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.