Only thing to fear is fear itself
It was the beginning of the end of a relationship and it happened in Tofino on Canada’s Vancouver Island in British Columbia. A scruffy dog, which seemed unfazed by the constant drizzle as he lay outside a warm, beckoning bakery, represented the first step on a path I couldn’t see at the time.
A wave of concern swept over me and I asked the bakery owner if she knew who owned the placid dog getting wet outside. “Oh, he’s fine … he’s tough,” she said, explaining her family had saved him from being drowned as a puppy. “We got him to protect us from the cougars.”
“The what?” I asked. “The cougars,” she replied nonchalantly. There had been a couple of attacks in recent years around the small seaside town of Tofino — only on the young and elderly — but they were everywhere, she said. Up until then I hadn’t considered cougars in Canada. Bears, sure, but not all the other animals that could rip you apart with their bare claws.
My boyfriend at the time was unperturbed. He’d lived in Canada, walked its forests; I hadn’t. That night at the backpackers’ hostel, the manager picked up on my delicate questions and, like an Australian alarming visitors with tall tales of carnivorous “drop bears”, fired me up with stories about cougars. I begged my boyfriend not to go on a trip we’d lined up for the next day to walk through an isolated forest. Cougars could swim and hungry ones attacked, so how hungry would one on an island be? I went to the hostel kitchen and grabbed a knife. If a cougar attacked, I’d be ready.
Walking through the forest the next day my boyfriend eventually asked what I was holding on to in my bag as I stared like a crazy woman at the branches above. He soon discovered the knife. My fear of cougars would ruin my trip, fear would ruin my relationship but, as I’ve aged, I’ve learned how not to let fear ruin my life.
This year I return to Canada, staying in four and five star hotels instead of hostels. Tofino is on my must-do list. It’s achingly beautiful. Twenty years on, I understand fear and what really sparks it (not cougars).
I’d love to see a cougar, although I know how unlikely that is. Tofino is a reminder of how far I’ve come. Send your 400-word contribution to Follow the Reader: firstname.lastname@example.org.