I have been a resident of Utah for exactly one week and everything has changed. Everything. I moved to the high desert 900 miles from one home and 2,100 from another for a new challenge. I wanted to learn new things. My goal: acquire additional life skills so that I can take care of myself when things get hard. When I am lost and there is no one to ask for help. When I am scared and there is no one to comfort me except the knowledge deep down that everything will be okay.
In November, I began purchasing books on survival. I have three. One, a U.S. Army field manual from 1969; another, a handbook on wilderness survival written in 1972 by Berndt Berglund, a former pilot and instructor for Air Canada; and the third, a Christmas gift from my dad about how to build the perfect survival kit, published in 2005.
So far, I have read about how to build a lean-to. How to recognize edible plants in the woods, the desert, and the plains. I have read how to fish without a pole, the proper way to build a fire, and the instructions for erecting a rescue flare. But never in any of those books do they tell you how to react when someone you love gets sick. When I say sick, I mean the type of sick that requires spinal taps and CAT scans, radiation and chemotherapy. And when I say love, I mean really love. Like married into your bones, floating in your cells, the reason you are here, love.
In Utah, I am separated from the rest of my people and I need to use what little I have learned immediately. I expected to be able to wait until spring, when the snow has melted, when the temperatures are above freezing, to begin training for the unknown. But like all emergencies, they can happen at any time. So I opened my field guide today and re-read Berglund’s introduction about survival psychology:
“In many instances, the frame of mind and how well prepared mentally the survivor is, determine whether or not he will survive … Fear is a very normal reaction for anyone who is faced with an out of the ordinary situation that threatens his important needs.”
He was writing about being lost in the wilderness. I think it can also apply for when you are in the privacy of your own home and feeling lost just the same. Because right now, I am learning about a different kind of tough.
This afternoon I strapped chains onto my running shoes (another Christmas gift from my dad the Eagle Scout), and headed to the river trail where I found an icy, slushy, snow-covered mess. I began climbing. It was similar to running on the beach. Just colder. And at altitude.
I ran and thought of nothing. Then I ran and thought of my people. And then I got angry. My legs responded by turning over faster. This made me feel better. Until I remembered why I was running so fast. And then I pushed even harder. I growled at the nobodys in the woods. I thought maybe the universe might hear. Might hear me over the Sunday sermons. The hymns. The prayers for help taking place in the valley below. Maybe the universe hears you even if you don’t scream. If you silently summon it to your feet. Ask it for nothing. Except mercy, and a fair fight.
Berglund says, “there is always something that can be done to improve the situation. Accept the fact that fear is a natural reaction to a dangerous situation and … Never for one minute let the thought of complete disaster enter your mind.”
I have only read his tips. I have participated in a handful of emergency simulations. Never under pressure. Never involving someone I love. I still need to master these tactics. I still need to be reminded that one must continue planning for tomorrow, “even during the dark hours … never allow that ‘let down feeling’ to overtake you, keep on working and keep on planning …Very few people really know how much they can take.”