Shortly after we moved to Nebraska, we took off on a vacation to visit a few sites around the state. We drove five or six hours across the sparsely-populated region of western Nebraska before we reached Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock, people! We can drive to it in less than a day! This in and of itself is remarkable to a person who spent most of her childhood reading books about settlers going west and seeing this famous landmark on their way.
The visitors center, located on a country road in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere, is within view of Chimney Rock and surrounded by open fields full of scrubby brush and clumps of grass. Along the sidewalks leading to the visitors center, we saw many of these signs:
One is complaining about the sun in his eyes, of course. There’s always someone who, when faced with life-threatening danger, complains about the trivial!
For those of you who are like me and can’t read that small print, I present the zoomed-in version of the sign:
Did they really need to add the graphic of the snake to get their point across?
Oh yes! A warning about snakes. Not just snakes, but rattlesnakes. Not those little garter snakes everyone says are harmless. Deadly, biting, rattlesnakes. Not only did the signs warn visitors about snakes, but they warned them in five languages. The people who posted those signs were serious!
Seeing that, I immediately remembered the first time I saw a snake of any kind in the wild. My sister and I happened on one at a similar location, Devil’s Tower, on a family vacation when I was in high school. We ran ahead of our parents on a trail. I looked down and right in her path, right where she was about to step, lay a snake, coiled up, ready to strike. I screamed for her to run, and she did so without asking any questions. That night, lying in a hotel bed, we swore that when we had children we would never, ever tell them about our fear of snakes. We would never pass that fear on to them. Neither of us had any idea before that day that we would react to snakes the way we had, and we didn’t want to give our kids any hilarious stories of Mom freaking out when a tiny garter snake visited the back yard.
Devil’s Tower, scene of snake-induced panic in my youth.
On this vacation, I remembered our vow and determined that I would not act afraid of the potential danger. I wanted my kids to enjoy the beautiful scenery, not spend their vacation in the car, fearing invasion of the snakes. It may have worked, but I caught at least one of them scanning the ground obsessively the rest of the day.
The woman in the gift shop gave us some important advice that afternoon. Hearing us discuss our fear of snakes, she said, “They’re out there. We find them quite often. Just stay on the path, and you’ll be alright.” She didn’t deny the danger or make us feel dumb for fearing it. She admitted that it was real and that we should watch out but also told us that if we did what we were supposed to do and didn’t run foolishly all over the fields we would be fine. Happily, the path at Chimney Rock was wide, paved, and easy to follow. We followed that path and kept our eyes peeled for anything snakey
Chimney Rock, in the middle of a snake-infested prairie full of who-knows-what. How did the pioneers cross that without a paved sidewalk?!
That vacation lives in each of our memories as one of the best parts of our first year in Nebraska. We will all remember the fun we had, exploring our new state together. The kids barely remember the snake element of that trip, and we didn’t even see one snake the whole time. In a way, it was symbolic of our decision to move in the first place: plenty of unknowns that we could fear and that could have caused us to stay in our old life and seek something safe, something familiar. That may have ended up alright. Who knows? What I do know, though, is that stepping onto what ended up being a pretty safe and wide path and making decisions to do new things despite fear ended well.
Now if we can just keep that lesson in mind the next time a big change approaches!