“Without rain, nothing grows. Learn to embrace the storms of your life.” –Unknown
Every once in a while I notice that the clothing on the boys is getting a little too snug. Recently it was a shirt on James and so I told them that we would go get some new t-shirts for the summer. They both insisted that they actually needed new shorts and shoes. They did not. But since they earn money cutting grass, I told them that they could bring their own money. I would buy them what they needed, they could buy what they wanted. At the Dicks store, the three of us were in the shoe aisle, with a pile of things I was buying, and another pile of what they were buying when Charlie spotted a pair of Air Jordans that he had to have. As he was yanking off his few-week-old sneakers that he had to have then, he started to beg me to let him buy these shoes, a woman came around the corner and down the aisle toward us. She was wearing loose drawstring pants, a stained t-shirt but what I immediately noticed was that her make-up was heavy but not well applied, she had several neck tattoos, and she was sweating. I felt the need to grab my kids’ phones off the bench and throw them in my purse, but didn’t. Charlie and I were going back and forth about the cost of Air Jordans for a kid who’s feet grow as rapidly as his desire for new shoes when the woman interjected with, “well how short are you?” “Four feet, six inches,” Charlie replied. She offered to give him money to cover the cost and while he’s thanking her profusely, I was worrying that this woman was acting like a magician, distract over here so we don’t notice something over there. I felt embarrassed that she handed Charlie two 20 dollar bills, and James one. I kept protesting that we didn’t need money, this was afterall the point of forcing them to use their own money, but she gave it to us anyway. She walked barefoot back over to her shopping cart filled with clothing and all of our phones, money and identities were safe. My prejudice was once again proven wrong a few weeks later when we traveled to “The Redneck Riviera” for a family vacation.
For our first day of summer break Ken, the kids and I flew down to Missouri to meet up with sixteen other people. Ken’s family does a yearly trip together, and each year one person from the generation above Ken picks the spot. This year his Uncle Jim chose the Ozarks (yes, he did watch the show) and so off to Table Rock Lake we went for about a week. Since I had zero planning with this trip I am not going to write about the specific activities we did, but I do want to tell the story of the hike we went on while we were down there. Early one morning, the four of us broke off from the pack to venture off to Roaring River State Park to hike Devil’s Kitchen loop. The pictures on Alltrails were appealing, and it looked like there was a cave with water that we might be able to swim in, which was something I definitely wanted to do. The 1.5 mile loop is “geologically contemplative” with its “Forested slopes, bold limestone cliffs, and park like cedar glades (combined) with lobate caves, streams and springs” (source) that are characteristic of the White River Hills section of the Ozark Plateau.
I haven’t traveled much in the midwest, so the Ozark region surprised me with the elevation, lush forestry and limestone cliffs that look like a slice of Smith Island cake. It was like getting $60 from someone I thought was trying to rip me off. Table Rock Lake, where we stayed, is enormous, and like many other lakes of the region, was a river that had been dammed up. The water is so clear, especially when compared to the Chesapeake Bay. We found the trailhead just beyond the Roaring River where many people were trout fishing, and headed up the shale-covered path beneath a canopy of hickory and oak trees. When we got to the entrance of the loop, we took a right and headed up in elevation. Charlie immediately ran towards a giant rock formation and began climbing up. I’d find out later that this was Devil’s Kitchen. “Devil’s Kitchen’s name is derived from an odd rock outcrop that formed in a roomlike enclosure. According to legend, this room, which has since collapsed, was used as a hideout by Civil War guerrillas.” Unaware of the history, I was still fearful watching the boys climbing up the rocks. I made my way up myself, thankful that the ridges along the rock made for good foot holds. Many historians write that the soldiers who hid out here were “nefarious” but I can’t find any more detail on why, or even which side these soldiers fought for.
“You can’t stop being afraid just by pretending everything that scares you isn’t there.” – Michael Marshall
Popular acronyms for fear are: “Forget Everything And Run” or “Face Everything And Rise,” which work for when we are faced with actual danger. The last few days of the school year, I had been experiencing a good amount of fear. I was scared of a real-life nefarious person and once fear creeps in, it’s hard to lose him. Without going into too much detail, someone who has done heinous things to people threatened someone in our family. He doesn’t know where we live, he will be going to jail soon, but still it is hard to sleep when we are home. Even after we got a security system, one night we still put furniture in front of the bedroom door just to be able to sleep (I will add that the boys stayed with their dad while this was going on for added protection). The brain is wired to protect, so fear is a very necessary thing, but once that amygdala lights up, it’s hard to turn it back off. That is why we get scared during horror films, despite knowing that the villains and monsters are actors in makeup. That fear is the “False Evidence Appearing Real” fear. This is the most prevalent fear.
While we were in Missouri, we enjoyed sleep in a way that one does after several nights of scant rest. On our hike on the Devil’s Kitchen Loop, we discovered that there were numbered markers that would lead to other caves, rock formations and rock scrambling. We explored the caves, climbed the rock outcrops and avoided drop-offs adjacent to the trail. Towards the end of the loop we found a spot called “the bench” where two rock outcrops come close together forming a steep V that begs to be climbed. Charlie started up the path, while the rest of us hung back. It had rained the day before and parts of the trail were slippery. This section was mostly mud between the rocks, so climbing it would entail some rock scramble with a side of mudslide. Once he got to the top of the bench, Charlie started to panic. The “False Evidence Appearing Real” told him that he was stuck. Hadn’t we all been feeling stuck lately? But stuck is not trapped. My dad recently reminded me of the story of Aron Rolston who got trapped by a bolder in 2003 and had to cut off his own arm to escape. He was stuck, literally, trapped in a bolder and summoned the courage to do what most people probably wouldn’t be able to do. For Charlie, who started crying at the top of the bench, he panicked and did not want to climb back down. Ken sent James up after him, and it was James who showed him how to navigate his way back down the slippery incline safely. Sure, they both could have slipped and fallen, but it wouldn’t have been that bad of a fall. The threat was minimal. Thankfully the “bad guy” that made every bump in the night terrifying never showed up, but that fear that something bad could happen will produce the same chemical responses as when someone does actually show up. About 20 years ago I was robbed at knife point by someone who looked sketchy in a parking lot. Instead of trusting my gut and stopping somewhere else, he cornered me and took my wallet. I ignored that voice in my head, and my fight or flight response kicked in. Today, I get that same fight or flight reaction from anyone who looks “sketchy” to me, including a very generous woman who happened to not be wearing shoes in a store.
I often joke that it’s not an actual vacation until I have made people wake up super early and go out and get uncomfortable in nature, and by doing so I am putting us a little bit in danger. It’s nature after all and like many man versus nature stories and novels have taught English students for generations, nature usually forces bravery out of you, or wins. “Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.” – Bear Grylls. I’m currently writing this post 1,366 miles from where we hiked in the 9th state I’ve been in since school ended. I’m not worried about “the bad guy” right now, he’s also hundreds of miles away, but I am facing other worries about finding a new job, my parents finding a good retirement community, my kids’ safety, like all the time, because they are two adventurous boys. I have decided to label these as worries to not give them enough credence to be a fear. I don’t need to involve my nervous system. Life gives me enough stress and cortisol that I don’t need false evidence giving me anymore. That would be like fearing the devil. I’ve got too many adventures ahead to let fear get in the way.