Short Lessons Said Aloud, Part One

"If a bear walks into your tent, punch it in the nose."

Outdoors, you learn things sometimes. Even if you can’t put these lessons into words, they stick with you. Here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned by being outdoors, in no particular order, without a lot of detail:

“If a bear walks into your tent, punch it in the nose.” – Okay, I didn’t actually punch the bear. I hit it with my shoe. (Yep, on the nose…It’s a long story.) The bottom line is that if the thing you fear most comes suddenly and uncomfortably close to you, just do what comes naturally, next. It will probably turn out okay.

“If you are struck at by a rattlesnake, be sure to check whether or not you were bitten.” – This seems self-evident, but it warrants emphasis. I was struck at by a rattler, and – somehow convinced that my non-existent, cat-like reflexes had saved me – I didn’t check for a bite. (Weird, huh?) Fortunately, that snakebite was dry. It could’ve been bad.

“Just suck it up and do the dirty work.” – I’ve mucked out flooded corrals, climbed into pit latrines with waders on, and been up to my elbows (and deeper) in offal of all sorts. Sometimes you’ve just got to do it. It never stinks as badly as you thought it would, and – anyway – you get used to it. You’ll clean up okay, even if you have to wait awhile.

“Don’t be afraid to ask for a cuddle, and a foot massage.” – Hypothermic and nearing frostbite, I finally admitted to my climbing partner that I might be in trouble. He dug us in, threw me into the hole, and climbed in next to me. He then warmed my bare feet against his belly. Okay, it was a little awkward, but this might be the only reason why today I still have ten toes like everybody else. Ask for help when you need it.

“Sometimes horrible things happen, so live through them, thankfully.” – There’s such a sudden shift between a great day climbing, and the worst (or last) day you’ve ever had. Gravity, water, momentum, and weather are intrinsically violent forces of nature. I’ve fallen into crevasses, been caught in avalanches, and was somehow leaning one way when leaning another way might’ve ended badly. (Read: “Cut in half by a giant rock.”) Frankly, I’m here now because I have been lucky. I’m thankful for this. Every day, count the blessing of being alive. It could be different.

“Don’t sleep in your car in a vacant lot in the red-light district, you might get mugged by prostitutes.” Oh, dang, would you look at that we’re out of time! Sorry, but this story will have to wait for another day…

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