Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

Tag: fear

Costa Rica Diary: The Tarzan Swing

I wrote last time about the zip line tour at Selvatura Park, which was great, though I discovered myself to be inexplicably afraid of heights. But the Tarzan swing took the fear to another level.

When I was little, I remember my older brother egging me on to do daring things. He liked that I was more of a risk-taker than my sister. Later I loved roller coasters and other adventurous activities. In my twenties . . . let’s just say I did some risky things without thinking twice. I don’t see myself as person who is afraid to do something exciting.

The Tarzan swing was simply a step off a platform while attached to a cable, so there was no danger of falling. The platform was twelve meters high. We’d already zipped over the forest canopy, a hundred feet or more, so twelve meters should be nothing, right? But, the view from the platform wasn’t especially notable, and the stairs went straight up. I’d done plenty of walking already, and didn’t think I needed the thrill. It was optional, so maybe I’d sit this one out. But my daughters would hear none of it. They’re seven and ten, and full of the enthusiasm of youth. My mother-in-law Pat wasn’t sure she needed the Tarzan swing either, but she doesn’t say no to the girls much. They ran ahead of us up the hill to the bottom of the stairs. “Who’ll go first?” “Baba!” (That’s Pat.)

So everyone in the group decided to do it. I hung back, but the girls pushed Pat to the front of the group. She didn’t seem thrilled to go first, but, like I said, she’s not one to say no. Did she have to do it? She did it. Then the kids, my husband, brother-in-law, his girlfriend, and everyone else in the group, except for one other person who thought it would make her sick.

I’m not a sucker for peer pressure. I can say no. But if my sixty-five-year-old mother-in-law can take the jump, surely I ought to be able to, n’est ce pas? If I’m forty-eight and afraid to do adventurous things, what will I be like when I’m sixty-five? What kind of grandmother will I be?

I decided I wasn’t going to let my mother-in-law be more adventurous than I. I would jump. I didn’t know how, but I would find a way. I tried to think of scary things I’d done. Surely there’ve been plenty. All I could think of was finally getting years of back taxes filed, which was an overwhelming task I’d been positive I couldn’t do. (The refunds funded this trip.) But sitting at a desk under a pile of papers didn’t even seem scary compared to this, so that didn’t help. I thought of that Alanis Morissette song, how did it go? Something like, the minute I jumped off was the minute I touched the ground. Thank you. Thank you India. I liked the song. But it was just a song.

The guide on the platform gave a couple people a bit of a nudge on the back when they hesitated. I thought about telling him to push me. But it might be even scarier to be pushed than to step off voluntarily. When I got to the platform, I told him, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

“Just put your hands right here,” he said reassuringly.

I made myself breathe. I held onto the harness attaching me to the cable. It would hold me anyway, had been tested already, there was nothing to be afraid of, but I was terrified. All I had to do was hold on, and take one step.

He opened the gate. Panic. “I can’t—” I said, and grabbed the railing. Holding onto the railing felt better, even with that gaping opening that threatened to suck me down.

Very calmly, he said, “I need you to put both hands here.”

Yes. Do what he says. It’s probably safer that way, maybe if I fell while holding onto the rail I’d go sideways and tear a knee ligament or something. That would be worse than just doing it the right way. I just have to do it.

I put both hands in place and didn’t wait to be pushed. I closed my eyes and stepped forward.

Half a second of freefall.

Then the cable caught, and it was just like any old playground swing.

It seemed like I should be smiling and laughing, but I didn’t feel happy. When asked how it was, I said, “I did it.” It seemed like that should be triumphant. I’d conquered my fear. I’d beaten the Tarzan swing. But I didn’t feel triumphant either. I just wanted to be back on the ground.

And that seemed wrong too. The whole point of the tour was to have fun, and, no matter hard I looked inside, I couldn’t find any enjoyment there. Maybe it was a waste of money. Maybe I should have stayed back with my father-in-law and enjoyed the entomology museum. I love entomology. Was I just trying to prove I’m not a stick in the mud?

Sitting at my desk here in Kansas, listening to coyotes howl outside, I don’t know the answer to that. But I find if I had the chance right now, I’d march myself right up to that platform and do it again, acrophobia be damned. Because now I know I can, and I’m not going through life dancing with fear like a friend, I’m going to jump right into it. Go ahead fear, suck all the fun out of a day, but you do not win.

Later I told Pat that I’d done it because I didn’t want to be less adventurous than my mother-in-law, and she told me earnestly that she wasn’t sure she was a good role model.

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Costa Rica Diary: Zip Lines at Selvatura Park, Monteverde

I think when we were in Monteverde twelve years ago, there was only one zip line tour; now there are several to choose from, and we’d been told Selvatura‘s was the best, with over a dozen lines. The longest stretches a full kilometer. Guides helped us into harnesses, and double checked that they were secure. We were each issued a set of heavy leather gloves and a helmet. We left all valuable items (including cameras) with my father-in-law Mike, who didn’t care to fly that day.

There was a lot of walking up stairs and steep hills. It was good exercise and I didn’t mind. I just loved being in the forest. The zip lines terrified me, though. It was the first time I remember ever being afraid of heights. I don’t remember being particularly scared the last time we did zip lines. I have no idea what was different this time. I couldn’t decide which was more frightening, zipping along high above the tops of the trees, or into thick clouds where I couldn’t see a thing. Once or twice I was so terrified that I just closed my eyes for a few seconds. I willed myself to breathe. There was a woman in our group who was there alone, and she kind of made friends with us. It was a bit of a comfort to me that she seemed even more scared than I was.

