The tightrope walker trains for his performance in a meadow with high winds. This is only one of many locations he has trained in over the last six years. He has tried any number of exercises to prepare him for the wind and unruly conditions he will surely meet when he walks between the towers: he has walked a tightrope in the meadow during a thunderstorm, he has had friends jump on the wire while he stands in the middle, he has run the length of the rope as fast as possible without holding a balancing pole.
This section circles back to the tightrope walker’s story, but it begins further back, before the walk takes place. As such, he develops as a character, and we see that he emerges as a unique, daring individual. Now that we understand—at least vaguely—how his story relates to the others we’ve seen, there is a sense of anticipation as we wait for the culminating event, hoping that it will tie together the disparate narratives.
The tightrope walker stays in an abandoned wood cabin whenever he visits the meadow to train. It is bare and elemental, but he doesn’t mind. Even the scurrying rats don’t bother him. He develops a strange habit of exiting through the window instead of the door.
It becomes clear that the tightrope walker is unique and determined—a true artist who has faith in his talent is devoted to his task.
The tightrope walker visits the cabin one winter with the intention of relaxing and reviewing his plans. He sees a coyote playing in the snow underneath his high wire, but when he looks back, the coyote is gone. He goes out to the wire where he sees the footprints in the snow. He walks the wire and looks out over the beautiful snow and decides to jump straight into it. It is not until he has already leapt that he realizes it is so deep that he won’t be able to extract himself. He sinks in, the snow rising to his chest. For a long time he struggles to get out, watching the sun steadily sink on the horizon. Eventually he is able to throw his scarf over the wire and hoist himself up again. After this incident, he never walks the tightrope in the snow again. The next night, he sees the coyote sniffing the snow where his body had been trapped.
The walker’s jump into the snow is an act of pure exuberance, but it lacks foresight. This serves as a lesson that, though he may love the feeling of being on a tightrope and all the related pleasures, what he’s doing is deathly serious. The coyote represents a wild disposition that clearly resonates with the walker, an elemental and natural elegance. Still, though, he must remember that he is a human and that in order to indulge his wild dream, he must use his intellect, too, calculating at all times the consequences of his actions.
During his training, the tightrope walker has fallen just one time. He views this as a good thing: “A single flaw was necessary anyway. In any work of beauty there had to be one small thread left hanging.” He continues practicing, sometimes walking naked in order to fully understand the way his body moves. In the cabin hangs a sign that reads “NOBODY FALLS HALFWAY.”
It is significant that the tightrope walker views the walk as “a work of beauty.” Rather than framing his task as a stunt, he approaches it as a work of art, albeit a work of art that could have fatal consequences.
The tightrope walker goes to New York City to plan the walk. He sneaks into the World Trade Center and goes to the top of the south tower. He goes to the edge of the roof, which is still under construction. He imagines his own reflection glinting off the windows of the opposite building. He puts his foot out into the air, and then, at the roof’s very edge, he does a handstand.
We are reminded in this moment that the tightrope walker’s goal is illegal and that, in order to pull it off, he will have to evade the authorities. We also glimpse his bravery and recklessness when he does an unplanned handstand at the edge of one of the towers.
The tightrope walker continues planning for the walk. One day, while examining the perimeter of the buildings, he sees a woman bend down to pick up a dead bird. He then notices that there are dead birds scattered all over the ground. He knows that they become overwhelmed by the building’s lights at night and that they subsequently slam into the glass windows and fall to their death. The woman, who is putting the birds into plastic bags, gives him a feather, which he takes back to the meadow and puts on the cabin wall as yet another reminder of what could happen.
The dead birds symbolize once again the grave possibilities inherent in the walker’s endeavor. Unlike the coyote, which encouraged him to brazenly and unadvisedly give himself over to nature, the birds remind him that nature—represented by the wind and migration patterns—may very well work against him, and that he must be weary of such forces, constantly keeping a clear, level head.
On the night before the walk, the tightrope walker unravels the wire. It is as long as a city block. This wire, he knows, is the most important part of the entire endeavor. The buildings have been designed to move up to three feet in extreme weather—if this happens while he is walking, the wire will violently bounce and he will have to gracefully ride the fluctuations or else be thrown into the air. It is vital that the wire be perfectly installed; if its tension is wrong, it could snap or grease could seep out of it. As he scrubs it clean on the sidewalk, he looks for splinters that might catch his foot.
The danger of the tightrope walk is easily discernable, especially when we learn that the wire itself is as long as a city block. It also shocking to think that the wire—the very thing supposed to keep him from falling and hurting himself—could, if improperly installed, rebel against him by cutting his foot with a splinter or snapping altogether. Every last element of this operation, it seems, has to go completely according to plan—an overwhelming thought.
It takes the tightrope walker and his friends ten hours to sneak into the World Trade Center and string the wire between the two towers. By the time morning comes, the walker is exhausted and dehydrated. But when a call comes on his radio that everything is ready, he is suddenly refreshed and concentrated. He watches the morning sunlight slowly grace the buildings and docks and rivers below. Without fear, he walks onto the rope, and in no time at all he feels a purity running through his body. He doesn’t even consider failure. Time seems to stop, and he feels a new kind of possibility take shape.
The fact that the tightrope walker doesn’t even consider failure after taking his first several steps is a testament to just how much this walk is able to entrance and intoxicate him. What’s more, it’s difficult not think of the other characters—Corrigan and Ciaran and Claire and Lara—all slinking throughout the city as the walker surveys the newly-sunlit buildings from his perch high above.