Thursday, May 2, 2013

"One Thing That Scares You Per Day Keeps Apathy at Bay"

Rattlesnake, Rattlesnake Museum, Albuquerque, New Mexico

One thing that scares you per day keeps apathy at bay, said one of my thoughtful readers in response to this post.

It's funny about fear. What doesn't scare me, scares you. And vice versa.

For awhile, I did Something Meaningful every year on or about my birthday. It had to be something that pushed me out of my comfort zone.  One year, I considered three choices: 1) go dancing, 2) engage in a gestalt therapy session, or 3) jump out of a plane. All three caused fear, and I chose the one that was the least scary. You guessed it. I jumped out of a plane.

I want to get around to the point that fear, after you complete the act that causes fear, is often funny. My skydiving story is very funny.

I laughed til my sides hurt on reading Bill Bryson's account of a possible bear (or two!) outside his tent, in A Walk In The Woods.

I was gasping for breath laughing at Molly Langmuir's story of her four-day hike in the Tetons, during which she was terrified of mountain lion or bear encounters every moment.  An excerpt:

On a scale of one to 10, how much fun did you have?
I'm actually not sure I had any fun. The trip was challenging, which I always like, and now that I'm through it, something I'm glad I did, but I basically spent the entire time in a state of sheer terror, so there wasn't much room for fun. I guess a one?
What was your main terror?
The bears. From my summer in Jackson I knew people out there take the bear situation very seriously — most years at least one person is attacked, if not in the Tetons, in Yellowstone — and to prepare I read the “Be Bear Aware” chapter of my trail guide about ten times (it is filled with this kind of thing: “a large percentage of hikers mauled by bears were hiking alone”) and dutifully bought bear spray. I still managed to keep my fear in check until I got to the park ranger station to sign up for campsites. The ranger who gave the canister you're supposed to keep all your food in and leave 100 yards away from your tent at night explained that even if you drink an Emercen-C in your Nalgene you should put it in your canister, and that was actually what put me over the edge. Because if bears can smell an Emercen-C in a closed Nalgene, they were clearly a sort of advanced supercreature that could definitely sniff out the crumbs I’d likely drop on myself at some point. Plus, for all I remembered the last time I had used my sleeping bag I had been binging on beef jerky right next to a barbecue smoker. Also I didn’t know how far 100 yards was.

Cheryl Strayed said in her recent book, Wild, the story of her 1990s hike on the Pacific Crest Trail, that she told herself that she did not fear mountain lions, bears, or rattlesnakes. That this was necessary for her to be able to embark on the hike. If she'd allowed herself to consider fear, then she couldn't have gone.

I'm currently trapped between the Strayed and Langmuir approaches --> telling myself there is nothing to fear on one hand, and on the other, continuing to walk with fear, when I go on a New Mexico trail. Where we have mountain lions and bears. I've not broken the fear barrier as I would like. I laugh at myself about my fear, although this doesn't make it less palpable when I'm in the moment, on the trail. 

Sign at Antelope Wells border crossing, New Mexico
Rattlesnake artwork, Chiricahua Desert Museum, Rodeo, NM

A funny thing about my predicament is that I'm not scared of rattlesnakes, but that's just about all anyone talks about here as far as scary things go. Indeed, in two out of three NM/MX border crossings, the first sign you may see is a Watch Out for Rattlesnakes sign.


Annie Jeffries said...

I remember discovering a baby rattler years ago in the Anza Borrego desert right in the middle of the trail I was walking. I kept a healthy distance but never forgot that moment. He sure was a handsome one.

Mzuri said...

I like that - "he sure was a handsome one," and I completely get that. I like snakes.