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Becoming more comfortable in nature

I've always had snake-phobia. Not because of any particular traumatic event, but just because they exist. They could be anywhere. I thought that Portland was pretty snake-proof until our 9-year neighbor brought over a garden snake last summer that he'd caught in his yard. He held it by the tail while it writhed and hissed at him. The young man was fearless, and his fearlessness became contagious for both me and my kids. We got up close and personal with that snake. It pooped on my porch. The kids touched it. It was just a little garden snake, after all.

A couple of weeks ago while I was attacking the English ivy in our yard, I disrupted another little snake who slowly slithered away. Amazingly, no screams erupted from my body. I was wearing gardening gloves, and I almost bent over and picked it up. Almost. Two days ago a coiled up snake greeted me at the mailbox. I promptly alerted the children and the neighbor boy, and they spent a couple of hours carefully fondling the snake and watching it slither around. Even my squeamish 3-year old son was enamored. My 6-year old daughter now thinks all things slimy and slithery are cool (and apparently rescued a worm on the playground today). I'm proud of them, and of myself, for overcoming our fears of these harmless creatures.

Last summer we camped with a family who introduced us to crawdads. There were tons of them in the lake and my daughter became obsessed with finding them and keeping them in a bucket as temporary pets. I had a hard time picking them up, but she had no fear. I like spending time with people who can disabuse us of the notion that nature is scary (because that seems to be our natural inclination) and teach us how to respect all things in nature. (I'm currently looking for someone who can tamper my fear of sharks. Anyone?)

I think it's great to lose that fear when you're young because it's a lot harder when your older. Even walking through the woods can seem scary because you don't know if there is a bear around the corner or stranger-danger lurking behind a tree. Chances are you are perfectly safe. Learning how to behave when you do encounter a dangerous situation in nature is important because fear alone should not be a reason to stay away from nature and disrespect it. I've learned through wilderness-savvy friends, but there are  guided nature walks and hikes and classes that can teach both kids and adults how to appreciate and be comfortable in nature. What's your comfort level? High? Moderate? Need a nature-phobe de-programming?

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