Fear primordial

Steve Jupa
Steve Jupa

Instead of mountain men we are cursed with a plague of diggers, drillers, borers, grubbers; of asphalt spreaders, dam builders, overgrazers, clear-cutters, and strip miners whose object seems to be to make our mountains match our men – making molehills out of mountains for a race of rodents – for the rat race. (Edward Abbey, Down the River with Henry Thoreau)

Imagine two people spending their nights alone in the wilderness. One is only barely asleep, aware of every noise and certain that in the thick soup are bears and mountain lions. He will awake at the slightest noise, holding perfectly still until he resolves its puzzle in his mind. Wind caused a pine cone to drop on the tent? Deer passing through? A ragged coyote looking for an easy meal? Each noise creates a moment of panic. The woods at night are dangerous. They need to be so. If we remove the danger, we remove the most important thing that wilderness offers: Wild. It is a journey into the soul.

Our second man is a coward. He’s in the woods out of necessity, hunting for game. That’s not a problem. We’re omnivores, after all. The problem is that he feels a need to have a gun at his side to help him sleep. He doesn’t own his fear. He has not yet let his inner child have a vision quest.

I had a night of terror many years ago. A friend and I were deep in the Beartooths up on Lake Plateau. I was drawn to backpacking with him even as all our other friends had given up, purchased motor boats and headed for the prairie potholes. I cannot say why I was drawn to do that. The work was hard and rewards a sparse few. Stripped of luxury, camp coffee is like chocolate. After a few miles under the weight of a pack the woods are not glamorous, I am not enchanted. My body hurts. I ask myself why I am there.

Wandering around that evening looking for wood for the fire I stumbled on a deep, rich, shiny and black pile of scat. It was laden with berries. It was so large that it could only have been placed there by ursus horribilis, the night stalker. It was recent, perhaps less than an hour old. It was going to be a long, long night.

My friend Jupa, long since passed, said it could just as easily be a big black bear as a griz. That did not comfort me. He crawled in his sleeping bag that night and within a few minutes was soundly asleep. I lay there alone, hearing every noise. I was even afraid to fall asleep, perhaps thinking that Freddy of the forest would kill me in a dream. If I slept at all that night, it was the kind of sleep that offers no rest.

After that night I was never again afraid to sleep in the woods. The fears I face were primeval, part of our common heritage. The woods are dark and deep and mysterious. The animals mind their own so long as we do, and let us be. But that fear exists in most people. Swede, our cinderblock cousin, offered up a video in the comments down below this post. In it, a dunderhead blowhard offered this wisdom: Wilderness has no value. He wants to make it useful by harvesting the trees, making roads and recreating on his sorry fat ass atop an ATV.

Such people can neither be reasoned with or reached. I can only wander into their nightmare forests for a few moments before I became agitated. These are our problem, these people who know no value. They sleep with that gun by their side because they have not confronted their fear. They want to destroy what scares them. In so doing, they destroy a part of our heritage that cannot be replaced except by our vacating the place.

We hold on to what little wilderness remains not because we love trees more than people. I prefer the civilized life over living in a tent. I live in a wooden house and drive a car. But I multi-task. Enjoying civilization and people, I also treasure fear and places so wild that they scare most people away. The grizzly bear cannot live in tamed woods. Make a road, he’ll make an exit. We cannot live side-by-side. One must go.

It is not fear that matters, but rather confronting fear. To do that, we need to visit a place where we can be scared.

14 thoughts on “Fear primordial

  1. Nice piece!

    As we rapidly devolved from people to consumers, fear has been nurtured and farmed by everybody and everything trying to sell us something. It is the go-to tactic. The intensity, scope and scale of propaganda/marketing is now inescapable, except in places with no “bars,” no (coffee or alcohol) bars, and no roads. Damn right people are scared shitless.

    Fear creates distorted needs, like “carry permits,” “stand your ground” laws and prescription drugs used to sleep, kill pain, calm the stomach, move bowels, and stiffen the penis. Let’s face the truth, nature has been created as the new, unknown enemy — the other.

    When people discover that the enemy is within, because everything they do naturally is shunned, prohibited and criminalized, well, that’s fear that needs to die. Even God can’t alleviate that kind of fear. Suicide works for a growing number, but most never recover from a life of constant fear nurtured and harvested, mostly to sell us worthless stuff.

    My final four: stuff vs. wilderness and lonliness vs. solitude.


    1. Talbot is more Pogie’s caliber, self-appointed genius, as I have experienced him. That’s a great discussion over there, unusual. You opened it up by reversing the ordinary roles. I know you are sincere in that wanting to get a gun, and I hope whatever you decide to do keeps everyone safe.

      [I had not read your piece before this, there is no embedded wisdom here. I am writing about bears, not criminals.]


    1. And who cares anyway. What annoys is that you think you should be able to bring all this motorized shit into wilderness like it is some god-given right, and completely oblivious to the damage you do.

      [not referring to horses.]

      [And Jesus! You’re Swede. You are the definition of oblivious, and so that last person who would know that you are oblivious. You are self-defined.]


  2. Pending legislation (NREPA) wilderness ecosystems too scary for Missoulian to even mention. Or maybe they’re scared of something else: Walsh is a dud? http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/devil-s-glen-one-of-many-montana-areas-considered-for/article_6e404da4-b209-11e3-97b9-001a4bcf887a.html

    Great Falls Tribune apparently isn’t protecting Tester or Walsh. Even slashes phony Montana Conservation Voters! https://www.greatfallstribune.com/article/20140323/NEWS01/303220021/A-new-kid-block-Environmental-cred-contested

    With Baucus gone, his abusive power to control of everybody, and everything, is gone too. The wilderness debate is inching forward in that new light beaming from Baucus’s pitch-black, hidey-hole. Let the sun shine in.


      1. As willful and mindful,and thoughtful as you think you are, you are really Jello on the wall. No one can discuss anything with you because you never state your beliefs and then stick around to defend them. you shoot from the bushes and run. All I ever ask of you is to simply run, and forget the bushes.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s