[ Preface: ]
Life is full of surprises.
In my experience, there are two kinds. One is the kind that springs itself on you. The birthday party you weren’t expecting. The mistake on your paycheck that turns out to be an unexpected raise. The skin-crawly spider web that suddenly engulfs your horrified face as you walk through the woods at dusk.
The second is the kind you look for. The magnificent vista that hoves into view around the next bend in the trail. The fossil you find after weeks of careful digging. The soul-mate who – at last! – answers your personals ad.
The first kind of surprise is one of the givens of life. Good and bad, they come into your life unbidden and unstoppable, and often at lamented frequency.
The second kind is much rarer, and takes some work. You have to go on that hike, after all, or actually dig for weeks in the fossil bed, or put that personals ad out there and keep checking the responses.
It was somewhere late in my young life when I discovered I was actually making an effort to find those kinds of surprises. Not being a scientist, much of my looking had to do with everyday life. To my friends and family, it probably looked like I was making an effort not to fit in. But if you’re searching for something better, you are necessarily abandoning the same-old, same-old that the people around you are comfortable with.
The same ways of doing things. The same roads and trails. The same ways of thinking.
Coming from the Deep South, I ended up living in California, and Arizona, and New York.
Coming from a background of Southern Baptists and Jehovah’s Witnesses, I wound up a freethinking atheist.
And coming from a community of cowboys, hunters and backwoods 4-wheeler enthusiasts, I became an avid environmentalist.
I was never the level of activist as, for instance, the admirable Chris Clarke, but I had my moments on a smaller scale. And in the field of environmental thinking, I stumbled upon what were, to me, a few rather large surprises.
I’ll tell you about one of them. I hope it will surprise you too.
(Just FYI, this is a chapter of a might-be book about Earth and humans. It’s © Hank Fox 2011, so if you like it enough that you want to show it to friends, please send them here rather than copying, and please link here if you take an excerpt.)………………………………………………..
This is The Lie:Back in my hitchhiking adventure days, I stood one night under a streetlight on a deserted highway outside a city in West Texas, waiting for a car to stop and give me a ride. Waiting, actually, even for a car to come along. Eventually there in the dark, I hadn’t seen one for more than an hour.
An overcast sky and the dirty air of civilization killed even the stars overhead. Surrounded by an ocean of blackness, I stood in a tiny lifeboat of luminance. A tepid breeze wafted over the dried landscape, rattling papery leaves and litter across the road in front of me. As I stood in the weak, orange puddle of light, something about the dead-feeling air created an ominous absence of sound in the surrounding dark.
After a while, I stood riveted there in the lengthening night, listening with the first beginnings of dread to that threatening silence. My backpack lay leaning against the base of the streetlight, a bright friendly yellow which should have been comforting somehow, but which I knew it contained no weapon, no shield from what I was coming to imagine waited out there.
Whether it was a noise or a smell too subtle to consciously notice, suddenly, somehow, I knew that there was something there, lurking just beyond the sharp circle of light. I caught odd musky whiffs on the breeze – maybe I was smelling its predator’s breath, or the rank odor of its fur as it circled around me and passed momentarily upwind. Masked by the chitter-chatter of leaves on the pavement, I fancied I could hear its claws clicking on rocks as it circled and stalked in the dead zone just out of my sight.
The safety of the nearest trees was easily 30 yards away, in the dark, and the streetlight pole was smooth and featureless, impossible to climb. I huddled against the pole, circled it, peering out into the night, wishing for a rock to throw, or even a flashlight to blind whatever might be out there.
Yet the instant I turned my back on the blackness that lined the road, I heard a pebble click a dozen yards away, then another closer by a third, and another closer still, so rapid they were almost a single sound: tickticktick. Gripped by sheer terror, I crouched and whirled in place to see whatever scary thing might be coming at me out of the night – yet I still had time for only the first gasping intake of breath before the creature drove its razored talons clear into my lungs and heart, and its needle-lined jaws bit my face completely off.
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