I am lying on my back in my sleeping bag woken from a sound sleep by the imperceptible presence of something outside the tent. Was it a noise that woke me with this fear I am feeling? I don’t know. No growling or rustling sounds. My mind races as I lie perfectly still for what seems like an hour or more waiting for whatever is there to reveal itself or vaporize in my imagination. Nothing. I hear the sound of the river nearby and the wind blowing through the Ponderosa Pine trees surrounding the camp site. I am wide-eyed and my heart is pounding loudly. I am overwhelmed by fear!
I have come to the wilderness alone for the first time since my father’s passing. To a place we had been before and to the exact spot on the river where we had fished a couple of times during his last years. I had come seeking peace and connection and, yes, even to grieve his loss. But as I am lying there I am not thinking about any of this..I am fear!
Then I hear it. The soft groans and gentle sniffing sounds. I sense something very close to me outside the tent. I am energized and want to yell or run but remain still and quiet. What is it; bear, possum or raccoon, who knows? My heart beats louder and I think I am dreaming but this is no dream. I am terrified but remain strangely tranquil and there is a growing presence inside of me suggesting that this fear is a good thing and all will be well.
The animal soon moves away but I lie still, heart pounding. I wait relying only on my sense of smell and hearing to inform my next move. I realize that I am actually enjoying this experience. I am quiet but alert and my entire body is engaged in the fear yet I have surrendered to the experience. I am alive and it is perfect! My fear is turning to awe and appreciation.
After some time I get out of my sleeping bag and go outside to survey any damage to my food or equipment. Finding none and not sleepy I decided to walk down to the river in the dark and found the log that my father and I once sat on. It was fully illuminated by the moon and the full sky of stars and I felt the presence of him and a healing and palpable connection to the Universe.
It has been nine years since this wonderful experience and ten years since my father’s passing. As I grow older I am also profoundly aware of the amount of time in my past that I have tried to ward off any emotion as if it were a virus. I ache when I think how many times in my life I let fear make decisions for me and how much time and energy I spent trying to avoid being afraid. As I transition deeper in to the “Fall” of my life I want to live life full and alive. I want to experience the “juicy” parts of life even if I am afraid or uncomfortable. I want to remember lying alone in that tent letting fear take me with such extraordinary clarity and consciousness and how totally alive I felt in that moment. It’s a privilege to be alive!