Birders know that parks and nature centers are great places to add birds to your list, even though they’re often full of lots of people as well as birds. The birds don’t seem to mind the crowds as much as I do, oddly. My idea of really enjoying nature is to get as far away from other people as possible. I love finding quiet places where I can reflect on the natural world (and take pictures of it, of course).
But occasionally I’ll notice that there aren’t any people around anywhere when I’m birding in some of the more remote places. And although I generally love this solitude, I have to admit that I also feel fear when I find myself in this type of situation. I’m acutely aware of being a woman in an isolated place, carrying expensive camera equipment and binoculars. I know what can happen.
So why do I put myself in such a vulnerable place, you ask? Good question.
For a while when I first got interested in active birding, I made sure to always have Eric with me when I went into the woods. But as my interest grew I wasn’t satisfied with waiting until the weekend when he could go with me; I wanted to go find birds every day. I realized that my sense of freedom was being hampered by my fear, and that made me mad. So I started going into the woods alone.
I was unnerved the first time I found myself in a semi-isolated park with no other people around. I was surprised that it was even possible to find a place around here where there was nobody else. And it was thrilling, at first. I found great birds. I had peace and quiet. But after an hour or so, I saw a lone man walking toward me. Instantly I was on high alert. The thoughts running through my head were like this: What’s this guy doing out here? He doesn’t have binoculars or a fishing pole or anything….he could mean to steal my camera or do me harm. But on the other hand, he’s probably just out enjoying nature like me. Why not just relax and assume that he’s not a danger to you? Why are you such a scaredy cat?
As we continued to get closer to each other, I got a tighter grip on my camera bag and made sure to make eye contact with him as soon as it was possible. In a matter of moments we had smiled and exchanged hellos and it was all over. Nothing bad happened. (I admit that I turned to look behind me a couple times just to make sure he was continuing in the opposite direction.) But since then I’ve been in similar situations several more times, and felt the same conflicting emotions. I’m sad that we live in a world where humans have to fear each other like that.
I’ve always thought that these type of fears were mostly experienced by women because they’re so vulnerable to attack by men. But when I read Randy’s story on his blog recently I realized that when it comes to theft, men are victims sometimes too.
So what’s the answer? Will I continue to go into the woods alone in search of birds? Yes. I don’t want my life to be controlled by fear, but I don’t want to be foolhardy either. So as a compromise for the times when I don’t have a birding buddy, I now keep a can of pepper spray within easy reach. Just in case.