Hic Sunt Dracones

Hic Sunt Dracones

When I was seventeen my dad took me to Lake Tahoe. He’d rented some kind of condo room on the bottom floor, next to the lake, with our sliding door opening to a view of exquisite mountains in the distance.

Very soon after we arrived, I started feeling something I couldn’t describe. All I knew was that when I was outside I didn’t want to look directly at the gigantic mountains. They seemed unreal and I felt very disconnected from the scene I was viewing. It was such a strange, disquieting feeling, that I retreated inside the room and wanted to watch movies. Initially, my dad thought that I was being a petulant teenager, but after a while I was able to explain to him that there was something wrong. He immediately understood and made me walk down to a pier and sit and tell him how I was feeling.

At first, I was sitting with my knees drawn up to my chest, wanting to shut down. It was difficult to even look up, for the vista felt like it was closing in on me. My dad nudged me and told me that fear dispels with breath. The more you can verbalize the fears, the less power they have. I didn’t really believe him, but I gave it a try.

After a while I realized that we were having a good, real conversation and I wasn’t curled up in a ball anymore. He explained to me that what had happened to me was called a “panic attack” (or as we started calling them, “the existential heebee jeebies”) and that it was probably the grand, unknown surroundings, and higher elevation that triggered it.

I don’t know if that is why mountains now give me anxiety when I see them looming on the horizon, or if it because there’s a feeling of impasse that I’m heading towards. I love being next to a mountain river, camping in that sweet piney scent, but getting there is tough. The twisty, steep drop offs white knuckle me as I drive up the mountain, and I have to remind myself that I’ve yet to fall off of a road.

I mostly grew up in the Midwest, and fell in love with the Southwest at a young age. I’m not used to mountains!
I do love campering by a mountain river, but my heart is with the wide open spaces.

Across from  my campsite near Granite Hot Springs, outside of Jackson, Wy, was a woman with an interesting camper. I meandered across to chat with her. 

Her camper’s name is “TABA” = “There And Back Again” written in elvish on the side.

Laura and her family used to camp at this very campsite all while her kids were growing up. It’s been 30 years since she’s been back, and this specific site holds a lot of memories for her.

Before we parted, she told me that dragons fly out of that mountain at night.
That made me feel a lot better about my day of fearful mountain driving, and I went to sleep dreaming of dragons protecting me as I drive through their mountains. 


4 thoughts on “Hic Sunt Dracones

  1. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… okay, actually it was in 1980 in Colorado Springs… I ran a branch of an industrial food service/vending company (which today goes by the name of ARAMARK). We had installed a really nice company cafeteria in a foundry/forge operation who shall remain nameless but who made Craftsman screwdrivers and adjustable wrenches for Sears, and was located very near the famous Garden of the Gods park. We had two onsite hostesses who filled the food vending machines (for the night shifts) as well as stocked the self-serve fruit and pastry bar for breakfast and soup & salad bar for lunch, and were also cashiers during lunch and breaks. One I hired as an applicant, and when I realized we needed two, she said she had a friend who would be perfect. I hired her friend after an interview, and she was working out just fine. Both of these women were from Nebraska and had relocated to Colorado (as have most people who live there).

    And then one day she came to me in a panic and said she was quitting. Since some of the workers in the plant were fairly rough blue-collar guys, I asked if anyone had been giving her any trouble. She said no, that wasn’t the problem at all. It was the mountains. “Uh… what?” I asked, since Colorado Springs lies on the east side of the Front Range, and is not technically *IN* the mountains. “Those mountains,” she said, “they drive me crazy. I can’t think about anything but them. I dream about them. I see them and I think how trapped I am here… it’s like I’m in prison and they’re the walls, and I can’t get out.” She told her husband she was going back to Nebraska, where she could look out the window and see forever on the prairie, and she didn’t care if he came along or not, but she was leaving. And she did, the very next day.

    So there’s that.

    By the way, if you ever get the chance, drive down from Lolo Pass on the Montana/Idaho border, not far out of Missoula, on US Highway 12. You have 99 miles of gently winding downhill road that runs alongside the Lochsa Wild and Scenic River, and lots of great little Lolo National Forest campgrounds right on the river. Good stuff, Maynard.

    1. I definitely understand her sentiment. When I moved to Berkeley in 1988, I had that trapped feeling frequently – on one side was ocean, the other was mountains. No escape.

      I did a nice drive on Lolo pass! It’s lovely!

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and the wisdom of your father.

    Be well, Katie

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