Man vs. Beast

I’m not big on wildlife.  That’s not say that I don’t appreciate the importance of nature.  I do.  I even marvel in the majesty of it.  I just don’t want to be out in it for too long.  I have a deep fear of being devoured by the predators that roam freely upon this vast planet of ours and as such, choose to avoid activities that put me on a collision course with these animals.

Being the sick, demented person that I am, I find myself drawn to news stories about the lesser intelligent ones those among us that fall victim to these predators.  I don’t wish to diminish the significance of their deaths.  Any loss of life, no matter the circumstance, is tragic and I have great sympathy for their loved ones.  However, I will readily admit that these kinds of stories give me a feeling of vindication, a sort of “I told you so”, aimed at all those who made fun of me for my irrationality.

Every Friday for the last couple of months, I’ve posted a little blog entry about the things I learned in the preceding days.  I reflect on this and that, things that happen to me, an inspirational quote or two, news stories that make me laugh or shock me, etc.  One of the recurring themes that has emerged with these entries has been the frequency of animal attacks on humans.

Nature kills.

A lot.

Seriously.

At the suggestion of my fellow WC-er, Kelly, I am going to do a little experiment.  I am going to attempt to construct a blog every Wednesday devoted entirely to animal attacks and sightings that make the news.  Just a few, don’t want to overload the senses and it might very well be a short-lived thing.

Here are a few that I’ve come across or have been provided in recent days:

  • Knut Haavard Solberg / Varingen - Scanpix via Reuters

    On September 4th, in Bunker Bay, Australia, near a surfing spot called the Boneyard (really?), a 21-year-old man was bitten in half while bodyboarding.  The suspect?  A Great White.  It is, after all, Australia.  No one saw the attack or the alleged attacker, but the presence of copious amounts of blood in the water was a sure indicator that something was amiss.  You can read this truly gruesome story [here].

  • On September 5th, outside of Oslo, Norway, an uphill race competitor was attacked and injured by a moose.  As you can see from the picture, the moose seems quite irritated.  I guess he had enough of those silly uphill racers trespassing through his territory.  Can’t say that I blame him.
  • Last week, a 90-year-old woman out for a stroll was viciously attacked by an alligator in Copeland, Florida.  She lost her leg but thankfully, she survived.  You can read her story [here]. I really have nothing snarky to say about this one.  This woman wasn’t doing anything stupid – just found herself in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with a hungry alligator on the hunt.  Could happen to the best of us.  Well, except me, of course.  You will never find me meandering by a drainage ditch in Florida.
  • On September 2nd, in Birmingham, England, a woman awoke to find a fox standing on her chest, clawing at her face.  It appears fox attacks are becoming a big problem in the UK.  Who knew?   You can read this woman’s harrowing story [here].
  • In late August, a woman in Freeport, Maine rolled her jeep several times and then struck a tree.  Her reason for the crash?  A spider.  It apparently appeared in front of her face, out of the blue, while she was driving.  In her attempt to swat it away, she lost control of her vehicle.  Now, I know this is not really an animal attack, but it made me laugh – and think of my friend Bobbi’s husband, Gabe, who squeals like a girl whenever he sees a spider.

And last, but not least:

  • In Sweden, an elk had to be rescued after becoming entangled in a tree.  It appears the wayward elk went on a fermented apple bender and in his attempt to indulge further, got himself good and stuck.   Sweden is a socialist country, perhaps they have state funded elk rehab.  He obviously needs an intervention.  You can read more about this [here].
Drunken Swedish Elk

See?  I told you so.   Mother Nature is a nasty bitch and so are her minions.  I think they are mobilizing for something.  Something big.  Perhaps a full on assault against the human race.   A campaign to take back their land.  I think it is only the beginning.  The worst is yet to come.

***Special thanks to everyone who sent me animal attack articles.

Journey of Self-discovery: Conquering my fear of boats

Boats scare the shit out of me.

I apologize if such language may seem unnecessary to you, but it is an apt description of the paralyzing fear I experience just before crossing a gangplank.  As I’ve said before in a blog entry on my irrational phobias, it has less to do with the physical vessel and everything to do with its function.  Boats “float” in bodies of water;  bodies of water –  and the things that live in them – are deadly.  I don’t do deadly.

As a general rule, I avoid boat travel like the plague.  As was the case four years ago, when I was traveling with my family in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  I took one look at the ferry to Cozumel, turned around and walked away.  I was not going to get on that boat.  Period.  End of discussion.

