“Heather, do you see this huge frog?” Beana asked from the stern of the canoe. Knee deep in lake muck, I struggled to dismantle a waterlogged loon nesting raft and glanced around for amphibian life.
“Here, I’ll paddle backwards so you can see it.”
The canoe slid back through turbid water, and I lifted my head, searching for the green nose and bulging eyes of what had to be an enormous American Bullfrog. Slowly, a shape below the surface came into view—a large, round, flat stone. Seconds passed as it dawned on me that the stone was alive.
By the time the massive Snapping Turtle had poked its frog-like head back above the surface of the water, I believe the neurons in my frontal lobes had stopped firing. My cerebellum (the part often called “reptilian brain”) was screaming GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT! I clambered up onto the sinking loon raft, and from there, I stepped into a canoe and sat in the bow seat, knuckles white over the gunwales. The turtle crawled under the raft, and every time its head peeped above the water, my heart leapt into my throat.
There are truly not many animals I fear. I will not touch centipedes or millipedes, but that isn’t a fear response. I’m afraid of Snapping Turtles. I guess the difference for me is that fear is not based in rational thought. It’s embedded deep in my psyche and may never be dislodged, but that doesn’t mean I have to let it rule me.
Minutes elapsed, and I became more comfortable with the turtle as I watched. It seemed very curious of us, and kept peering above the water right next to the raft. It could easily have swum away. Gradually, my heart rate slowed, and I was able to think rationally again: the turtle wasn’t going to fly out of the water and attack me, it couldn’t actually take off my fingers and toes (though it could still send me to the ER), and I had been trained on how to handle them.
Eric asked me to deliver a pry bar to Hannah and her aunt. I slipped back over the side of the canoe and slogged through ten feet of muck to hand off the tool. As I approached, the turtle’s head broke the surface of the water again. Tentatively, I leaned forward and touched its shell, sure that it would take off. It didn’t.
I slid my hand back and grabbed the rear of the carapace, and it still didn’t seem to mind. Reaching with my other hand to keep track of the shell, I gradually wiggled my way up its leg and grabbed onto its right thigh. At this point, the turtle started to squirm a little, so I lifted its back end out of the water and wrapped my fingers around its left thigh as well.
With two handfuls of turtle leg ending in large claws resembling those of a dog kicking futilely through the air, I hoisted what had to be a 15” snapper from the murky lake water. To the animal’s credit, it really wasn’t aggressive at all. It hung from my hands, neck extended and forelimbs splayed, and just kind of looked around.
Fear is a silly thing, sometimes. It has its place, sure—it serves to keep us safe when we are in immediate danger of bodily harm or fatality. But the amount of fear that we face as individuals in a fear-driven culture is really absurd. “Don’t do this so you don’t get mugged, raped, fleeced. Do this or you’ll be cheated on, lose your belongings, lose your soul.” In my case, living in the arguably safer streets of Vermont for the past six years, it’s more like, “Don’t say this so you don’t offend anyone or make a fool of yourself.” But there was a time not at all long ago when it was, “You can’t, because you’re a woman.” So I didn’t try.
But that’s dumb. Living a life in fear of failure is like digging your grave and laying in it, just waiting until the day that someone else throws dirt back over you. Eventually, we all get covered in dirt. I want there to be something left on the surface when I’m six feet under. I want to make such an impression on the people I meet that they can’t help but remember me long after I’m gone, for better or for worse.