Safe Places

There was no winter weather to deal with today. The temperature was nearly forty degrees above normal if normal would be in the teens. Someone on television complained about global warming and climate change, but didn’t explain how that actually comes about.

It was a cloudy day.

I looked out my window and wondered if I could get a good look at the sky from a higher vantage point. I finished my coffee and quickly packed up three black nylon bags — two backpacks and a camera holster. As I rushed out the front door, a passing man — a neighbor, I assume — made the comment that he could take in more days like this. I agreed, but I knew it wouldn’t last. We acknowledged that harsher weather was coming.

I was hurried.

My mission was to get to the top of a high hill in the country, one I frequently visit.

The trees in the distance were isolated, naked and grouped sparsely. The fields were golden with dead vegetation. Weather can change dramatically on this hill. Snow can blow so white that you can’t see your way down with any confidence. It was something to be conscious of.

As I struggled to keep a filter holder on my camera lens, I entertained the thought of shooting from inside of the car, but there was an even better capture from behind. I needed to get out and walk around.  I tend to be overly cautious to be too far from the car, even if I can see it parked on the road.

As much as I love isolation and my independence, I remain aware of one shoot when someone drove by, but circled around in his truck.

“Are you all right?”

I immediately had a strange feeling. The longer he engaged with me, the stranger I felt. I found a way to end the conversation and started to walk back to my car, parked on the shoulder of the road too far away. He pulled his truck off of the road and followed me, driving on the shoulder  directly, behind me.

I can’t tell you exactly what my next moves were because I was keenly aware, but I drew a blank about my alternatives.  I had no plan, no defense.  I stayed focused on getting back to my car.

I knew that his intention of intimidation was festering something ulterior. I wasn’t imaging it. He was driving on the shoulder of the road at my back and one slip of his foot put me under his truck. I had to get inside the safety of my car and it was taking too long to get there. 

I felt that if I bolted, he would respond like a wild animal, racing after prey.

I later learned from a law enforcement officer that a woman’s body had been found in an abandoned barn in that area and I was cautioned to be careful whenever I ventured out alone. At that time, I was photographing an abandoned barn. I wondered if the dead woman was in that barn. I joked, I told the officer that I believed that I met the killer. 

When I see stories on the television about bad things happening, I am convinced with conviction and without hesitation that things don’t happen to me. I am nobody’s victim. Just ask the skunk who comes into my yard at night that I chase off with a yardstick. I cannot be messed with.  

Who am I fooling? Perhaps the biggest fool is the one who knows it all and can’t be touched, but fails to factor vulnerability to any degree into their equation. It is the stuff we filter out that gets us into a situation.

My experience teaches a new mindset about preparation and caution, but it has a learning curve. We have to build these things into muscle memory. 

When you stand at the edge of something great behind you … when you lean backwards to grab your selfie … when you think that the train bridge 400 feet above the falls is a great place to take your kid, think about how you plan those things.

I don’t believe that danger is gender favored or lurking around every corner, but it can show up.  I also don’t believe that we should live our lives sheltered, but it serves to remind any of us to have a plan.

I mentioned that the weather could change in a heartbeat on top of the hill.  Did I bring any food and water with me?  Were there warm items of clothing packed in the car. After all, it is January in the Northeast.

I would have stayed longer on top of the hill today, but I packed one-half battery and I used it all up testing my new camera and I forgot to pack my cell phone. I was remiss in taking my own advice. Muscle memory begins with some sort of organization or drill every time we go out the door.