Wednesday, October 7, 2015

How Old is Fear? - On Self Awareness

On the news this morning - a woman killed  and her husband wounded when their GPS led her to the wrong part of town, on a narrow street, deep in one of the worst slums in Brazil.

On tmy drive into work - a young woman - dressed in stylish dark clothing with a cap pulled down over her forehead in the chill, head down texting, walking in a turn lane of a busy four lane intersection, only a couple of feet from the heavy traffic, barely visible in the early morning gloom.

A horrific photo on the news, of cars  intentionally driving into rushing water, only to be swept away. One moment there are there, fixed as still as a photo in that moment of grave error, and then swept away - forever damned of safety.

Elsewhere, each and every hour a teen is hit by a car and injured or killed by texting and walking.

When did situational awareness become a trait that is more and more rare in this digital age?

A friend recently rented a automobile while here in the city on business. She asked for a paper map. None were to be had, the young attendant telling her, "we just have GPS." She asked if he was from this city and he confirmed he'd lived here all of his 20 ish years. She asked him where the airport was in relationship to where they stood now. He said "I don't know, but I can find it on my phone".  She asked him where a very popular suburb was in relation to their location and again "I can find it on my phone".  He didn't comprehend the point she was trying to make.
I'd hate to be with him if a disaster required evacuation from the city of his birth and that phone was no where to be found. He would be floundering in all directions as he tried to find refuge at the edge of an abyss.

When I learned to fly as a teen in the very tail end of the 70s, navigation was both "steam gauge" and what we called "pilotage" learning your location based on the use of a detailed navigation map. (I won't even get into using the ADF as a primitive radar when flying cargo).  As I flew bigger planes I was taught celestial navigation, not perhaps to be actively used, but as a survival skill should all the bells and whistles fly south.

Now - everything we use to direct our lives seems to be electronic.  Look around you in a restaurant, everyone has their head down into a device, on the bus, on the street, even when driving a car going 80 miles an hour.  Granted, there are times you have to rely on some automation.  As a pilot, flying on instruments we learn that quickly as without reference to the horizon our inner ear can give us the sensation of being in a climb, dive or turn, when we're not and if we disregard our instruments for our instinct, we are soon a statistic.
But the more I view the world around me, and others apparent lack of understanding that man and nature wish to kill you when you're not paying attention, I am continually amazed, and not in a good way.  Just Google "Bison Selfie" for a lesson in Darwinism.

Knowing when to stop, knowing when to press on, and simply knowing where you ARE, seem like such such simple tasks. But such decisions aren't just daily ones, they can be the ones on which your life may one day depend.

During the declining part of the year, when I was still a teen, I walked along a forest trail high up in the mountains. Smelling the wind that carried on it the brisk deceit of Fall, promising moments of golden warmth, yet often delivering six inches of snow that no one had planned on. I was only a teen, learning the rules, learning myself, eager to get away from parental guidance and the smog of civilization.
Even as sunlight flirted with my face, I looked up into clouds amassing in conference, heard the rumbling that is the portent of plummeting expectations. I wasn't sure whether I should continue to climb up, into darkening foliage or head back down to my my house. There are times, with experience, you can derive the truth out of the complex and troubled heart of the wilderness. Times when you know with your own heart, already bruised, that it's time to listen to your instincts.  I did so, and headed back down a familiar trail where there was still ample light.

Whether you are in an aircraft, a vehicle, or own two legs, you have to realize that your fate is just a quick flicker of asphalt and blue that can swallow you out of a moment before you're even aware of that moment.  It's not something you can ignore, head down reading your latest text or email, it's LIFE.  It's risk and it's motion, life swirling around you, seeping in and under each window and door you walk through, barely slowed by the camera click that is time, those moments, irrevocable moments that are your glory or your demise.
Maybe it's an age thing, I'm in my 50's. Maybe it's a generational thing, growing up with an erector set being the most technically complex thing we were allowed to have before we graduated college.

