Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Fear in nature

I am participating in the
 Slice of Life.  
All participants are writing about one moment, one part of their day, 
on Tuesdays.

                                                        Thank you, Two Writing Teachers!

Three short stories on how nature leaves me musing about fear  - 


My granddaughter (Frog”) was playing in the garden. She is 20 months old; she loves, loves, loves flowers, and she always moves very close to them, trying to smell them, sometimes plucking off a petal or two. She delights in dandelions, particularly the ones that have gone to seed - she knows that you can blow the petals every which way, which is always so fun. Anyhow, this particular day, a bee was buzzing about the yellow dandelions. Frog has seen bees in her storybooks. Without hesitation, she delicately reached towards the bee with her fingers pinched, ready to grab this little insect and study it more closely.


I rushed towards her while simultaneously shouting, “NO!”  


Frog immediately jumped back and burst into tears.


My son (her father) looked at me and quipped, “Well, there’s proof that fear is taught!”


Let’s pretend that Frog did learn fear in this one moment– what did she learn to fear - the bee or my loud voice?


The reality is, my OWN fear was triggered when Frog reached for that bee. I am not a fan of the indiscriminate, overused, moralizing ‘No’ with young children, and was surprised to hear it fly out of my mouth, automatically, despite years of practice working with preschoolers. There are all sorts of other exciting exclamations I prefer to use when encountering the unexpected, such as ‘WHOA!’ ‘HEY!’ ‘WOWSA!’  ... but I went right for the commanding “NO!” due to my own fear that Frog would get hurt. But, how did I KNOW this? I don’t really know this.


By extension, I marvel at children’s natural, innate curiosity...and has mine gone?

Two – 

I am weeding in the garden. Well, I am trying to FIND the garden. Our backyard is so neglected, with many, many years of only minimal care. There can be no better opportunity than this summer of COVID, which has kept us from traveling and other fun; we are spending lots of long overdue time in our yard. Every recent day has begun here, as I try to prune shrubs, dig out weeds, move plants, etc. It is hard and sweaty work, and feels, somehow, satisfying, although there is no end in sight. 

On this particular day, I have been working for three hours already and I am battling a forsythia shrub, discovering all sorts of vines have set up their new home in and about this bush. Work, work, work, dig, dig, dig, tug, tug, tug, just one more vine is left, right there at the base, oh this looks good and clear here now – whoa! THREE LEAVES! Alert! Alert! POISON IVY. This is not my average vine.


I am hugely allergic to poison ivy. It has been years since I’ve gotten the rash. (Perhaps the last time I thought working in the garden was a good pastime? Ha!) That last rash was all over my body, and required meds from the doctor. Ugh. Had I already touched the vine? Worse yet, had I already removed some poison ivy, without somehow noticing? Was I doomed? Oh no!! Truly, I was so full of fear that I froze in place, holding the trowel.


I decided chances were I had already made contact with that demon plant. I might as well finish my weeding, leaving the forsythia nicely groomed. Taking a deep breath, I channeled my inner fearless child and dug down deep around the vine where it emerged from the ground, lifting the poison ivy out by its roots, and GO! I rushed the horrid vine into the lawn refuse bag, dropped the trowel, and flew into the house, and into the shower. I washed and scrubbed and rinsed and soaped up again and washed and scrubbed and rinsed, all the while thinking about how often I touch my face when I am gardening, how I push my hair out of my eyes, how I was going to be covered with poison ivy all over my face in the middle of this hot miserable summer...yes, I had myself a bit of a fit in the shower...until I was finally convinced that any and all remnants of poison ivy were gone. Also, I immediately washed all my clothes including my hat and gardening gloves, on hot cycle. WHEW!


I had looked the beast in the eye and all that remained was a buzzy feeling in the tips of my fingers...which shows you how mental fear is.


Truth is, four days later I do NOT have a poison ivy rash, which is absolutely amazing and divine. Plus, I have worked in the garden every day since.


Three – 

This one is short and sweet. I was enjoying an early morning cup of tea on my porch, when this little guy wandered up the driveway, moving me right out of my peaceful reverie:


I knew it was an opossum, but I had never seen one in our yard. Immediately, I was filled with all sorts of fearful and ominous thoughts – what is the opossum doing here? It can’t be a good thing! What terrible things do opossoms do?


This one wandered up the driveway, slipped in and around the garage, and then appeared down low on the driveway again, taking the same circular path - three times in a row! This gave me time to get a photo – and to chill with my fears. Clearly, he was up to something that did not involve me. I spent the next many minutes on “Google” learning about opossums. It didn’t take very long to discover that these animals are actually a benefit to the neighborhood, helping to eradicate ticks, rodents, and more. My fears were totally off-base! I had no idea; I ended up learning so much. 


I have lots to learn about fear, too. I have so many questions now -

  • Is one part of fear, simply, the unknown?
  • How often is fear my first reaction to something I don't understand?
  • In what ways do my actions grow fear in others? 
  • Do certain situations that ‘trigger’ fear simply remind me of something long ago?
  • Is fear protective or does it leave me stuck?
  • How much of fear is just an overactive scary imagination?
  • How often should I trust my fear instincts and how often are these just plain wrong? How do I discern?
  • What have I missed out on due to fear?

This is the perfect place to conclude with something witty about playing possum....but, well, I'll leave that to your overactive imagination....


  1. I love how you wove these three nature stories together around the idea of fear and how you responded to fear in each scenario. I know there is a book out called "Fear is my Homeboy" and other books about how to get past your fear. I am very fearful of something happening to my children and sometimes I know my fear is suffocating for them. My son was attacked by a dog when he was in first grade. He was at a friend's house when it happened and it was a horrific attack that has left him with lasting facial scars and years of treatments. I was always fearful but that experience has made me very anxious about how life can change in an instant. I really enjoyed your post.

  2. Your stories revive so many memories. I teased a wasp at my grandparents’ home in the country years ago, and after getting stung, a derp fear remained. I’ve always been tentative in nature after nearly drowning (my diagnosis) as a child. I know that event instilled a deep fear in my psyche. I also think the way we react when a danger threatens our children is different than how we react w/ others’ kids. Is any parent always rational? Yet you faced your fear of poison ivy, even though your fear is well-founded. Maybe that’s because you had a plan for self-restoration or realized you would heal if infected. Maybe it’s that known that kept you weeding. Still, despite the unknown opossum facts you acted rationally. Maybe this results from knowing what we don’t know isn’t necessarily cause for fear. Such good stories and so philosophical.

  3. I love how you took three incidents and tied them all together with fear. (Who knew opossums were helpful critters?)
    I took a dead bee out of the water table my grand kids play at today. My grandson wanted to know why the bee died, "Was he old?"
    I answered, "Probably," and left it at that.
    Someday we'll have to talk more about dying, but for now, I like letting him think it only happens to the old and feeble. (He's three.)

  4. I love the way you gently connected these three stories around fear. There are three, but altogether one deeply reflective piece. Those questions you consider at the end are thought provoking. I hear such a kindness in your words, even as you write about fear.

    It is good to know you did not develop a poison ivy rash.

    -Marina R.

  5. Maureen, what a great way you told three stories, three slices of your life, each one fascinating and fun to read. Then you related them to the emotion of fear. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking post. I love the questions you ask of yourself. Fear has unfortunately been one of my guiding emotions throughout life, so I paused and thought about those questions for myself today too. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad everything turned out well!