At the end of each line was a platform, and some of them were built onto giant trees, which I later found out were kapok trees. As soon as a person was detached from the cable, the guide would click his/her harness onto a cable attached to the tree, so no one could fall to the ground two hundred feet below. One of my favorite moments was standing on the platform, under the protection of a tree whose diameter must have been more than six feet. There was another tree close by —I could almost touch it— that was broken off just above a fork in the trunk. A family of little yellow and gray birds nested there, in the green moss and delicate epiphytic plants above the clouds.

Under certain conditions, a person doesn’t get enough speed to get to the end of the cable. This can happen if there’s a cross wind, or with a lighter person. The kids mostly went with the guides, who were all fine young men who appeared to be under the age of about twenty. If someone came to a stop before they got to the platform, a guide would have to go out, hand over hand on the cable, attach himself to the stalled tourist, and pull her/him to the end. It wasn’t a huge problem, but it slowed the group down and was a bit of a pain in the neck.

For the longest line —a full kilometer— smaller people were attached to each other. Our new friend stepped up and requested to go with my mother-in-law, Pat. I guess something about Pat felt safe to her. The guides had to have a conference to decide how to split us up. I got lucky and ended up going with one of those attractive youths. “You don’t have to do anything,” he said. I asked him his name, I think he said Darius. I held onto my harness while he wrapped his legs around mine. We took off from the platform. I wondered how long it would take. I felt so much safer with a guide than by myself. My only fear was that my arms would give out from gripping the harness, which I only had to hold onto to keep from hanging backwards by the hips. I can do it, I told myself.

Then we were in the clouds, beyond space and time. I think Darius was talking to me, but I couldn’t hear over the zip of the pulleys on the cable. I tried to relax into the harness. Then we were in trees again, approaching the enormous tree that anchored the cable. We stalled out and the guide had to pull us by hand. “It’s not scary with you,” I said. He asked me where I was from.

I said, “Kansas. It’s very different from here. Grass, no trees, open sky.”

He said, “It’s beautiful?”

I said, “Yes, beautiful. Very different beautiful.” We were almost to the platform.

I had to add: “But here it’s magical.”

Then we were on the platform, and it wasn’t even high above the ground.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you about the scariest thing I’ve ever done: the tarzan jump.

As for the photo gallery, the zip line photos all came from the park’s hidden cameras placed in the trees somewhere. They look pretty much the same, so I’m filling in with some more photos from La Colina Lodge.

Wasp As Totem, part II

I’ve noticed there seems to be some interest in wasp as totem, or perhaps more a dearth of writing on the subject. Wasp is a totem of protection and security, so it may be particularly appropriate in these days, when security means invasion of many kinds of privacy, or flying drones across oceans to kill our perceived enemies. Wasp is aggressive, and doesn’t mind hurting -in fact, wasp’s intention is to hurt that which is perceived to be a threat.

I wrote in another post that working with wasp totem is bound to lead to a sting, eventually. I’d like to clarify that I think it’s more than simple statistical likelihood (which it is as well). The sting is embedded in the form of protection that wasp offers. You might say it is the flip side of the coin, but I think it would be more accurate to say that it is the other side of the mobius, which is an object which only appears to have two sides. In fact, it has only one.

There is another aspect of wasp as totem which I haven’t seen anyone discuss. It has to do with the behavioral scripts I wrote about before. Wasp has very specific patterns of behavior. When one is triggered, the wasp goes through a totally predictable series of actions. It never varies the pattern, and in some cases will repeat the pattern as many times as the trigger occurs. One behavior I wrote about was upward flight when a wasp finds itself trapped in a confined space. It might seem obvious to humans that the way out would be to go back the way one came in; this is not among wasp’s behavioral scripts.

How could this be applied to human experience? Upward movement is sometimes a metaphor for spiritual seeking. It’s often been casually observed that when people feel trapped or threatened, they tend to “get religion,” which is to say, they begin to identify with forces more powerful than themselves. No doubt we want Divine protection from our assailants.

I would suggest that there are two lessons from wasp in this case. Wasp can demonstrate for us that flying upward is sometimes not the way out of the trap; the way out is to go against instinct, to call up one’s human ability to reason and choose new behaviors by turning around and going back, step by step, finding the way out by figuring out how one got here in the first place. It may be attractive to pray, do ritual, or read new age books, but because most of the walls we encounter are self-created, the only true liberation is to take them down, block by block.

The other lesson is that the way to avoid the protective sting is to give up protection altogether. It was shocking and impossible for me to believe when I first read in A Course In Miracles the words: “There is nothing to fear.” It’s that simple. Still, it took a lot of practice and thought before I could begin to live as if all the things I feared weren’t what my life was all about, as if everything that happens is what is intended for the greatest joy for everyone involved. It’s hard to believe on the best of days, but I find I am only free when I make choices as if this principle is true. There is no need for protection, because there is nothing to fear.

And that sting? It’s not something to fear, either. So far I’ve successfully avoided it, even when one once flew into my face while I was escorting it from a small room with a broom. Still, it’s always a possibility, just as there may come a time when wasp protection might be what I need. I may not notice, though; I’ll be too busy dismantling walls.

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