The Beauty of Uncertainty
Updated: Aug 25
“You are born alone. You die alone. The value of the space in between is trust and love.”
~ Artist Louise Bourgeois
It was my first day in Olympic Valley, CA, June 17th, 2019, when my world was rocked by a Black Wolf and my future wife. I haven't seen the Wolf since, but it was the Black Wolf that led to Nicola and me connecting on Facebook and meeting in person over two years later.
This is our love story.
Never will I forget the enduring stare of the Black Wolf, projecting total balance, inner peace and wisdom. It was a look of knowing, of total presence. I was able to snap a photo with my shaky hands. Apparently, no Black Wolf has ever been seen before or since in Olympic Valley.
According to Quornesha S. Lemon, Shaman, Writer, Healer, and Teacher, "The wolf predicts something lying beneath the surface that you can't see physically but you sense it... listen to this. As it will get louder and louder and will often make light of this through people acting out." This prophesy would play out later.
It was a post with my Wolf image on Facebook's Truckee Tahoe People page that led Nicola to send me a friend request. She was in London, 8 time zones away, but I felt an immediate connection with her and I "sensed" a closeness that seemed impossible to justify at the time.
Within a couple weeks of chatting back and forth, Nicola revealed to me she had made a mistake. She thought she was friend-requesting another Michael Kennedy, someone from her past. But that didn't stop us from continuing our dialogue, and a friendship developed.
Nicola had lived in Olympic Valley a few years earlier, fell in love with the place, but she went back to London for family reasons before I arrived. As a ski instructor, she became intimately familiar with the unique mountain landscape and the high-alpine footprint of the Olympic Valley mountains. This would come in handy later...
Two months into our Facebook friendship something remarkable happened, permanently changing how I felt about this lovely woman.
Having recently moved to Tahoe from Florida with zero mountain climbing experience I decided to climb Tram Face which abruptly rises nearly 1,200 feet straight up from the Olympic Valley floor. The rock is intimidating even to the seasoned climber, made of primarily decomposed granite - not good for climbing - especially for a novice "gaper" like me.
Off and up I went.
The problem? I didn't have climbing equipment, (ropes, gloves, etc.). I didn't have the proper boots. And I didn't have a clue what I was in for, I just wanted to get to the top. I did have a backpack, however, with a bottle of wine, corkscrew and glass... you know, to celebrate once I summited Tram Face. In other words I had nothing I needed, and everything I shouldn't have had.
I pulled my way up, grabbing the dense evergreen shrubs until there were no more shrubs to grab, just slabs of vertical rock for my slippery hands. At some point along the way I realized I made a massive mistake by not taking the path to the top.
It was then that I did the unthinkable: I started to dial 911 to have a helicopter come rescue me from the tight crevasse my body was now wedged within. Paralyzed in fear and unable to move up or down, instead of calling 911, I decided to call Nicola in London via Facebook messenger. After all she was familiar with this mountain and maybe, just maybe, she could talk me to safety. She answered.
The first thing Nicola told me to do was put us on FaceTime so she could see exactly where I was. I showed her the wires of the Olympic Valley Aerial Tram directly above my head, the lift which rises straight up the steepest part of the face. I was shaking uncontrollably. My breathing was shallow and labored, voice cracking. Sweat fell off me dropping into the abyss below. And Nicola yawned. Not just a quick yawn, but a long drawn-out, one-fisted yawn - as if she was... bored.
Later she revealed it was her attempt to change my state of mind. She knew I was surging with fear, panic and anxiety. Nicola knew I was in a very bad spot physically and mentally. Her strategy worked. She calmed me down and got me to move from where I was to where I needed to be, a place called Via Ferrata, about two hundred yards away.
Via Ferrata, Via FaceTime
Via Ferrata means “Iron Road” in Italian, it's a protected climbing route found in the Alps and certain other locations around the world, including Tram Face in Olympic Valley, CA. Via Ferrata employs steel cables and rungs and ladders fixed to the rock. Climbers affix a harness with two leashes, securing themselves to the metal fixtures, limiting any falls. And there are professionally trained guides that lead climbers on half-day expeditions to the top.
But on this day there were no climbers or guides on Via Ferrata. I had no gloves, no harness, and no leashes to secure myself to the metal fixtures anchored into the rock. I had a choice, Nicola said, "Either go up or possibly slide off the mountain."
Off and up I went.
The image above was the first iron anchor along the cliffside trail to the top. For the next hour and a half I held on with my life to these steel anchors over a thousand feet above ground, dangling across Tram Face, praying every inch of the way. Slipping was not an option.
The Power of Concentration
I had a similar experience when I was 15 while flying a plane solo I couldn't land. To get through that nightmare I had to embrace the fear. By resigning myself to to the truth of the situation: when I stopped fighting the what-if scenarios, I was able to focus more fully on holding on to each of the ascending anchors with my gloveless hands. The less attention I devoted to what could happen to me (hanging by a thread on this vertical rock), the more attention I could give to what was actually happening. I was moving up, and I wasn't about to stop until I got to the top.
After 2 hours and 47 mins, I made it to the top, safely. I called back Nicola and told her I loved her for saving my life. (Note: Do NOT climb Via Ferrata without a guide or the proper climbing equipment and gear. My situation was unique, I got off course and had no choice.)
Between family commitments and Covid related international traveling restrictions, more than 2 years would pass before Nicola could fly back from London to California. During that time, we maintained constant contact via FaceTime and Facebook messenger.
And then in late August 2021, Nicola finally flew across the Atlantic to San Francisco where I picked her up and we met for the first time in person. And we clicked. Thank God.
We knew we were meant to be together. And we married exactly 3 weeks later.
It started with a Black Wolf encounter in Olympic Valley, CA. This led to an accidental Facebook friend request from a beautiful woman in London, a rescue off a mountain, two years of dialogue across the Atlantic and, finally, marriage.
Everything about this pattern was uncertain: The Wolf could have been there and gone in an instant. I may have never taken the photo that got Nicola's attention across the ocean. Nicola could have friend requested the other Michael Kennedy. And I could have easily missed both her and the Wolf. I could have slipped off the mountain. We could have been disappointed once we met each other in person.
But the Wolf was there for more than a moment. Nicola friend requested me. I didn't fall off the mountain. We did fall in love. And we married. Nicola continues sending shock waves through my life. The kind Henry Miller experienced with June Mansfield… Charles Bukowski with Jane Cooney Baker. She's more than a muse. I’ll never grow old with Nicola because youth is her style.
Sometimes... sometimes, there's beauty in uncertainty. And the wild and crazy thing? Our story is just beginning.
Hello! I’m Michael Kennedy, Olympic Valley, CA resident. I’m a freelance writer and photographer. Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed it, please share with others. I value your attention, it means a lot to me and it helps others see the story. If you're interested in any awe-inspired photos in this post, or in the gallery: click here, or just call or text at 530.608.9150. Let me know what size you want, and I'll send a quote. My email: email@example.com.