Als ich wisse das Morgen der Erde enden wuerde, immernoch wurd ich mein Apfelbaum pflanzen.

Even if I knew the world would perish tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree. - Martin Luther

"Factory work's easier on the back, and I don't mind it, understand, but a man becomes what he does. Got to watch that. That's why I keep at farmin' although the crops haven't ever throve. It's the doin' that's important." Madison Wheeler in Blue Highways by William Least Heat Moon

Friday, June 3, 2016

Barking At Sticks

This time of year, as the end of school approaches and kid activities wind down, I start making plans to hit the road, get on the river, and put my boots on the trail.  I become drawn to trail narratives, mark up maps, draw plans, and spend time scheming with friends and family to see who's willing to join me.

So when I stumbled across Bill Bryson's A Walk In the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail  I was instantly engaged.  I enjoyed Bryson's description of his cursing trail companion and, as usual, felt envious that he had logged those miles on the AT and I hadn't.  But then, he wrote about his time in Shenandoah National Park.

Bryson hiked in 1996.  I was living within a day's hike of SNP in 1996.  Lollie Winans and Julie Williams were murdered in a peaceful campsite just off the AT near Big Meadows in 1996.

Their brutal  and unsolved murders terrified me then, and twenty years later they terrify me still.  When I'm in the woods I'm usually feeling very Thoreauish... "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads."  Their murders made me feel more like Dickinson with "zero at the bone."  From an early age, the woods have been a place of safety and serenity.  I head to the woods when I want to hear my own thoughts, and maybe the voice of God if I listen.  I don't want the Devil breathing down my neck.

According to  the top 10 most likely things that will kill you in the wilderness are the following:
1.  Falling
2.  Drowning
3.  Heart Attack
4.  Hypothermia
5.  Heat Stress
6.  Lightening
7.  Avalanche
8.  Suicide
9.  Flash Flood
10.  Insects (Tick Bourne Diseases)

I'm much more likely to die in the woods because I don't have enough water, or don't carry the right clothing than I am to be the victim of an attack.  So why doesn't a bad tick season cause me to reconsider solo hiking and make me think about attending the next Sherriff's conceal carry class?

The answer:  Fear.

Fear can be positive.  It can provide some caution, and is especially useful when your prefrontal cortex is still forming during your early 20s.  Fear can keep you alive, and can stop you from doing stupid things.

But Fear can also be paralyzing.  I am determined to not give in to "the grim phantasom of fear."

Earlier this evening I took the girl and a gaggle of her friends to the creek to swim.  I also took the dog.  The dog spent almost the entire time barking at a stick bobbing in the water.  She jumped down to the water's edge and barked at it.  Then she jumped up onto the low water bridge next to me for comfort.  Then she jumped back to the water's edge and eased herself out toward the stick, almost touching it each time, but always jumping quickly back as if she'd been bitten before she could catch the stick and her fear.  She did this for over an hour.  She has several barks - the play with me bark.  The middle of the night single bark to tell the cat she's too close to the kennel.  The predator's near howl.  The there's a strange car in the driveway notice.  The helooo and welcome home bark.  And then there's this bark - the one that says I'm terrified.  I don't know what this is, and I'm pretty sure it will hurt me so I'm going to bark as loudly and meanly as I can.  I hope I scare it and it goes far, far away.

Her theory is a good one when she's barking at something real.  I'm certain that one of the reasons we haven't had any predators around here for a year is because she barks when they draw close.  "Thou she be but little, she is fierce"  Nothing is getting past her.

But tonight her fear was completely without cause.  I tried to reassure her - but she was still afraid.  I tried to reprimand her with a Quiet! command - but she was still afraid.  I tried to wash the stick downstream and away from her - but she was still afraid.

This week I've been barking at sticks.  I read all the accounts I could find of the 1996 double murder, the 1997 assault, and the Route 29 stalker.  Then I stumbled across news of a recent assault on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and felt my hackles rise and heard the growl form in my throat.  Will I carry my bear spray and tazer flashlight when I'm on the trail this summer?  Probably.  Will I be aware of my surroundings, carry the essential 10, tell others where I'll heading and when I'll be back?  You bet.

But will I give in to fear and not put my boots to the trail?  No way. As John Muir said,  "The mountains are calling, and I must go."