Fear of the Unknown I - Naming Fear

     Every now and then I am reminded that I am a mammal.
     One evening last summer, when the dark was finally claiming the land after a long twilight, Bob and I stepped outside as we usually do about then, the dogs on their leashes, for a last walk down our quiet road before bed.
     What we heard froze us in our tracks. My heart-rate jumped up, and I stared into the darkness in the direction of the unknown danger. A harsh shrieking sliced through the night from the woods that border the field. Poised on the edge of fight or flight, my mind scanned for what it could possibly be.

     Predator?... fox, coyote, lunatic with an axe? Something sick: a rabid raccoon that might come staggering out with spirals in its eyes and foam dripping from its fangs? The Wendigo? 
     Fear of the unknown is paralyzing, as it should be – briefly. That moment is the moment of assessment. The whole body is involved, adrenaline triggering heightened receptivity in the sensory organs and preparing our muscles for action. What we know as stress is a prolonged state of this fear of the unknown: can I meet my work deadlines? will traffic get in my way? is there enough money? what havoc will climate change bring to my family's future?
   Constant stress is not healthy. We can't live in paralysis, in fight, or in flight. We need to name the danger, identify our fear, make a decision and move through it. When the deer in our field see two humans and two dogs coming, they freeze, then either turn tail and bound off, or decide we are no threat for the moment and resume eating.

      Naming our fear is the first step. Relief begins to come when the unknown becomes known.
      Bob figured it out: that harsh shrieking that we have heard almost every night now since last summer is a juvenile Great Horned Owl begging for food. We don't really understand why the begging has gone on so long, or when the owl will grow up, but no longer does it inspire fear. In fact, we've become kind of fond of him, poor little shrieking fellow. We even named him Oscar.

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