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The Scenic Route

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Fear—It’s What’s for Dinner

Fear crawled up out of the basement of my brain this morning, one of those niggling, nasty, little worries that can't be expressed without taking the time to ferret it out, or easily pinned on to anything moving this side of the horizon, where the great and terrifying unknown begins. It's just something out there, hovering outside of my peripheral vision. Even though I can't see it, I know it's there, but it's so elusive that no matter how fast I move my head, I can't see it—and I've been moving my head pretty darned fast today. As a result, I've spent most of my day chasing my own tail.

Part of my madness has been the idea that I don't have time to stop and face whatever it is that's chasing me. For one thing, it might catch me; and then the world is sure to end. For another, there is way too much to do. Places to go, people to see, money to spend, bargains to search out. I mean, Christmas is coming.

Through it all, though, whatever that thing is has stayed right on my bumper. What to do, what to do—besides wait to hit the wall, which I finally did about 8:30 tonight. After roughly 14 hours on the run, I finally had to sit down and let it catch me. And it did—big, bad, scary thing that it was. What was it? Just me; my own insecurity; my propensity to take the smallest incident and run it via my own wild imagination all the way out to worst case scenario where not only everybody dies, but in the most horrible manner possible.

(Note to self: catch, tame and saddle imagination—this week, if possible).

The bad news is that I spent the day running from my own shadow. The good news is that when I recognized it, I laughed. I think I'll take a victory lap for that.

Have you ever seen an ant lion's trap? Ant lions are hungry little critters that have a taste for (you guessed it) spiders. No. Just kidding. Ant lions really like to eat ants.

To catch ants, ant lions build conical holes in the ground along well-traveled ant trails. The holes have steep sides made of fine material that looks and acts like loose sand. Ants may be able to walk up walls, but their capacity to scramble up steep slopes with loose footing is so atrocious it makes you wonder what God was thinking when She made them that way. So, when ants fall into an ant lion's trap, they can't get out.

However, that doesn't stop them from trying, and ants are good tryers, if that's a word. They will try all day to get out of that trap. And all night. They just keep climbing and climbing and the walls of the trap keep crumbling under them and the ant keeps sliding back down into the pit.

In the meantime, the ant lion is down in her lair under the pit, doing her nails and listening to the ant struggle. When the ant has exhausted itself, the ant lion sets the table; it's dinner time.

Every once in a while, for whatever reason, I fall into an allegorical ant lion's pit. I don't think I'm the only person on earth who does this, though when I am in the midst of it, I feel very lonesome. Climb as I might, all I do is exhaust myself. Lucky for me, the ant lion is also allegorical - though, I will admit, it can be just as terrifying as the real thing.

What the ant doesn't know—industrious they may be, but they ain't too bright as individuals—is that if it would just quit trying so hard and turn and wait, it could kick that ant lion's butt, have its own dinner and stand on the carcass to get itself out of the hole.

We are not ants, but I often see us acting as if we're in an ant lion trap, blindly climbing the walls of a pit we've walked into rather than taking the time to think our way out of it. On top of that, the pit is often self-constructed, and the big, bad ant lion is nothing more than our own fear blown out of proportion.

How many times have you done that? How many times, like a good little ant, have I tried to climb out of the pit instead of sitting down and waiting to see what's for dinner?

When we face our fear, we are always fed. It's a reward for our courage. Self-revelation, though sometimes somewhat unpalatable, is a highly nutritious meal. It helps us grow.

Sandy Compton's new book, Archer MacClehan & The Hungry Now will be in bookstores in February. Order it online or ask your local bookstore to order if from Blue Creek Press, Box 110, Heron, MT 59844 The Scenic Route is copyright M.R. Compton, Jr.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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