“Fear is essential.”

An article I wrote for an E-Newsletter through The Gellar Center in Fort Collins, CO:

“What was that?” he asked. “Did you hear that?”

I shrugged. “That branch cracking?”

My friend Mahdi was visiting. We were sitting behind my secluded trailer home in the abundant northern mountains of Colorado. We faced a shaking aspen grove under an opal sky. The wind blew a melody. Small birds darted through branches unruffled. I had been bragging about all the animals I’d seen since moving here: coyote, bobcat, bald eagles, deer, and even a few humans. Mahdi wanted to see something wild too, so every noise would jettison our attention in the quiet hope it had been created by some leviathan of his dreams, or at least a vision of a National Geographic cover.

“I bet it’s an animal,” I said. We watched, squinting and fixating on the mass of trees in the general direction of the sound.

A lumbering, incorporeal moose emerged from the evergreen and headed straight towards us. We marveled and sat back, enraptured, landlocked, as this absurd creature sauntered nearer, a massive body and bobbing horse-like head, gaining momentum as it paced on baroque, knobby legs, moreso impossible paltry stilts than appendages. As it drew close, we saw how fluffy the hair on its lustrous brown body was, still mohawk’d from a rambling youth. Fledgling white spots of childhood were still strewn across it’s saddle. Two horns protruded from its brow, swinging in careless gait. It seemed almost to glide as it passed through the golden beams of a finishing day, and the dark grasses of looming night.

Earlier, I was talking with a long-time resident on the volunteer fire department. She’d been at the weekly meeting. The question was asked, “What is the most dangerous animal in the Colorado mountains in spring?” She frowned and grunted, then told me, “It’s actually the moose, you know! I guess they aren’t scared of anything. And don’t come between a mama and its child.” Her eyes grew wide. She whistled low. “Those things charge you, it’s a thousand pounds and you’re done, baby.”

I furrowed my brow at our pending situation and opened my mouth to say something, but Mahdi beat me to it. “Should we get up? We should get up, he’s getting close-“

“I think we’ll be alright,” I answered. I didn’t think that at all, nor did I know why I said that. “I mean, he probably wouldn’t just steamroll us, would he?” It slowed to a stop directly in front of us and swung it’s fat head in our direction. It was no less than five yards away. Had the breeze been blowing towards us, we would have smelled the brutish lunacy of its unhampered adolescence. It’s eyes drooped, exposing the gumball pink below russet-colored pupils. Its look seemed, to me, utterly vacant, an undetectable mood that prompted immediate discomfort.

“We should go inside. We should move, you think?” Mahdi said. His voice was an octave higher than usual. Whose heartbeat was I hearing  increase in rapidity?

A bizarre, terrific fear began to bloat inside me as well. “Yeah… but… what would he do if we moved suddenly?” I scratched my chin. The pendulous flap which hung from the young buck’s jaw swung as the moose watched us watching it. I said, “I’m not sure what to do.”

It struck me this moment was nothing shy of moronic. We should have been inside; yet it was just a young moose. This burgeoning dread was based on the volatility of an uncouth wilderness.

Fear is essential. It resides only in questions. It is one way bewilderment enters the daily life. Bewilderment exists when a cacophonous break in the life-pattern is so incapacitating and unusual that it can elicit only panic, founded in the unfamiliar. Bewilderment is integral for the most important endeavors in life, like adventure, love, and spirituality. It is a sign of being TRULY alive, by being aggressed out of the tedium that routine can manifest. Unfortunately, many believe the idea (in largess, too!) that bewilderment, and fear, are BAD. The blithe and amiable know this is not the case, and that bewilderment is integral to living with a violin sensitivity. As the poet Rilke said, “…learn to love the questions themselves.” When you do this, it becomes clear the EXPERIENCE is the goal, and one of note will contain some level of bewilderment. Because it is obligatory, it can be simultaneously glorious and incapacitating.

The moose presented us with a refulgent moment of bewilderment. Finding us lackluster, it continued on its path north, and we returned to the susurrus of our mindlessness. What a grand life it is, that we can be reminded of our hearts beating in the face of unpredictable beauty.

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