fences say “stop.” For that brief moment, I heard the fence say “stop” and I obeyed. But there’s a secret language to our surroundings. A language that whispers to us instead of screams, and if you lean in close enough to listen you’ll find there are answers hidden in this quiet language. It can tempt you, dare you, and taunt you, and after you’ve spent enough time listening to it, you’ll begin to realize how much more you are capable of. Freerunning taught me how to hear this secret language.

My defeat at the iron gate happened during an unfortunate hiatus from my parkour explorations. My mind was slipping into its old ways, and it wasn’t until that flash of a thought that I realized I needed to get back out there and freerun again. It was just one small example of how we can allow our environments to say “no” to us. “No, don’t jump over me. No, don’t cross the street yet. No, don’t run.” This is what we hear so often, but the secret language does not have a word for “no.” It says “yes” to everything you can think of and then begs you to think of more. The world around you changes when you hear this secret language and you can feel yourself expanding, growing, allowing. Suddenly you aren’t bound to the paths of sidewalks and roads. Suddenly the world is your oyster.

I started freerunning with some friends of mine when I was in middle school. Back then, parkour was hardly known stateside and we lovingly referred to what we were doing simply as “climbing and jumping off of stuff.” There was something about rooftops that I found (and still find) endlessly fascinating. Chalk it up to an upbringing of superhero fiction. After all, Green Arrow and Batman sure weren’t hanging out at the mall. I remember the first building I ever climbed and how it opened me up to an entirely different world. After scaling a couple tiers of the small structure I stood at its highest point, among the ventilation boxes and the gravel surface. Everything looked different from up there. I felt as though I had climbed up and stood above everything that was telling me “no.” I felt in control, and immediately I wanted to expand upon this feeling. I wanted to find new things to say “yes” to.

To feel at peace with your environment, to feel a true sense of freedom in your surroundings, is to understand what it is and how it works, to become more than a passing spectator and to become actively involved with all its obstacles. Eventually I found that there was a name to my outdoor activities. In France they were calling it parkour, and freerunning was its closely related offshoot. I scoured the internet for all the information I could, anxious to expand my knowledge of the subject and learn how to better explore a setting. Soon I was racing out to find railings to monkey vault, walls to wall run, balconies to cat jump. Places I had been to so many times before suddenly demanded another visit. I needed to uncover the secrets of these locations, and then move on to the next.

I often think of some of the wonderful places I’d like to see in the world. I think about how great it would be to go to Egypt and see the pyramids. But then I realize that those pyramids are a tourist attraction, engulfed in the “no” of so many rules and regulations, under constant surveillance. And rightly so. But I feel like I could never truly appreciate such a majestic environment without an unfettered opportunity to explore it. If I can’t know what it feels like to have my spine roll across a surface, I’m not rooted to it the way I should be. I need to see if a ledge can support my weight, if my fingers can grip the corner. If I have to say “no” to the pleas of the secret language I become disconnected, absent. If I see a structure I can’t truly appreciate it until I explore my relationship with it, until I know its traction and touch its gravity. As a result, I would much rather visit a dank alleyway with a rusty fire escape than see the pyramids. There I can explore and experiment. There I can open up my dialog with the secret language. It’s not that freerunning has ruined my ability to appreciate monitored environments like the pyramids, its that is has expanded the value I place on everything else, causing such respected locales to pale in comparison.

The secret language welcomes me as a participant instead of regulating me as a spectator. It wants me to ask questions and maybe it can give me answers. Freerunning explores this relationship; it teaches me to overcome certain obstacles and to realize that others were never there in the first place. Through freerunning, I have discovered another world, and this one never says “no.”

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Written by Janine   
Friday, 02 April 2010 19:00
Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 21:52