Fear: The First Lesson

“…the weight on his heart had begun to lift and he repeated what his father had once told him, that scared money cant win and a worried man cant love.” ‘All the Pretty Horses’ Cormac McCarthy

Some people argue that fear is a good thing (they make justifications for it having to do with self preservation and all that), but I have not found fear as any value in me personally, and as for my horses I spend a lot of training time attempting to eradicate their fears in order to produce a steady more reliable partner.  The following posting is two personal stories about fear and victory over it.

"Ollie of the North" color pencil portrait

We live on the edge of the wilderness. We have a few scattered neighbors living on our road, but once you get back in the woods there is vast wild country.  When my wife, Kathy, takes her frequent two mile walks to a place we call ‘blueberry hill’, she is probably at least two miles away from any other human being. My wife was hiking a little past this favorite destination with our fifty-five pound pit bull terrier.  His name was Oliver of the North, “Ollie” for short.  He lived to be fourteen.  May he rest in peace.  Our family still misses him.

Ollie would not seek out a fight, but if any dog offered to fight he would not back down. He was ferocious in battle and since people were prejudiced against his breed we were extremely cautious about contact with other dogs.  On her walk Ollie was leading the way as usual and went out of sight around a bend in the trail. As Kathy rounded the bend she was immediately concerned, for here not twenty-five yards away was Ollie surrounded by what she thought at first were a couple of sled dogs, but turned out to be a pack of wolves all of them more than twice his size.  She yelled at them, “Leave my dog alone!” They all looked up surprised by the human interference  and backed off a bit.  Ollie, with the blood of his would-be assassins on his mouth and fang puncture wounds on his hip, trotted out of their midst to Kathy and sat down by her side.  From there, with Ollie at heel, they walked the two miles back to the road, the wolves flanking them and the largest one in an effort (we suppose) to lure Ollie away kept blitzing past in front of them.

As a side note: We have a neighborhood history of wolves killing dogs, often while the dog is on a walk with his master or sometimes right in the dog owner’s yard.  There was no fear in Ollie. He did not attempt run from the wolves and that probably saved his life on this particular adventure.  Neighbor dogs have been killed by wolves when they tried to run away.  Also Ollie was wise enough not to try to attack them out right, which saved his life as well.  He stood tail up and defended himself until Kathy gave him the break he was looking for.

We enjoy our close contact with the wild creation and a grand reminder of this wildness is our frequent sightings of wolves and listening to their eerie and sinister howling in the long winter nights.  Still when I’m out skiing or hiking in the woods and see fresh sign of wolves around me, I’ll have to admit that my spine tingles, considering that I am probably being measured at that moment by this 150 lb.  canine that makes his living off of killing large animals.

Unlike our neighborhood up here on the north shore of Lake Superior, wolves had completely disappeared from the farm lands in northern Iowa where I grew up.  There was no rational reason to be afraid of wolves. Nevertheless, in a portion of my childhood I was afraid of wolves.

At five or six years old I already had the responsibility of some simple chores on our family farm.  One of these chores was to feed the chickens and close them in their hen house safe for the night.  The hen house was perhaps fifty yards from the house.  It was sometimes quite dark by the time I closed them in.  As I turned to go back to the house, I was sure that a wolf was lurking in the dark, ready to devour me.  I would turn and run as fast as I could, my speed aided by fear until I felt safe again within the house.

This encounter with fear happened every night.  I knew deep down that there were no wolves and no need to be afraid. I was humiliated by the fear, but every night as I approached the chicken house my back would tingle, my hair would stand up and I would race back to the house as if a pack ravenous wolves were in pursuit. Finally I resolved not to run.  I would walk back to the house scorning my fears, but broke down.  I took two or three nervous steps and overwhelmed with fear sprinted for the house again.  Ashamed I rationalize “There is nothing wrong with running… so what if there is a little fear?”

However, the rationalization did not hold. I continued to attempt to walk back to the house and one night I succeeded to walk the whole way though jittery.  And after walking back to the house for several nights in a row the fear diminished and gradually disappeared entirely. In fact, I began to play outside in the dark until my mom would have to call me in for supper or bed.

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