Without printing an arrogant-sounding list of career experiences, suffice it to say that I can’t complain about my work being dull. I have done things that caused my hair to stand on end so hard that the follicles began cramping, which is as painful as it sounds.
However, those incidents were job-related and therefore required my attendance. This made them, if not exactly less frightening, somewhat less exhilarating than those gut-churning fears you impose upon yourself simply for the joy of getting your recommended daily dose of adrenaline.
Things like whitewater rafting or kayaking, climbing and scuba diving under ice can fall into this category. I’ve enjoyed those particular sports and can remember sponging a gallon of cold sweat from the bottom of my kayak while calling the whole business ‘fun’.
However, in looking at the whole spectrum of terror, what I find the most interesting are those fears that creep up and surprise us like a cold fist to the forehead. All outdoors enthusiasts have experienced these moments when an unexpected snake or hidden wasp nest have turned a pastoral outdoor outing into an episode that will be forever recounted around a thousand smoky cocktail parties.
I just had one of those situations a few moments ago. The biggest problem in my life was the fact that this column was not writing itself, no matter how hard I stared at the blank screen. As an aside, the day Microsoft invents a program that automatically writes and sends a 20-inch column is the day that I will gladly offer to donate a kidney or lung to Bill Gates.
As a column was not forthcoming, my mind wandered far and near like a bird dog casting about for scent. During this mental constipation, often referred to by a long-suffering ex-wife as “he’s staring at the wall again,” I suddenly realized that the pump in our crawl space probably needed to be started.
Going outside, I opened the access cover to pull out a large black hose connected to a pump that drains any accumulated water under our house. As expected, the latest three-day monsoon had the tide rising and I congratulated myself for having installed the pump.
Reaching for the hose, I saw something. In the split second of processing it took my brain to analyze the situation, the dialog went something like this:
“Hmmm. Next to hand is a long, black thing with shiny skin, obvious internal skeletal structure, mottled markings, a slender snout. Oh look…it’s wiggling slowly. Upon consideration of all the facts, it must be a…”
That fact that I was holding a long black pipe in my wildly flailing hand only added to the momentary confusion.
I jumped up and went into what I termed many years ago as “the snake dance.” This dance is performed with the aid of an unexpected snake or, optionally, a large hairy spider that drops onto your arm when picking raspberries.
To perform, you first move from a crouched position to standing in less than two-thirds of a second. You then jump wildly in place as if trying to perform calisthenics while flailing your arms in a windmill fashion. The serious practitioner of the dance also throws in a several lusty shouts that incorporate some mid-range curse words. After this is done for several seconds, the dancer then stops and cautious creeps back towards his starting position.
After finishing the first series of movements, I moved slowly back toward the crawlspace access and found that the object of my sudden surprise was nothing more than a nice tiger salamander. He lay half-buried in the mud, a look of peevishness crossing his beady eyes at having his nice damp home disturbed merely so that I could pump out the stagnant water from beneath my house.
I gently sluiced some water over him and enjoyed a few moments of nature study. Though salamanders are fairly common, they are rarely seen due to their secretive ways and habit of living under leafy duff or rotting vegetation.
It seems odd but I actually enjoyed those few minutes more than seeing a deer or turkey. Though I love to hunt deer and turkey, I have seen so many that simply observing one isn’t the thrill it used to be. However, the seven-inch amphibian rekindled my curiosity.
Later, moving back to the keyboard, I chuckled at my momentary fright. It was the kind of scare that is mostly indigenous to outdoor adventure, the kind of scare that creeps up and surprises us during the most mundane moments. Afterwards, we feel jittery, nervous and a bit shaken but also marvelously alive for having survived the experience and having seen something out of the ordinary.
Oh brother; who am I kidding? I hate it too.