You could go as high as 30 feet, I’d guesstimate. From the ground, it didn’t look that far — just to the top of a two-story pole. But when you were dangling in a harness hooked onto a rope, being hauled up and up by a team of fifth graders, even halfway up seemed high enough. The feeling of vertigo was enhanced by the fact that you were on the side of a hill, and when you looked forward, the earth sloped away — far away, all the way down to the ocean. It was a stunning view, the bay at Fox Landing framed by the steep cliffs of Catalina Island, with Los Angeles and the rest of the California mainland somewhere out there in the distant clouds. You knew, when you pulled the release cord, that you were going to go swinging out into that expanse, up into the air more than 30 feet above the descending terrain at the apex of your flight. The scenery was going to be epic — if you didn’t have your eyes closed tight because, like me, you’re scared of heights.
But I had to do it. The kids were swinging after all, even though some of them were scared too. I’d coached them to push themselves, to try new things: to snorkel for the first time — shoot, to be in the ocean, to swim, for the first time. If the boy who had such a frightening panic attack when he experienced the novel sensation of his head going underwater that I thought he was having a seizure (he neglected to tell anyone he couldn’t swim), could 10 minutes later be happily splashing along in the shallows, then I could climb that ladder, let myself be pulled up up and away, tug that release cord and swing out into oblivion.