What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

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

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Did you know? This resource is also available as a print book called “Simply Blunderful: A cancer survivor’s illustrated guide to flaming tennis balls, camping catastrophes and the many obstacles life throws our way.” Click here to learn more and order your copy.

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Chapter 1 — The coin flip: What a cancer diagnosis taught me about life exploding into a bazillion pieces

Chapter 2 — The slip-up: What a puddle of puke taught me about asking for help

Chapter 3 — The Great Burning: What a million paper monsters taught me about things going up in smoke

Chapter 4 — The crayon candle: What the lamest science project ever taught me about putting in the extra effort

Chapter 5 — The Christmas concert: What starring as a tree taught me about finding my voice

Chapter 6 — The “Super Something:” What blood and glue fumes taught me about vulnerability

Chapter 7 — The dare: What wearing a clay helmet taught me about bad habits

Chapter 8 — The cannonball: What Meghan in the mud taught me about letting go

Chapter 9 — The fireball: What a flaming tennis ball taught me about nurturing imagination

Chapter 10 — The frying pan: What towel-snapping taboos taught me about pushing your luck

Chapter 11 — The haybale: What a tough day in the barn taught me about having someone to watch your back

Chapter 12 — The babysitting gig: What banshee babies and buttered butts taught me about failing forward

Chapter 13 — The sledgehammer: What a construction job taught me about using the right tools

Chapter 14 — The cement truck: What a misguided act of heroism taught me about good intentions

Chapter 15 — The valet: What a parking disaster taught me about overconfidence

Chapter 16 — The growl: What a wolf in the woods taught me about knowledge and responsibility

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

Chapter 18 — The backpack: What a giant duffel bag taught me about band-aid solutions

Chapter 19 — The big freeze: What camping in a snowstorm taught me about knowing when to quit

Chapter 20 — The snowy gauntlet: What an idiotic bet taught me about redefining success

Chapter 21 — The Christmas tree: What a holiday hunt taught me about overkill

Chapter 22 — The BB gun: What my dad getting shot in the eye taught me about owning up to our mistakes

Chapter 23 — The toboggan hill: What sledding battles taught me about approaching problems from different angles

Chapter 24 — The train: What a trip to the big city taught me about self-sabotage

Chapter 25 — The mushy cauliflower: What dinner in France taught me about the power of words

Chapter 26 — The shopping cart: What an unusual ride to the bar taught me about control

Chapter 27 — The butt clay: What a muddy gully battle taught me about karma

Chapter 28 — The president: What Bill Clinton getting in my way taught me about adaptability

Chapter 29 — The Taipei middle way: What a hostile hostel taught me about moderation

Chapter 30 — The refugee camp: What volunteering in Ghana taught me about digging deeper

Chapter 31 — The bus ride: What a long drive through the mountains taught me about patience

Chapter 32 — The barn: What a Christmas sleepover taught me about keeping your fires stoked

Chapter 33 — The list: What farts and sandwiches taught me about gratitude

Chapter 34 — The birthday: What a surprise celebration in the hospital taught me about self-care

Chapter 35 — The goodbye: What a man named Frank taught me about luck

Chapter 36 — The bloody transformation: What going from negative to positive taught me about change

Chapter 37 — The school of hard knocks: What life’s misadventures taught me about blunderful resilience