Sunday afternoon my husband and I went out our front door with our dog, Sage, into the wild for a hike on a well-worn trail near our house in Central Idaho. The sun was peaking in and out, snow still seen under the trees where the warmth of springtime had not thawed the chill of winter.
Sage, thrilled to be outside, bounds up and down the hills scanning for sensory experiences that were covered by snow for so many months. As my husband watches her, his eyes come upon two gray wolves watching from a very close distance. We immediately call our forty-pound, happy-go-lucky Springer Spaniel to our side as we weigh the option of turning back. Ultimately we decide to modify our hike and to go in the other direction from these two majestic, wild animals which are still watching with their heads held high and ears perked at the ready.
As we continued up the dirt path that I have come to know so well, I felt the grace of having seen these beautiful animals in their own habitat, as well as the fear of being only a couple hundred yards from them. Hiking on this same trail this last month, I have seen animal bones that I needed to shoo my dog away from, antlers and clumps of hair shed from the herds of elk that make these hills home during the winter months, as well as herds of mule deer who wait until Sage and I pass before prancing like gazelles through the sagebrush to the other side of the trail. Even watching my beloved companion take off towards a herculean male elk with an immense rack was no match for this pair of wolves that were now, seemingly, watching my dog like a succulent snack. We reminded ourselves that wolves have never attacked a person, however we had our ‘puppy’ whose favorite thing in the world is to bound up the very hill this wolf pair has now occupied.
For those of us that still have our original wiring that says “Wild animals are WILD and can hurt you,” a sensation of fear feels like a pang in the depth of our being. I say this only because there are so many of us that have only seen animals, such as the gray wolf, behind bars in city zoos. We have shed those connections of fear, replaced by the fear of our fellow human beings. Ourselves. However, there is no longer a way to differentiate who might be dangerous, as much as we try. How do you discern between a person who is normal, who only wants to create a life for themselves and family versus the person who uses a gun to shoot innocent children or who sets off bombs in the middle of a celebrated city marathon? Should we be fearful of everyone unless proven otherwise? Should we go merrily about our life without regard to the danger that is lurking? This new danger is unknown. We can’t study its habitat, its predators or even its characteristics. We can’t arm ourselves when stepping into the wild anymore.
Our cities have become the wild places where danger or even death could be just around the corner. What do we teach our children about the world they live in and how to protect themselves? In these new wild places we can no longer show them what to look for — large furry animals, long slithering snakes, eight-legged insects…
If we teach our children to be fearful of wild places they would grow up with constant anxiety about all that could happen but probably won’t. Instead, we have to teach them about the things that could be dangerous, but most importantly we have to teach them to look for the GOOD and the BEAUTIFUL people, places and things. We have to teach them to differentiate and be discerning about the people they let into their life and to constantly be aware of their environment. This is the opposite of staring at a mind-numbing screen for hours at a time. This new education requires our children to be in nature, in the cities, a part of their communities, and in relationships.
Life is dangerous and it is beautiful. We must show them how to look for the good, the lovely people in life so they will not grow up fearful to leave their homes or to look beyond the many types of screens vying for their attention. They are learning everyday and the requirement bar for adulthood has been forever raised. Life is no longer simple no matter what we choose to teach our children or how we choose to live. We cannot teach our children to live in fear of their world, just as we cannot shield them from horrific circumstances that seem to be happening far more frequently then the dangers of the wild not too long ago. The dangers that are in nature are no match for what we have found in the suburbs and cities where we live. We have to teach our children to look for the good amid the chaos, to look for what is beautiful about the people they come upon, to see the helpers in untenable situations. We have to teach them to live life fully with presence and awareness. Our world is far more beautiful than it sometimes seems and it is much easier to see the ugliness than it was fifty years ago.