Fear is insidious; it creeps into the psyche and buries itself deep without any conscious effort. It manifests in anxiety, stalls progress, and threatens to define its host.
Today, I did something I haven’t done in well over four years; I went for a walk in the woods, unattended. I took my camera and my cellphone, donned a jacket in case of rain, and headed for the trails here at Living Forest Oceanside Campground in Nanaimo, B.C.
Of course, I was not alone. Fear taunted me at every bend in the trail.
“What if someone comes along,” it hissed. “You are defenceless.”
“There are people nearby,” I countered and kept walking.
“Listen to how quiet it is here; doesn’t that alarm you? What if there is a bear or cougar nearby.”
Gulp. I kept walking.
“You could fall. These paths are treacherous, and then what? Who would save you? Ric can’t walk in here.”
I took a deep breath and slowed my pace, carefully choosing my steps. “I have my cellphone. Ric can call for help from the office.”
Fighting fear can be a step-by-step process. I thought about my childhood and how the woods were, for so much of it, my home. Was I not afraid then? I certainly spent hours alone, exploring.
“The child hasn’t had the life experience necessary to develop these kinds of fears,” I thought.
The trails are well marked here. At every junction there is a map and while I am not normally good at following directions, I made myself study it and concentrate on where I was in relation to where I wanted to go. At the far end of the trail was a place called Eagle Point. I wondered if I could make it there.
I would try.
The next map warned of steep slopes and dangerous terrain. I decided to be cautious and headed instead for a break in the trees, so that I could see the water. It was so quiet that my footfalls sent the ducks swimming below scattering.
I decided to head back, not wanting to push my luck. I had come out without a walker, and there was no obvious place to sit and rest here. Following the map, I took a different route back – perhaps not the best idea as I encountered a steep hill.
“Slow and steady,” I told myself. My heart pounded and I felt breathless, but I made it, and while I waited for things to calm down at the top, I took in my surroundings. This forest, like so many on the island, is a contrast of the dead and fallen limbs and trunks, and varying shades of green. White trilliums dot the velvety forest floor. Apart from a black squirrel and the odd bird that flit by in a blur, there was little other movement.
Being independent, even for a short time, felt wonderful. How long had it been since I had the confidence to go out on my own? Too long.
The end of the trail was now in sight, and not quite ready to go back to the RV, I lingered a bit longer, noticing the buds on trees and bushes, trying to imagine what this place will look like in a couple of weeks.
My ankle snapped just as I hit the main road. By the time I reached our site, my right leg muscle spasmed too. I would head in and hit the bed, pleased with myself.
I thought of other possibilities, wondering when I’d be able to drive the car again. Maybe even going to the grocery store alone.
Fear slapped me in the face.
Sigh. One step at a time.