But for this woman, and perhaps my generation, historical worries stirs in our bloodstream that even the latest technologies never fully lay to rest. Despite modern medicine and a lifestyle that allows most of us to live well into our 80's, take away the power, the phone, the trappings of modern life, and something ancient can stir in dark hours. Not that we feel helpless, but there is a subliminal awareness of some thing among fewer and fewer of us. Something lurking and dark, that lies quiet and low, pulling itself up by sharp claws to the edge of your world, looking at you as simply prey.
My Dad understands it and lives it to this day, the peace of God on his lips, a baseball bat by the front door that replaced the shotgun he could no longer safely handle.  On his desk a picture of Ronald Reagan on a horse, which always makes me grin, with the words "Trust But Verify" written above it in Dad's sprawling hand.

He went to War, not for months, for but years, witnessing things no man should see and coming home only to find that the world he came home to was so changed, that his old self, seemed to have no place it in it any longer.  He found a life, and friends among the deceived and dispossessed that returned each with their own scars, playing cards at the Lodge,  hoisting a beer and reaffirming that although they were now old, they were still on guard, on watch, until the final taps would be played.
Like my Dad, I'll hang on to remnants of those characteristics of past generations, with my boat anchor phone, plotting out my course on paper. I'll walk with stick in hand, sniffing the air for the scent of thunder, my senses humming like wires that sing.

Like him - I've seen the aftermath of being unaware of what was happening around one and it is a copper taste of blood and fear that takes more than a shower and a shot of bourbon to put to rest at the end of the day. Fate and poor choice, when wed, have no end to their appetite, and are reluctant to even throw out a bone for the labors of those who pick up the pieces.

A couple of weeks ago, I'd parked the truck at the end of our long drive, the neighborhood still in the deepening shadows.  Our garage is well back from the house, in a stand of dense Spruce trees, an alley behind and a neighbor's garage and yard the only things near. The light is dwindling, one of those sleepy days of pending winter where the clouds seem to rest on the tops of the trees like a blanket,   The  truck lights illuminated beneath them, like a child plays with a flashlight under the covers. I'm in good spirits, but it's been a long day, and the neighborhood is quiet, people in eating supper, or not yet home.
As I moved away from the truck, my feelings shifted and something told me to look around, as I sensed something - sound, movement, out of the norm.  Coming up the alley was a man with a backpack.  He could have been 30 or 60, his weathered, tired, face not giving away anything. His gait was hobbled and his eyes were flat - by drugs, age or illness.  I could not tell. But I didn't recognize him and though he wasn't acting in any sort of threatening manner, the hairs went up on the back of my arms when his eyes met mine. Coming from work where I can't have a personal weapon on property, I was unarmed. I was not without a brain, however,

I looked at the neighbor's spare car and empty yard, invisible to where the man was, and waved and called out loudly to a neighbor who was not there "Hi Mr. A. - Yes, I'm coming on over!" and strode briskly towards my neighbor's yard as if to meet him, then ducked out in front of our residences as the stranger  passed behind both garages, continuing on towards the train tracks.
An older or perhaps ill local resident I didn't recognize, or a stranger looking for shelter or trouble?  It was hard to tell, given their dress and the light.  The threat may have only been in my head, and had I not been female and alone, not something I'd been overly concerned about. But such instincts are something I've learned not to ignore.

I view each day as a gift. I'm not owed a good one, or even another one.  I look out at the fall landscape as I enter the house, the golden haze of the sun shimmering upon the drive, waiting for the first refraction of darkness as the night moves in again.  Here hovers only my God and myself, as I divide man's intent from his actions, even as He divided the light from the darkness

A young woman walks by the front of the house, walking a tiny dog, eyes half closed, head bobbing to the music playing in the ear buds, blissful to anything for her own moment as night closes around her small form.  As she passes, I hear an internal "click" in my head, that moment of time, fixed here forever in a picture that only plays against my eyelids.  May she continue in safety to have  many more.  May we all.

