Monday, December 11, 2006

Have You Ever Been Afraid?

My dad came up to hammer a few nails in the homemade cabin in the Illinois River Valley, Oregon. That's me supervising, circa 1974

I dreamed of tigers
growling and prowling
everywhere I looked I saw them
in the hallways at school
on the sidewalk paths
scaring students
and administrative assistants
I hid in corners and behind doors
photographing their gaping mouths
and massive teeth
I dreamed if they saw me
they would devour me
and so I awoke afraid
of the dark
of the woods
of the wilderness--
where innocents walk
and lose their way.
I awoke afraid.

There was something about James Kim's death that struck me deeply and reminded me of something I don't usually let percolate to the surface. I have always been afraid of getting lost in the woods and not being able to find my way out. I don't think of it often, but sometimes when Roger and I have hiked on not very clearly marked trails, I can feel my anxiety rising. I have run blindly in a panic in the woods, stumbling and falling over rocks. Isn't that unbelievably embarrassing? It's true though. I just don't think of it often, but fear of being lost in the wide open wild, where I can't find my way, is just as suffocating to me as a darkened airless tomb.

I bought ten acres of land in southern Oregon in 1974 when I was 22 years old. It was in Josephine County, the county where James Kim lost his way. When the news showed photos of his ordeal, I recognized that iron red soil, the pines and firs that rise up out of the Rogue River Valley. My land was in the next watershed south, on the Illinois River, in the Illinois Valley across the 2-lane highway from the Kalmiopsis Wilderness area. A true wilderness--it's called Bigfoot Country (I'm not kidding). I am at once drawn to that wilderness and afraid of it. It's not a fear of the unknown. I have never sensed a lurking malevolence in the woods. The mountains don't care a whit about me, and have no plan to swallow me whole. It is a fear of what I simply and literally don't know about being out there and being lost. I don't trust my sense of direction. I am not sure I could make a shelter, start a fire, know which way to follow the river, or find food. I know all of these things are what make the difference in the struggle for survival, I just don't know if I could do it. How many of us could? Could you?

I grieved James Kim's death because it stirred my most primal self, the part of me that loses sleep over what I can't control or contain. He reminded me of how afraid I have been. It made me wonder if everyone is that afraid.

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