My shifts in perspective tend not to come in a sudden toppling of brick and mortar, allowing me to see a path that was previously closed to me. I don’t usually pop up crying ‘Eureka!’ at a radical alteration of thought patterns. Things are more likely to percolate through my subconscious, rising slowly to the surface where they occasionally escape the treacle of my thoughts. When it happens with a story, it’s delightful, and I hurry to grab my notebook and jot the ideas down before I lose my grasp of their ephemeral nature.
But sometimes, my thoughts coalesce into one big bubble that bursts through the surface tension in my brain and I get that bright light bulb moment.
This morning started out in a typical fashion for me. I woke, recognizing that my To-Do list for the day was far too ambitious (as usual) and that I would have to eliminate all but the most important things to accomplish even a tenth of what I had planned. I got my final edits for Walk a Mile in my inbox last night–working on that has to take priority today.
I resisted the urge to sleep in that extra half hour and took the dog for a run in the forest instead. We have to get out early to beat the heat these days. It had rained during the night, and the air was as steamy as a tropical jungle as we left the house this morning. When we reached the top of the mountain, it was shrouded in fog. We were the only ones on the access road as we drove into the National Forest. I let H out of the car and put on my hiking boots. We started walking down the road toward the trails.
Spending some time outdoors, preferably each day, is absolutely necessary to my mental health. Watching the dog frisk ahead of me on the trail makes me smile, and often my mind is free to brainstorm on my stories. Frequently, I take pictures of wildflowers, the dog, and anything else that I want to capture as a digital memory. It’s all very low key and imminently soothing. I consider trail time vital, in other words.
So here we were, enjoying the summer morning, while I thought about what I was going to do with the rest of my day. Keeping one eye on the dog, I went over my To-Do list, planning the best way to get the most accomplished. I also spent some time thinking about my writing in general, and where I wanted to go with it in the future. Which stories to work on next. What was tugging at my heart to begin and where the path might take me on down the line.
H’s head suddenly came up, and he went very stiff. I tried to make out what caught his attention–a jogger? A deer? Either way, I needed to call him to me before whatever it was made its way around the corner. Normally, H has an excellent recall, and he was on his way back to me when a black bear ambled into view.
I think the bear and I both had an ‘oh shit’ moment at the same instant. It was a young adult, about the size of a large calf. Probably last year’s cub now out on its own, though I couldn’t be sure there wasn’t a Mama Bear somewhere around. No, I didn’t take this picture! But that’s what he looked like! 🙂
H glanced back to see the bear standing in the path and took off like an arrow after it. Silently. The silent part is important, because when H chases a deer, he shrieks with excitement the entire time. Not so with the bear. He flew like a guided missile straight at the bear, and the very silence of his movement bore witness to his intensity of purpose. I knew it. The bear knew it, too. He turned tail and ran.
I ran, too, after my dog, bellowing his name and shouting, “Leave it! Leave it!” as I chased him down. All I had to defend him was a dog leash–I snatched it out of my back pocket and folded it so I could leash-whip the bear if needed. Fortunately I didn’t have to pull a bear off my dog–H came trotting back to me with what could only be described as an extremely smug look on his face. The bear had taken to his heels and kept running.
Then it hit me. Less than three minutes before, I’d just encountered a bear for the first time in my life. I’d been prepared to beat it with my dog’s leash if necessary to separate it from my dog. And here I was, casually snapping pictures with my cell phone. I recalled last year how I trapped a copperhead that was in the camp and safely transported it to the other side of the river (you try wading in waist-high freezing water with a copperhead in a trash can, it’s not as easy as it sounds). That’s when it dawned on me that I’m a lot tougher than I think I am.
In that moment, I realized that I will always have options because I am a lot tougher than I think I am. I’ve always been brave when it comes to physical things–I’ve always trusted my body to do what I’ve asked of it, which is one reason I’m taking its defection over the last few years kind of hard. Where my courage has been lacking is in all other areas. Believing that there is value in what I bring to to the table, be it in writing, or work, or love. In that moment, however, I went from “You’re tougher than you think you are” to “I’m tough.”
I knew then I could do it. Because not two seconds after the words ‘I’m tough’ hit my brain, I heard myself saying, “You don’t have to life a conventional life.” And you know what? I don’t. Not that I live a conventional life anyway, but hells bells, I might as well go for broke, right?
I can do whatever is necessary. So my crappy little house disintegrates around me because I can’t afford the massive repairs necessary to make it safe? Fine. I have a couple of acres. I can build one of those micro-houses and I’ll be better off than if I pour any more money into the financial black hole that I currently live in. Hell, I could even plant a garden next year. I know the thought of growing and cooking my own food makes those of you who know me well laugh, and yes, I’ll probably suck at it, but if I have to, I know I can.
It’s not the actual circumstances that are as demoralizing as the crushing fear that there will never be any way out of them. I’ve always been the Queen of Worst Case Scenarios, and they’ve had the power to shackle me my entire life. But nothing that I’m going through is as bad as what I imagine it could be. I was ready to take on a bear this morning. I can take on the world.
I can do this. I’ve got it covered. I’m tough.