How old is fear? How acquired? And when do we start listening to it? Somethings running through me that defies predation. Coyotes gather at the edge of darkness, rabbits run away as the shambling form of a man dressed in darkness, fades from my sight.

I click the lock behind me and walk into the light.
 - Brigid


  1. Nature, red of tooth and claw... will not be denied.

    Natural selection for humans has been impaired by our lawyer-dominant society, by warning labels and welfare.

    It has led to dummies walking around with no regard for the dangers around us.

    If a person is too stupid to keep from walking into traffic, well then the gene pool is a better place by their absence. .

  2. A while back I was working in a restaurant. I witnessed a woman coming out of the restroom with her head down staring at her cell phone. It looked like she had been studying it for some while. I was amazed and somewhat disgusted.

    I was born in 1960, and so maybe I am just too damn old, but sometimes it seems like people have no sense and no manners.

    Please make it a very real point to tell your father that I truly appreciate what he did for this country in his military service. I understand the sacrifice. My son is in the U.S. Navy. He has a wife and a 4 year old. He and all his ship mates that he has talked to are to a sailor, humble at what they are doing, but would do anything to make sure to honor their oaths. As I am sure your father and his fellow service members felt.

    I will remember him in my prayers tonight and I know that God honors self sacrifice. May you all be blessed.

  3. I can so understand. I walk everywhere and get around my town without a map, a little confused at times but I get there. I know map and compass and have yet used a GPS and by the horror story about GPS I probably will not use one before I die (in my 50s as well). Anytime I go somewhere I print a map so I will not get lost and grind my teeth when I go with my sister who just does not care. The tune out generation just does not wish to learn and they call us dinosaurs? 

  4. Life experiences, from my time in the Coast Guard working on a buoy deck of a ship, where things can and do happen quickly without apology, to my years in the fire service as a volunteer, has taught me to "keep my head on a swivel" as many fire related instructors put it. It certainly seems to be a generational thing with the exclusive seclusion into the electronics world. My step kids and their friends can't seem to go for more than a few minutes without having their noses buried in a screen. It saddens, sickens and disgusts me that they seem to have lost the appreciation of the wonderment of the world around them, situational safety awareness notwithstanding. They are going to be in a world of hurt and completely lost when the day comes that this stuff goes offline.
    But I digress... I prefer a map as well.

  5. And a lifetime of things that have abused my hearing are not helping with keeping up my situational awareness. Yes, the number of people with their heads buried in their phones and wandering around oblivious increases daily.

    Although the morning routine of maneuvering cars in the drive to let my wife go to work does keep my spider web awareness at an all time high.

  6. As Sal Glesser says, "All God's creatures have knives". Great post Brigid, and smart thinking re that drifter!

  7. Great post, Brigid - I have used that ploy before. I live 'way out' in the country. There is no help for me during a home invasion. Cops are 5 miles away, my 'safety' is usually no further than a quick reach, however.

    The reliance on electronic navigation and electronic immersion sickens me. I have GPS on my boat and I use it. I do not trust it. I 'prick the chart' whenever I do crossings, and I know how to use a sextant. GPS's are great toys, but there is far too much reliance on them.

    We are 'fixin' to sell out and buy a larger boat to live aboard for a few years before settling back into homesteading. I will definitely have radar (never required during my early years of sailing, not even available), GPS, AIS and all other forms of 'cool electronics'. I spent 30+ years in high tech, so I am enchanted by the ability to have these things at affordable prices. However, that 30+ years also taught me to never rely on electronics except as a backup. GPS is cool, but taking my current boat down the East Coast ICW, the 'magenta' line was curiously on land most of the way (the magenta line marks the ICW on a GPS). Sigh... I passed many large LARGE power boats where there was clearly nobody at the helm. That is scary.

