Removing the beads…

Traveling alone can be scary in specific moments. Take, for instance, my current hike up the Virgin River in Zion National Park. All is fine when I begin, as there are many people still traversing the canyon waters. However, it doesn’t escape my attention that most people walking the river are returning from the north part of the canyon where it narrows. I’m just beginning…..and it’s six o’clock in the evening.

Nevertheless, if I read the sign correctly before boarding the shuttle, I have two hours to hike up as far as I can and back. Any threat of flash flooding is also low, so that’s another positive…..never mind that I’m not a fan of deeper water. Just add me to the list of people who are still scarred from watching “Jaws” all those years ago. Logic says there are no great white sharks in southern Utah, but the reality is that I have no idea what’s in that water. And isn’t that often the biggest source of fear……the unknown?

Lucky for me, a few stragglers are still around when I begin to head back about an hour later and it’s not yet dark when the shuttle returns me to camp. I feel exhilarated, but relaxed……and sleep well with the cooling night temps and well-attended campground. While more people sometimes means more caution, I always tend to think there’s safety in numbers and campers tend to be mostly helpful people who look out for one another.

I suppose this is the reason I find myself slightly less comfortable the following day. After waking and making my way around some local shops and cafes, I head to a campground about 35 minutes away for the next two nights. I’m a little excited to check out a new place, but as I wind my way to the site, I realize it’s slightly more secluded than expected. In addition, the place is completely void of other campers upon arrival. I consider the possibility that I’m early and decide to kill some time in a nearby town until it cools off a bit. It’s a good call, as ten out of the campground’s 11 sites are occupied when I return. Not so bad, I think. The campers are mostly families and aside from almost surprising a skunk on my last trip to the restroom, there doesn’t seem to be much threat. Plus, the place is beautiful….nestled in the shelter of striking red cliffs and diverse desert vegetation.

And yet, the wind shifts when it wants…..blowing in new experiences and challenges, sometimes from one moment to the next. Anyone looking for security, therefore, is going to have a tough go in this world…..or at the very least, be reminded that all of existence is nothing but a fragile miracle. This is me…..and this is my first night at the new place. I start out feeling secure enough. I lock myself into my tiny square-drop camper, remove my jewelry and contact lenses, and get comfortable with a new book. I even remove a necklace I purchased earlier in the day…..Navajo “Ghost Beads,” traditionally believed to ward off negative spirits and provide safety and protection to their wearer.

This may have been my mistake, actually…..removing the beads. Because, after about two hours into sleep, I hear what sounds like someone trying the door handle on my camper. Very quickly, I’m up and grabbing the handle from the inside. And then…..nothing. No other sound. No footsteps or movement. I wait. Eventually, I relax my hold on the handle, still trying to decide if I misheard or misinterpreted the noise. Perhaps it was something else. Nevertheless, I realize that sleep might be an issue. What if it was a person trying to gain access and he comes back? As I consider potential weapons and mentally beat myself up for leaving my giant can of bear spray in my Jeep, I also have a growing need to relieve myself. Wonderful. Trying to stay hydrated in the desert strikes again.

Needless to say, not more than three minutes later, I’m sitting on the portable toilet worried that some real life evil-spirit monster came out of the caverns in the cliffs…..and it can hear me peeing. It knows I’m awake. I finish up and just get the toilet pushed back into its storage place when I hear the sound again….like someone trying to open the door. Oh my, it’s going to be a long night, I think to myself. I sit….holding the handle again. I wait. My fan makes a weird little ticking sound….already eliminated as a possible culprit. I listen. And there it is a third time!

My ears, alert and ready to pinpoint the noise, direct me to the air vent above my head. Apparently, I had opened the cover earlier for air flow and it’s prone to a slight rattle when the wind picks up even just a little. That’s it. That’s my evil-spirit monster. I am 99 percent sure.

It’s also my reminder…..that security is nothing but a feeling. It’s not the reality. Even as I retrain my brain to accept the new info that my life is not in any immediate danger, I am aware…..that it could be. This is not to say, however, that I should live in constant fear. It’s to say… get more comfortable with being uncomfortable. Be safe. Be prepared. Take my giant can of bear spray to my camper at night….but keep challenging that which frightens. Seeking to feel and be more secure won’t bring me peace.

Only an acceptance of reality….of the “insecurity” of being alive……can do that. And, of course, removing the beads….

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