Playa del Carmen, Mexico 2008

In recent years, however, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot live my life in absolutes.  Inflexibility stunts personal growth, and frankly, makes for a very boring life.  When it comes right down to it, who aspires to have a boring life?  No one, that’s who.  We all want to look back on the past with some measure of accomplishment – that we didn’t squander a lifetime away doing nothing but shaking in our boots, scared of our own shadow.  It took me a long time to figure that out.

Bearing this new discovery in mind, I jumped at the chance to meet up with one of my oldest friends in New York City in September 2009.  Okay.  Perhaps “jumped at” is a bit of an overstatement.  There were many things about that trip that caused the little anxiety troll inside my head to scream out in panic.  The trip would coincide with the anniversary of 9/11 and would entail leaving Megan behind for more than a day or two.  I am not a spiritual person but I am prone to superstition.  For me, the whole set up seemed to tempt fate.  Seriously bad mojo in the making; and I just knew that if I went, I was doomed to perish.  But this time I didn’t listen to my nagging fear monster.  I spit in the eye of fate and went with my husband to New York City, had a fabulous time, and even rode the ferry to Liberty and Ellis Islands – in a rainstorm with choppy seas; on September 11th.

Ferry to Liberty and Ellis Island, New York 2009

And survived.

Take that bad mojo.

(Good thing I didn’t learn about this until I was home safe and sound.)

In January, my husband and I celebrated our fifteenth wedding anniversary.  A milestone, to be sure, in this day and age of rampant divorce.  Our special day falls very close to Christmas, so it is not unusual for us to forego gifts, opting instead for a simple dinner out alone.  This year, however, given the significance of the anniversary, we decided to take the honeymoon we weren’t able to afford when we first married.  We looked at a lot of places and agreed that Cabo San Lucas, Mexico was where we wanted to spend five days playing the part of newlyweds.

Cabo is a beautiful place, romantic and serene – almost magical.  Perhaps it was this bit of magic that possessed me to agree to go on a whale watching expedition.  The conditions were perfect for sighting one or two and, for us, it was something new – uncharted.  That was what this trip was all about, after all.  Trying something new.  We booked it.

Then I saw the boat.

Inflatable raft would be a more adequate description.

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 2011

To say I was scared to death would be an understatement and to be honest, most of the two and a half hour boat ride is one big blur.  I spent a good deal of the time clinging to the side rope, praying to a God I haven’t spoken to in years, and trying not think about how very deep the guide said the water was beneath our feet – or what may be lurking there.  The point at which the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean is rough, dark and cold.  Terrifying – made even worse by the boat’s Captain who at the barest hint of a “blow” on the horizon was off like a shot, bearing down on the unsuspecting whales at speeds that where not conducive to safe boating under any conditions.  I was seriously reconsidering the status of my own sanity at this point.  I wanted the hell off this “boat” in the worst way.

Then I saw my first whale.

They are a sight to behold.  Like nothing I’ve ever seen.  I almost forgot where I was – almost.  Whales move quickly, so you only have a minute – sometimes mere seconds, to take in the their majestic beauty.  The experience left me in total awe.   As did the incredible sunset.

Sunset - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico 2011

When I stepped off the boat at the end of the tour, I was relieved. I really had my doubts that I would make it back to shore in one piece.  I was also overwhelmed with the sense of accomplishment I felt at facing down my fear.  Don’t get me wrong, I was still scared shitless, but I hadn’t allowed it to control me.

Will I ever do that again?

Absolutely not.  But now I can say that I did it once and that’s enough for me.

Journey of Self-discovery: Conquering Math

You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition.  What you’ll discover will be wonderful.  What you’ll discover is yourself.  ~Alan Alda

If you don’t get lost, there’s a chance you may never be found.  ~Author Unknown

In recent years, I’ve gone through a lot of personal changes.  Some good, some bad – all of them learning experiences.  I guess you could say I’ve been on a quest to find myself.  Sounds a bit cliché but, I suspect, not uncommon for people like me – staring at the business end of forty.

I think my journey really began with the passing of my dad.  Unexpected death of a loved one has a way of putting things into perspective.  It makes you reevaluate your life, take stock in what you’re doing and what you want to be doing.  The harsh reality that this sort of thing could happen in my family with such cruel swiftness was eye-opening  – like someone doused me in ice water.  I began to take stock of my life.

