Most of the money I earned from buttering baby butts and filling toolboxes with concrete went into my savings account. But I did set some aside to fund the many camping adventures I took with Nicholas, Jonathan and Adam. 

Before hiking into the nearby woods for a night or two under the stars, we’d make a pit stop at the Port Albert General Store, where we’d spend our hard-earned cash on essential supplies. And by “essential supplies,” I of course mean enough chips, pop, cookies and other junk food to make a nutritionist weep.

Between the sugar and laying on the hard ground, I usually didn’t get much sleep on those trips. But one outing ended up being especially restless. We were camping in the dry bed of a gully, and my eyes suddenly snapped open as I heard a low and menacing growl nearby. 

I couldn’t see much. It was late and our campfire had gone out. But although it was dark, I could tell that Nicholas, Jonathan and Adam — wrapped in their sleeping bags next to me — were all wide awake now as well.

“What was that?” Adam whispered, his voice quavering. 

Two thoughts darted across my mind. Number one: Holy crap, there’s a vicious animal lurking in the woods ready to rip us to shreds.

And the second? Whatever you do, don’t tell Adam.

You see, as a child, Adam had a powerful phobia of wolves. I’m not sure why. I just remember the last time he slept over at our house, he became convinced there were wolves outside. Strangely, he decided the best course of action was to abandon the safety of the four walls around him and sprint home in the middle of the night screaming “WOOOOOOLF!!!”.

So, in an effort to keep Adam from tearing out of his sleeping bag and running blindly into the woods, I let out a pretty convincing growl of my own. Nervously laughing, I told them it had just been me, joking around.

Apparently my impersonation of a wolf was pretty good, because the deception worked. The others told me I was an idiot and went back to sleep. 

I did not. I didn’t hear any more growls that night, but in my mind we were completely surrounded by wolves, coyotes, sasquatches and possibly even velociraptors. 

I lay awake and hoped we’d last until morning with our entrails intact. 

Like the wolf in the woods (or was it a rabid yeti?), the world is full of scary obstacles. Climate change, wars, famine, poverty: there’s no shortage of growling beasts around us. The question is how we respond to them. Do we ignore them and pretend we don’t hear anything? Do we run away screaming like Adam? Do we change the channel whenever an upsetting news report airs, or flip to the sports section of the newspaper and ignore the rest?

Ignorance may be bliss, but it’s also irresponsible. Too much is at stake in our world to pretend that the wolf in the woods is not there at all. The challenges we face are complex and can seem overwhelming at times. But we need to own up to our responsibilities to each other and the world around us. 

(Just to be clear, please don’t go out looking to tackle wolves or bears — and certainly not sasquatches.)

Many years after our camping trip, I could have ignored the blurriness in my eye. Or plugged my ears when the doctor returned with the results from my bone marrow biopsy. But as terrifying as it was to discover I had cancer, pretending it didn’t exist wouldn’t make it go away. Instead, I did my homework, learning as much about the disease as possible. 

Yes, it tied my stomach up in knots at times. But the more I learned, the better equipped I was to handle it. 

Face the fear

Keep your ears open for the growls in the night, and have the courage to confront them head on. Make reading up on current events part of your morning routine. Volunteer with a local food bank, women’s shelter or conservation organization. Add politics and global issues to your topics of conversation for your next dinner party. The world needs more people who are willing to learn about and tackle the big problems facing us today. 

Next: Chapter 17 — The shortcut: What a hike through stinging nettles taught me about cutting corners