Coyote sightings were recently reported along the biking/hiking trail in my neighborhood. Coyotes—an animal I associate with the Wild West, lonesome prairie towns, and the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote. I took note of the precautions issued by the police department: don’t approach them, make loud noises to scare the off. I also did a thorough Internet search to better inform myself. Armed with facts and a whistle from Wal-Mart, I ventured onto the trail, determined not to be afraid.
And discovered I was.
And discovered, to my delight, I was glad to be afraid, not only out of respect for the wild animal whose path I might cross, but because the emotion of fear brought me back to my childhood.
Years ago, I read Annie Dillard’s splendid memoir, “An American Childhood.” Among the passages that struck a chord with me were those in which she described her free, unsupervised wanderings through residential Pittsburgh when she was a child. I grew up in a suburb of Pennsylvania and spent entire days exploring every nook and cranny of my town. I’d return home sweaty, thirsty, starving, and happy, usually by dusk. Occasionally, though, I lost track of time and the next thing I knew I was walking home in the dark, looking over my shoulder, hurrying past eerily empty playground swings, my heart pounding at imagined dangers, humming to myself, walking faster until I reached my house, pushed open the door beyond which safety and security waited.
I was the girl in all the fairy tales who narrowly escaped the hungry wolf, the sly fox, the wicked witch, the fearsome huntsman.
Part of me is still that girl. Another part is the woman who rebels against fear mongers, who agrees wholeheartedly with Franklin Delano Roosevelt that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Somewhere between imagination and common sense lies the true danger of the darkness and the coyote. Realize it, even as you whistle your way home in the dark. Have courage. Control the narrative.