    I'm at the grocery store a couple of days ago, broad daylight, and as I was walking out to the car, some guy was steaming up behind me in one big hurry. He was not 'after' me, but he could have been. We can't always be situationally aware, there are distractions that will overpower your senses (I don't care what anyone says, there ARE things that will snatch your mind off whatever you are doing, I have read some sanctimonious crap (NOT HERE!!!) about 'always' being aware. You just can't be on top all the time). But we should make it a habit to actively look around us at all times. You increase your odds of survival that way.

    Rambled on too long, but you struck a chord. Gotta start a blog, particularly with this next 'grand adventure' we are going to undertake.

    Fair Winds

    Cap'n Jan

  8. I have a $100 smartphone primarily for the GPS and mapping capability. As long as the user understands the limitations of the software, the programs are great tools, especially the apps that report speed trap locations and/or chime when the speed limit suddenly changes for 50 feet in the "Buford T. Justice"-type towns around here.

    Hardcore Luddites take heart, however -- after the last Cannonball record attempt (just under 29 hours driving NY to LA) utilized the new reporting, mapping, and location technologies to great effect, LEOs everywhere started campaigning for new laws to restrict use of the GPS apps. Even Texas wasn't immune to the trend ... well, City of Austin.

    There is a reason Hank Hill says it like, "Austin (shudder)".

  9. I have noticed the lack of situational awareness by many. For the most part I don't use my GPS, it has been wrong more times than right. Besides I like actually knowing where I'm going and where I am. There are things going on around us, even in the country, keep a sharp eye.

  10. What markshere2 said.
    And sometimes Darwin rules. Almost always. Those texting idiots, ubiquitous.
    MY Motto for many years was Be Prepared.
    Now it's Pay Attention!
    Perhaps it IS an age thing?


  11. I try to balance my use of technology - as someone younger than most of you (mid-30's). The last trip I took, I did a large chunk of it (several hours) with a paper map instead of a GPS, including manual rerouting due to traffic in an unfamiliar area.
    It is to be a complement and an aide to what and who we are - as many of you have alluded to, it cannot replace common sense and situational awareness.

  12. We have spent the last hundred years becoming 'civilised' at the expense of the survival instincts developed over thousands of years. I'd rather hurt peoples feelings through over-caution than have my body hurt through discounting the rumbles from my reptile brain.

  13. This blog entry reflects my experiences of the past few weeks with numerous parallels... on an annual trip to Idaho to camp and ride dirtbikes on the higher mountain trails with a friend, I chuckled to myself (while touching the butt of the smith 38 airweight on temporary "wolf, bear and mountain lion country loan" to make sure it was securely at hand) every time I wandered into the woods outside the camp to take care of nighttime business, because your description of sensing something "out there" in the woods kept tickling the dark borders of my brain...
    While on the plane ride to Boise, I was also treated to overhearing a couple hour discussion between a two fellows of some younger generation than ourselves (said discussers being suitably attired in various levels of "ironic-hipster") about how their work in missions in parts south of the Rio Grande, and the one guy in particular's work station within some "social mission" department of Leviathan had convinced them that immigration from poorer countries was fully necessary and fully beneficial to our society, and furthermore but separately, how our understanding of "the religion of Peace" was deeply flawed at its base... My optic nerves became entangled from the repeated violent eye-rolling I experienced while listening to their righteously loud conversation from the row behind me.
    Me-fears our country has already ceased to exist as it were... we "older generations" just haven't realized it yet. (the only proof I need offer up is the number of young people enthusiastically supporting "Bernie" as a viable Presidential candidate) As a history buff, I know that generational change is unstoppable, but I hope the "new" social experiment works out for the best, and not with the dark results it ALWAYS historically has subjected humanity to. So situational awareness is not only on the immediate level, but on the "macro" as well... and yes, a plurality of our population don't have a shred of it in either circumstance.


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