Monday, June 26, 2017 This Week's Paper

Steel your constitution, harness your confidence and zip past the cliff

My fears and I get along very well, thank you. I have managed to make a pretty nice life without snakes and heights. I have enlisted my weaknesses, including, but not limited to, a sketchy sense of balance, and contrived to make such excellent sense of my failings that I recommend my plan for everyone: No climbing K2. No high wire shenanigans. No driving the Going To The Sun Highway. I would feel sheepish about building a life around No if I did not have such good company. I refer, of course, to the folks who run our federal government. Read, watch, listen to the news, and you see them plastering over their shortcomings with talking points until they have left no room to stretch. That would be okay if they had not also built a fiscal cliff with a jagged pile of financial ruin at its base. They are tripping toward it now, and dragging us all with them. They need Jennifer Robinson. Robinson manages Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s new ZOOM! Zipline & Challenge Course. Part wall, tightrope, cliff and not-so-safety net, ZOOM is the sum of some pretty big fears. (The spiders and snakes are in a nearby building.) Robinson is the guide who gets you through them. Not past them. Through them.

In ZOOM, she sees a metaphor for our federal government. There is danger at every step, and there is one constant that saves us. At ZOOM, it is the safety harness. With the feds, it is the Constitution. With both, we can try, and fail, and fall, and be caught in time to give it another try. “Trust the harness,” Robinson says. “Trust the Constitution.” And so we buckle up. “We” in the drizzle on Dec. 10, were Tacoma Weekly videographer Cedric Leggin and a troop of zoo employees getting familiar with the new attraction – kind of like meeting Nigel the coendu, but in his native rainforest canopy. There are two clips on the harness, and, thanks to the magic of magnets, you cannot undo both of them from the course’s cables at the same time. If you fall, at least one of them will keep you attached to the cables. You might look ridiculous, hanging 30 feet up in the pines, but you are not going to die. Trust the harness. Robinson demonstrated. Line the clip up with the cable and tug. Voila. Instant safety. Or not so voila.

I resisted the clip’s simplicity. Never got the hang of pointing the arrow on it to the metal cable. Never mastered the tug. I had to fiddle with it the way members of Congress poke and pull at any procedure that might lead to progress. If I had not been last on the course, the rest of the group might still be up in the trees, lost in a fog of resentment. Robinson drew on all her patience. “You’ll get the hang of it,” she said. “Just put the arrow next to the metal.” We were still on the ground, practicing, and wondering if we could walk through a fishnet, traverse a bridge of rope loops, get past the obstacles on a double high-wire or if we would fall between the zigzag logs. “If you focus on that doubt, you’re not going to make it,” Robinson said. “If you have the faith that you can trust your harness – your constitution – you can conquer that fear. But if you can’t put your trust in your harness, there is no way to accomplish it. You will allow that fear, and you will fail.”

If you feed, or feed on, your colleague’s fears, the whole enterprise can end in people stuck on platforms reveling in pettiness. Robinson would not stand for that. We the people should not either. There is a way to deal with someone about to walk a high wire, to work out the nation’s finances. Note to the feds: It is not mocking, sniping or shaking the other end of the wire. It is the Robinson way. “Some people say it’s easier duck-walking across it,” she said. Do not worry about how it looks, she said. Nobody is laughing at you. Everyone wants you to succeed. Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner might take a lesson. Imagine them calling out helpful hints to each other. “John, on that log bridge, don’t put both feet on each log. Try a more natural gait.” “Hey, Nance, I found that if I don’t put my whole foot in the climbing wall’s holes, I don’t get stuck.” Imagine all those guys rooting for each other to draw on their core strength to get across the rope net wall. “You are going down! Step up! Grab it and step up a rung. You can make it. Trust your harness! Trust that core strength, the constitution.” They need Jennifer Robinson. A day at the zoo would not hurt them, either.

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium ZOOM! Zipline & Challenge Course

Super Kid Course is for children 5 and older.

Discovery Course is for people 8 and older. When: Fridays 5-8 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. through Dec. 30. Prices are in addition to zoo admission. Super Kid Course is $19.95. Discovery Course is $29.95 Through Dec. 30.