As I was out walking, I had an encounter that stuck with me afterward and got my mind wandering off the beaten path. It was a little thing, but there’s a panoply of history behind it. Something the modern civilized human seems to have forgotten.
Look. It’s not that nature is out to kill you. It’s just that when you get sideswiped on the way past because you were in the wrong place at the wrong time… whoops.
I have been trying to walk after work every day that it’s not raining (and I’d walk in the rain but Ohio soil is slippery clay mud and dangerous on most of the trails I frequent). Because nature is having a vast episode of accidentally trying to kill humans, and humans are reacting in their usual erratic and irrational manner to that existential threat, the trails are full of people. People who ordinarily do not venture far from their well-groomed and risk-averse habitats of HOA subdivisions and inner-city enclaves. People who really aren’t aware that nature, red in tooth and claw, doesn’t always mean grizzly bears. People like this young mother with her toned body she was fighting to keep, letting her barely-walking toddler out of his stroller and then standing there watching him careen across the heavily-traveled bike path and into the vegetation on both sides of it.
“You realize there are poison ivy and nettles growing along here?”
That’s all I said. She didn’t have time to say more than “Oh. Really?” as I walked past. But she did scoop up the kid before he was rolled up under someone’s bike, or more likely…
There were at least six plants within a hundred feet of him that could have injured him, or killed him. She was just letting him beebop along like he was on a nice mowed park lawn where the worst thing that he could encounter was a bee. Out on this trail? Poison ivy, wild rose thorns, nettles, Larkspur Aconitum with it’s lovely purple and deadly flowers, poison hemlock, buttercup with it’s attractive shiny yellow flowers. I’m only naming the things the kid would have found at this spring season, without even getting into the poisons of alluring berries and fruits later.
Walking away, I couldn’t help thinking about death, and how in removing the perils of it’s constant looming presence, we have lost the fear that kept us from lurching into the thicket of nature’s worst. Children used to die. Now? It’s a shocking anomaly. I’m dead certain that mother had no idea what her babe was within grasp of. Had she known, she might have retreated to the home she’d fled to try and get fresh air and exercise. Really, all she needed to do was to be aware and exercise caution. Situational awareness isn’t in her vocabulary, I’m afraid, just as it isn’t in most people’s. I encountered more people than I’d have liked on the trail that day, and watching them, I realized that most of them think the world revolves around them, and that they are convinced they are immortal, invincible. Nature? Harmless pretty thing.
How many children died of eating things they ought not? More than we’ll ever know. In an era where death was unquestioned, no one looked too closely at the passing of yet another little one. But also, mothers taught children to be wary. Don’t put that in your mouth. Don’t go into the deep, dark woods alone. Don’t try to pet the wolves.
Babes in the woods come out all right in the stories. Real life was, and is, much more harsh. Nature isn’t out to get you, it’s just there, and you were in the wrong place at the wrong time.