April 28, 2020

Look! This stick has a mouthle! A handle for the mouth!


Your fear is 100% dependent on you for its survival.

-Steve Maraboli


A few weeks ago, Waldo and I were out on the rail-trail, taking our daily six-mile trek.  About a half-mile in, we came across a big old tree that had fallen across the path, taking out the wooden rail fence on its way. We didn’t see it fall and any other trauma it caused had long dissipated.   I suspect the tree was blown over as most of it appeared quite dead – though this can be a little hard to determine in the winter when deciduous trees seem pretty dead anyway. Now, there was a stiff breeze blowing cool air through the foliage, but nothing dramatic. The birds were singing, a squirrel scurried up a tree at our approach, people passed us by without a sideways glance at the stiff, wooden corpse.

I passed Waldo, something that rarely happens and then only when he is stopped by a unyielding stick or a particularly interesting odor. Up ahead lay the tree on its side; one branch hanging horizontally at chest level, vibrating in the breeze. As we approached, Waldo suddenly and emphatically stopped, pulling the leash taut behind me. I tugged a little and turned to see what he was doing. Waldo was rooted to the tarmac, all four legs splayed apart and braced against the ground. He was dug in.

Waldo had a wide-eyed what-the-hell-is-that? expression pasted on his furry face and glared at the dancing branch. “It’s okay, Waldo,” I said in the most reassuring voice I could muster and tugged on the leash.

Nope, uh-uh, no way, not gonna happen, was his response. That thing looks scary!

I went to the trunk and stepped over and tried again.

Waldo stared back at me and jerked at the leash a little, turning his head side to side. He was not convinced.

He seemed to be staring at the threatening branch, so I stepped over the trunk and stood up against it, demonstrating that it offered me no harm. “It’s okay,” I said. “See? It’s nothing to be afraid of.” I then called to him without tugging on the leash.

Waldo stared, then, haltingly, took a step, then another, and finally decided that all was well and followed me over to the tree. We then continued on our way as if nothing happened. Fear evaporated, birdsong ruled and nature returned to being something benign and wonderous. And there was so much to smell and so many sticks that needed transportation.

Most, but not all, of the people we meet on the trail don’t seem to be all that frightened about the Coronavirus. There is probably a selection bias at work here, as if you were afraid, you might not venture outside and expose yourself to contamination. But I don’t think that’s the whole story.

For some of us, fear serves as an alarm. It tells us, “Whoa! Hang on here, tread carefully! Think before you act!” but it doesn’t incapacitate us. We still move forward, if we have decided it is okay to do so, tentatively, haltingly, warily, but inexorably. Our hearts may be pounding, our armpits soaked in sweat, our gait unsteady, but we move forward just the same. We collect information, sometimes by itself scary as hell, process it, estimate risk to benefit ratios, and plan a course of action based on reason, not fear. Reason can reassure, if we have faith in it, and like Waldo, we can step past that fallen tree with its brandishing branch.

We cannot wish this pandemic away, but we don’t need to be consumed by fear or despair either. We need to adjust our behavior, do the rational thing, take what precaution we can, keep calm and carry on. Stay six feet away from other people, wash your hands when you get home, educate yourself on and follow the recommendations of healthcare professionals, but don’t stop enjoying life. Come on out to the rail-trail, a few of you at a time so we can still isolate ourselves, and commune with nature. Say hello to the strangers you pass on the way at a distance, see nature start to come to life after so many weeks of cold and blustery weather. See the leaves start to grow on the tips of the branches, hear the birds in their many different voices as they return to witness the onset of spring. Take a walk, a bike ride, a jog or whatever down the rail-trail and witness life as it about to be sprung.

Waldo will be there, tail wagging, stick[s] in his mouth, pulling me along at the slow end of the leash, and we will be happy to see you.


So many sticks, so little time!

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