I recently chaperoned my 6th grade son's class trip in Joyce Kilmer's National Forest for 5 days of tent camping. For those who don't know me well, I'm not really a fan of outside my house. I obviously go outside but mostly I like the comforts of inside. I only went outside as a kid because there was nothing interesting going on inside - the fun lived outside. Now, fun lives inside for me. But in some haze of school spirit, I signed up to chaperone this trip with some pretty outdoorsy, REI sponsored teachers and parents.
During the chaperone training is when I knew I was in big trouble. Sitting around a picnic table outside of the classroom (baby steps), Mrs. G. went over expectations and responsibilities. Then she said these sentences. "Now, about the bears. Make sure there is no food in the tents because it is bear season and well, you know." I looked around the table at my fellow chaperones and nobody - not one other person seemed alarmed by this open ended statement. "I'm sorry, did you say bears? Like bears?" Mrs. G. looked up from her notes and said, "Yes. Bears will be coming out of hibernation and looking for food to feed their cubs, so we need to be mindful - like when you take kids to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Now, about ticks and snakes."
I have no idea what else was said during training because my imagination took me to a land of bears and ticks and screaming and running for our lives. In all honesty, I was not saving any children from the bears in my daydream - survival of the fittest and all that jazz.
I am a strong, independent, confident woman who is legit afraid of nature. I don't swim with sharks because I'm not a shark and cannot properly defend myself if one decides to eat me. Camping in the real woods, where the only protection between me, a tent full of other people's cubs and bear is a brightly colored piece of nylon and a zipper. Like when I zip up the tent at night we are somehow out of bounds? I camped as a kid but it was pretend camping at Lake Bloomington where the most dangerous predators were the drunk teenagers in the adjacent campsite. I think Disney lulled us into a state of unreasonable bravery when it comes to real wildlife. I know this because of the statement I got when I mentioned my concerns to my fellow chaperones, "Don't worry, Lori. Black bears are more afraid of us then we are of them. And they are so cute." You mean like the Disney movie Brother Bear would have you believe? I know how I react when I see an uninvited spider spin a web in my house. Camping is technically me spinning a web in the bear's house.
So I bought the gear and the spray and the proper hiking boots and safari hats and the full body rain suit and I watched the videos on what to do if I encounter a bear and more videos on how to pluck a tick from my skin and I showed up to the camping trip looking like the Man with the Yellow Hat from Curious George. The other chaperones had on t-shirts, shorts and flip flops.
For 5 days I was completely unplugged and to my absolute delight, I had a marvelous time. I learned how to whittle, carve sandstone, build a fire. We played kickball and splashed around in the river. I learned how to shower with my eyes closed and my shoes on because the campsite shower was also full of creepy crawly nature. I fell asleep listening to the live version of my nature sound app. I ate bacon made on a camp stove and watermelon sliced by the kitchen crew (4th, 5th and 6th graders). Most importantly, I got to watch my boy grow into a young man right before my eyes.
I am still afraid of bears and ticks and anything buzzing in my ears. But I learned a long time ago that feeling afraid isn't the end of the story. If it was, I would have missed out on my very big life because fear seems to live in my belly. Camping didn't convert me into a camper - but it did reinforce a design for living that has worked for many years - do it afraid, Lori. So, I did camping afraid. And although I didn't encounter a bear or a tick or a snake or even a drop of rain - I was prepared and willing to spray or pluck or run if necessary. That is a win in my book. A big win.
If you have a minute, I would love to hear about the metaphorical bears you have recently encountered.
Lori Ann Dinkins
One blog at a time, I write the truth about my life as it is, as I hope it will be, as I wish it would have been. Business insights and personal triumphs. Thank you for joining me.