What I found was that while I was happy, I wasn’t fulfilled.  Something was missing in my life.  I also quickly realized that the fault was entirely my own.  I’d created this bubble around myself – my comfort zone.  I didn’t wander out of this zone for any reason, for anyone.   But in creating this buffer between me and the outside world, I stunted my ability to grow.

Herein lies my problem.  I needed a challenge in my life – something outside my comfort zone.  I thought about changing jobs, maybe going to work for a bigger firm but I decided wouldn’t solve anything.  Bigger isn’t always better and it wouldn’t really be that much of a change to go somewhere else, doing the exact same work.  That would sort of defeat the purpose.  I struggled with this dilemma for a while, got good and pissy about it, made everyone’s life hell until out of the blue, I was struck by an odd notion.  I wanted to go back to school.  Alrighty then.

The prospect of entering a classroom after all these years was a bit overwhelming but I was convinced that it was exactly what I wanted to do.  Not because I wanted a new job – I liked my job – but because I wanted to expand my horizons, take on a new challenge that was more than just a one time deal, and learn.  I set about this with the same ardency that I do anything I am truly determined to accomplish.  The first thing I learned – I was going to have to take a placement test.  That little bit of news sent chills of fear down my back.  Well, only one part of the exam really scared the shit out of me.  The math portion.   I hate math and math hates me.  Years ago we mutually agreed to steer clear of one another.  It was better that way – for both our sakes.

I almost walked away from the idea at that point but once I accepted that I was going to have to conquer my fear and loathing of math, the rest was pretty much smooth sailing. Of course, determination to achieve something doesn’t mean you will get there on the first try.  Failure helps you succeed, right?  I bombed the math portion of that test and was relegated down to remedial math – not the lowest level, but pretty darn close.  It was humbling but I sucked it up and soon found that math, at least lower level math, wasn’t all that scary.  I had to study, do my homework and faithfully go to class but passing was within my reach.  And I did pass. Every single one of those remedial math classes – with an A.

Then came the true test.  College Algebra.  Pshaw, you say?  Piece of cake?  For some, yes.  For me, it was probably the scariest, most intimidating thing I’ve done in a very long time.  But after three semesters of back to back math classes, I knew I was as ready as I’d ever be for this challenge.  It was no easy task.  I spent hours and hours doing homework, pestering the tutors in the Math Lab, and studying.  Repetition, I discovered, is the key to mastering math at any level.  I didn’t get an A in College Algebra.  I knew after the first exam that it was going to be an uphill battle but I did manage to pull out a B.  Which in any other class would have sent me into a complete meltdown because I get A’s.  The higher the A the better.  I am a firm believer in the idea that every point counts.  I would never be satisfied with a 90 just because it’s all the same on a transcript.  I want every point possible.  But this was College Algebra and to finish with a B was absolutely the greatest feeling in the world.  Which is saying a lot because I was also awarded a Scholar Award in History for the same semester.  A great honor, one which I am extraordinarily proud, but I am even prouder that I made it through four successful semesters of math.

I am no longer afraid of math.  I know and understand what it takes to not just get by, but to do well in the subject.  That’s not to say that I’m going to change my major and suddenly embrace Mathematics.  If I have a say in it, I will never step foot in a math class again.  But the sense of accomplishment that I feel knowing that I swallowed my fear, looked straight into the eyes of the dragon and sliced it’s head right off is priceless to me.

My Phobia Trumps Your Rationality

“What are fears but voices airy?
Whispering harm where harm is not.
And deluding the unwary
Till the fatal bolt is shot!”  Wordsworth

Inside my head there is a voice – a voice I imagine belongs to a neurotic little troll with wild hair that stand on end and is the color of rainbows.  He runs through my mind in nary a stitch, scared of his own shadow and whispering of the gloom and doom that will surely rain down upon my head should I do anything involving a plane, boat or a bear.  
 
“In everything one thing is impossible: rationality.” Friedrich Nietzsche
 
Phobia is a funny little word – [foh-bee-uh].  It’s weird how it just rolls around your mouth.  Say it.  I bet you make some strange faces as you run through the syllables (okay, you can stop now because you look like an idiot and I can’t have idiots reading my blog).  Hearing the term phobia always makes me think of those people you read about who haven’t left their houses in two decades or that movie about those spiders that scared me so badly, I slept with the lights on for a month after I saw it back in 1990 (I’m getting the heebee-jeebees just thinking about those disgusting little hairy things).   The  word embodies the very definition of incapacitating fear, but a phobia is nothing more than the irrational fear of something.  Everyone has phobias.  Some are indeed as significant as the name implies, others not so much – but all are very real to those who suffer from them.  I fear three things:  flying, boats, and bears.  Odd combination of things, you say?  Not really.  I think they all fit together quite nicely.  They all involve nasty, painful deaths – MY nasty, painful death.
 
