Fear…on the trail and elsewhere

I found this post from early 2017 that I never published. Here it is for your reading pleasure, with an addendum for 2019. -Jodi

Yesterday, I was out for a walk with Sadie in the giant Arboretum near our Boston apartment. It’s honestly one of my favorite places on earth. It’s been around since the 1800s, and it contains trees and plants and shrubs from all over the world. There’s a mix of paved and dirt paths, hills, magical glades where the sun creates fairy havens, and huge, huge trees that seem to beg to be listened to.

On nice days, it’s full of people of all sizes and shapes, and more than a few nationalities. Most everyone is friendly, because, really, if you’re out for a walk in the Arb, you’re being healed by nature, no questions asked.

So, yesterday, Sadie and I were strolling along, and I noticed two elderly, white-haired ladies walking ahead of me. They were chatting merrily away and as they moved aside to let us pass, I heard one say to the other:

“Ooh, look at that tree. That looks like something you’d see in Spooky Hollow.”

Charmed, I turned to them with a big smile and said, “I was once walking in here at night and I heard owls hooting to each other across the path.”

Some of you might be wondering at this slightly odd entry into the conversation of perfect strangers, but those who know me well know that this is a perfectly normal segue for my mind to make: I heard the word “spooky” and I immediately remembered the most spooky moment I’ve had in that space and decided to share it. They didn’t call me “storyteller” on my college volleyball team for nothing, folks.

For the record, this odd conversational habit of mine is probably why I will never be a great front-line fundraiser; my conversations always veer just a bit too far off the beaten path. But I digress (thus proving my point). Interestingly, the two ladies chose their own path for the conversation to take, and it wasn’t where I expected it to go. Almost in unison, they gasped, and one said:

“Oh my! Why would you ever be in here at night?”

I blinked. The truth was, the night I’d been talking about was the night of the Super Moon, and the only way I would have gotten to see it was if I was walking in the Arb, at night. I immediately started to justify myself: it was sunset, I was walking home fast, I was being careful.  I glanced down at Sadie, and as if reading my mind, the 2nd lady said “Well, you have a dog, that’s something, but even then, you shouldn’t do that. You can’t trust ANYONE these days.”

Gone was our charmed little moment about the spooky woods, and I was left feeling like I’d failed somehow. I remembered reading, just the day before, this article about women backpacking alone in the wilderness, and I had that familiar flash of anger unique to the chronically single – that desire to shoot back, childishly: “well, some of us don’t have a CHOICE but to walk alone, at night or otherwise.”

And then, of course, because, well, it’s what I do, I started to wonder at the nature of fear. I once heard a TED talk about how our brains – stuck in the past – are wired for fighting predators who literally wanted to kill and eat us. However, because we aren’t in the physical danger our cavewomen predecessors were in, we fear everything with a surge of adrenaline usually reserved for life-threatening situations.

And then, of course, I thought of FDR’s famous line from his first inaugural:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

By the way, the full speech is worth a read in light of our current political situation; I found it fascinating and eerily familiar.

And finally, yesterday I spent nearly an hour looking at photos and reading blog posts about a particularly challenging hike in Zion National Park that I’ll be tackling on a trip out West in the next few weeks. Some of the photos made my stomach jump in the way it does on rollercoasters and at the edges of vast canyons. I have every intention of doing the hike, but I won’t deny it’s giving me a little thrill of fear.

So it was with all of these thoughts zipping around the neurons of my brain that I set out with Sadie for a short hike today. See, on this upcoming trip, there will be lots of hiking and exploring happening at high altitudes, and, well, I get nervous that I won’t be able to keep up. Which is silly, really, but…see previous note about how the brain messes with us.

It was an icy, blustery couple of miles on the trail. I wanted to get some elevation under my legs, so I had a 4-mile route in mind, up and down a bunch of gnarly hills in the Blue Hills Reservation. I also wanted to test out my new trekking poles, and give Sadie some exercise, and gain more confidence in my boots (and myself) to handle snow and ice. It was a tall order for a little hike.

The first part of the trek was great – up a bit of a slippery, snowy slope that I was able to do steadily, with minimal gasping for breath, and both legs and boots seemed up to the task – excellent. Before I knew it, we were at the Observation Tower, looking down on the world, with the Boston skyline on the horizon.


Then, we headed toward the tougher part of the trail, a steep downhill scramble that, even without snow and ice, usually takes me a while to navigate down. I knew my proposed route would have a bunch of such up and downs. The ups didn’t scare me, but the downs did. My recently ordered microspikes haven’t arrived yet, and I was just too intimidated by the slope and loose snow/ice. So I turned around and headed back down the relatively easier slope that I’d come up.

What’s the moral of this narrative? Well, I guess it’s that sometimes, fear does win out. I did wonder if those little old ladies had gotten into my head and scared my mojo away. But nah, I don’t think so. I didn’t have anything to prove to anyone today, and there was a way to respectably turn back, so I took it. See, I think there are times when it’s right to let fear make you cautious. On an icy hill is one of them. Walking home through a park as the sun goes down? I’m not sure. I know the stories. I’ve heard my whole life that women should never-walk-alone-carry-pepper-spray-grasp-keys-between-your-fingers-be-alert-know-your-surroundings- don’t-wear-headphones-don’t-have-long-hair-keep-your-shoulders-back-be-ready-to-run…and most of us do this.  But I don’t see how we can live our lives as if we can’t trust ANYONE. Especially my solo gals out there. It’s hardest for us because we can’t just grab our partner by the hand and magically be less of a target.

I guess I’d chosen to take the chance, to hear the delightfully spooky owls hooting to each other over my head as I watched the super moon peer out from the trees. I guess it was worth the risk. I guess we all have to make those choices for ourselves. And accept the consequences.

Addendum for 2019:

Since I wrote this, much has changed in the life of Jodi. At this point, 2017 was a young year, and full of promise. Up until November of that year, things went smashingly, and then began more than a year of stress that took it’s toll on me, my mind, and my body. But I’ve turned the corner, and am proud to say that I’ve done a ton more things that scared me since this old post. I hiked Angels Landing, the hike mentioned above, squeezed through slot canyons in Utah, clambered around waterfalls and up cliffs in Maine, and rambled all over Canada, including briefly hiking alone in bear country.

Yes, I carried bear spray on that hike. Yes, there were likely times that I chose not to do something because I was too scared. And the other night, when I decided to run on a trail in a nearby park without Sadie, I still felt the need to text a friend and let her know where I was. These things are common sense, I think, because I still feel as I did that night in the Arb. There are too many adventures to be had to consider not doing them simply because sometimes, there’s just the one of me.



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