I fly.  I don’t like it but, as I often do, I accept it as one of life’s little necessities.  I suck it up.  I am an adapter, after all.  I will book the flight and file it away under “to worry about later” in the card catalog that resides next to the troll in my mind.  I always organize my stressors in this fashion otherwise, I’d be a big pile of goo on the bathroom floor.   Dealing with them one at a time, in the order of importance, keeps the chaos down to a dull roar and allows me to function as a productive member of society. 
 
About the time I need to start thinking about packing for my little plane ride, the calamity in my head begins.   It seems my panic-stricken troll has discovered our impending trip.  Into a frenzy he goes.   It will begin as a nagging whisper, gradually increasing in intensity until my troll has convinced me that this trip will be my last and thus, I must prepare for my imminent demise.   Out comes the Will and the life insurance policies.  Next, I will begin to obsess about that family trust I’ve never set up and wonder if there is time before the fast approaching departure date to meet with an attorney or an extra grand in the budget to pay for said attorney and documents.  In lieu of spending the grand on the trust, I will seek out the counsel of my boss to have the same conversation I’ve had with her a million times.  For the millionth time, she will roll her eyes at me and tell me the same thing she always does, sending me on my way with a loud sigh and a pat on the head.  I’m beginning to think she’s grown tired of having this conversation with me.  I’m sure she will be thrilled come July.  That is when my next trip is planned.
 
Boats are another thing that sends my beloved troll into hysterics.  Or perhaps it isn’t necessarily the craft itself that is bothersome.  A boat, after all, is nothing more than a harmless vessel.  Put it in a body of water – any body of water – and it becomes a death trap.  So, I suppose it would be more accurate to say that my troll and I aren’t fans of water.  I don’t believe I can honestly lay this one solely at my troll’s feet, however.  My father, bless his heart, bears some measure of responsiblity in instilling this fear in me.   He meant well.  How could he have possibly known that sticking an overimaginative 5-year-old in a twelve-foot Jon boat and then paddling to the middle of a dark, alligator and snake infested bayou to fish would do irrevocable damage?  Impossible to predict, I’m sure, but plausible nonetheless.  If there is one phobia that I find almost debilitating, this would be it.  I do not swim, not even the doggy paddle.  I do not float.  I think life jackets are nothing more than pieces of brightly colored false hope.  If you are stupid enough to get on a boat, you’re going in; and if you go in, you will drown.  If, by some miracle, your lungs aren’t crushed under the weight of the water and you do manage to surface for air, you will be picked off by massive Megalodons that have been awaken by your thrashing.  Either way, you’re toast – or in this case, fish food.   There is simply no other possible outcome.
 
Bears.  Some of my friends are giggling right now.  I can hear them.  Shut up.  All of you.  In my mind, bears are everywhere.  It matters not that black bears and grizzly bears and brown bears are not indigenous to every state.  I believe that if there is a campground and a hiking trail then there is a bear in the vicinity – and it is bent on eating me.   This is, yet again, the result of an overimaginative child exposed to things that are beyond the ability of such a young mind to comprehend.   My grandmother, bless her heart, could have no idea that simply watching a news story could do as much damage to me as my father’s fishing trips.  However, that tragic story about the young couple eaten by a pack of bears in their tent, in the dead of night was scarring.  It didn’t matter that it happened several hundred miles away, my little ears heard only the words camping, tent, bears, dead.  That was enough for me to know that camping was not something I ever wanted to do because I didn’t want to be bear food anymore than I wanted to be fish food.
 
I know what you’re thinking.  I’m being irrational.  After all, the probability of being thrown overboard and eaten by a Megalodon is quite low – as is being eaten by bears on a camping trip.  I hear what you’re saying.  I do.  But the troll inside my head does not.   For him and thus, for me these phobias are all too real and no matter how much you argue their absurdity, they aren’t going to go away.  So, let’s just agree to disagree.  If you will promise not to come crying to me when you get yourself  eaten by a Megalodon, I will promise not to gloat and say, “I told you so.”  Deal?