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A Wolf of Love and A Wolf of Hate

I felt like I was suffocating last Tuesday and I needed space to be able to breathe. So I rushed out to Forest Park for a long hike to one of my favorite hideouts, Pittock Mansion, a little before 4pm.

I wanted to see the world from up high to gain a little perspective. For the first time in the three years I’ve lived here, I caught Portland right at sunset on an unusually clear day.

pittock mansion sunset

I wasn’t alone. There were quite a few of us taking in Mount Hood’s fetching winter hat framed becomingly by an ethereal sky. It was freeing being up there—just what I needed.

Then, my stomach flipped and I swallowed down a knot as the pink began to fade. Suddenly my anxiety was worse than it was before the hike. Reality set with the sun.

There was a reason I hadn’t ever seen that view at sunset. Because it takes 45 minutes to get back home, and without a scrap of daylight the forest would be pitch black. We just had a time change, and I forgot that small but important detail.

I was the kid who was afraid of the dark and believed in the closet monster—not much has changed as an adult. My night-light looks a little different as a Himalayan salt lamp in my bathroom, but I can’t sleep with the closet doors open and every morning I fling them wide to set the evil spirits free.

In other words, night hikes aren’t my thing. Especially when I’m alone.

salt lamp

I had my phone and the logical voice recommended calling an Uber to rescue me, simply drive eight minutes to the end of the trailhead where Silvie the bike was waiting for me. But there was a part of me that thought it was all too fitting, to watch the sun disappear on Election Day and to face my fears of darkness.

So, I hiked back home in the dark. And when it’s nighttime in the forest, it’s very different from any other type of darkness you will ever experience.

The few people on the trail were scary as their shadows suddenly appeared, and rather than feeling comforted by another human’s presence, I wondered if they were going to hurt me. I trusted nobody.

The human alternative was the animal one. I realized I was trespassing, now that it was nighttime. At first I tried calming myself with music, but I shoved my headphones into my bag to be completely alert after a rustling off to my left gave me a small heart attack.

Denali, a pure gray wolf

Denali, a pure gray wolf

Though a coyote would be more likely, I kept thinking there were wolves in the forest. And, I should know from my wonderful friend Kate, that wolves are lovely animals. But in the dark, I was terrified. I saw many coyotes growing up and they used to run down my street when I lived in the canyon in Azusa, California. But wolves I had never seen, so why would I think they were there with me now?

The rustling ended up being anticlimactic—a ratty, chubby squirrel stocking up for winter, more afraid of me than anything. I released my fists and my breath, and continued through the darkness.

The creek is higher this time of year. It was hard to see where the edge of the trail was. Though I wanted to run to get home faster, and even tried for a smoother stretch of the trail I knew well, I refrained so I didn’t trip and fall into the icy waters.

Tree shadows were menacing as they danced in the wind, and their long limbs seemed to be reaching for me. To think, their colorful arms had been so welcoming on the way out to the mansion.

I was surrounded by danger and my body was charged with an instinct for survival. Strange, being that it wasn’t even 5pm yet. Stranger still, I had been in my husband’s arms in this same spot weeks before and felt so safe.

fall forest park

I turned around a lot, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared. But I kept moving forward, and I focused on everything I loved to overcome the fear of the darkness, until I saw the lights of Thurman Bridge at the end of the trail.

When I got home, I was shaking from the waning adrenaline and the cold. I had gone on an unexpected personal journey I wasn’t prepared for in my already emotional state. I ignored social media and the coverage on TV most of the evening, until it was finally time to face the results.

After that I retreated to the safety of my yoga mat and put on my headphones to shut out the world, the glorious pink one I had been admiring hours earlier. How whimsical and innocent it had seemed then.

You know, I tried to do everything I could to protect myself from this day, avoiding online content and social media like the plague. Still the depression and anxiety permeated my mind.

positivity during election

Earlier in the year I tried to make a positive stand. Because I knew this year was going to be unlike the previous years—there would be protests and rioting, even in peaceful Portland a young man would be shot on a bridge. I would get a text from a friend of mine, asking if we were okay.

The next day I made the mistake of getting on social media and was back in the dark forest again—my heart racing, my breath uneven. I didn’t feel safe, and I wanted to run even though I couldn’t see anything.

I felt the need to say something, but I certainly didn’t want to fuel the fire. So I posted something from a book I had read last month, exquisite words I had forgotten to post after I finished reading it…or, so I thought.

Now I see that it was meant to be posted the day after the election.

“In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.” – From Buddha’s Brain

wolf of love

It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are, who you voted for or who you voted against. What matters now is how we all move on and continue to live. What matters now is which wolf we are feeding each day.

The wolf lives inside all of us. The wolf of love is the beautiful creature that is respected for its power and grace. That’s the one I want to feed in my heart, and the one I hope the world will too.

love trumps hate

Love does trump hate, but we have to love from a place of strength and light to win fear and darkness. For now I’ll just remember dancing in the sunshine the week before…

38 thoughts on “A Wolf of Love and A Wolf of Hate

  1. danniehill says:

    I feel your fear of the dark, especially in unfamiliar places. As a kid my dad told me I could turn the light out and be in bed before it got dark. Over the years I learned to enjoy and trust the dark. It was something that was forced on me. Dark was life many years ago. Quiet is the key.

    I’m in Thailand again, after I voted, and I’ve been reading about Portland and thought of how you were handling the situation. To me. and my opinion. it is shameful for for disappointed people, who didn’t get their way, to go against what this country was founded on. Peaceful protest are one of the things that has made this country what it is.

    Many years ago I came home from a country where people were trying to kill me and my first experience in my homeland was people condemning me, spiting and cursing me. These new incidents remind me of that time when people forget how to protest and accept the processes of our constitution.

    Love you, Britt and thank you for always making me think. Something I do less and less these days.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      So happy you’re in Thailand again, Dannie! Agree with you on all fronts.

      I’m sorry to hear about your homecoming experience—that sounds awful. I can’t imagine how that would feel, and I’m sure that’s hard to forget. You certainly have a compassionate way about you that I hope others can learn from. Hugs!

  2. eden baylee says:

    Britt, beautiful post. I love how you drew a parallel to the dark woods and the darkness of the election fallout.

    I may not live in your country, but I watched your election with great interest. The world is a small place, and we are all connected. You are our neighbours. I have family and friends in the US.

    The price we pay to live in a democratic society, is that we don’t always get the results we want. It’s a difficult time right now for many, and it may remain that way for awhile, but I cannot agree more with you, Britt.

    Sooner or later, we must let go of what has already happened and move forward. We can hold on to anger, or decide to use our resources to make the world a better place.

    I love that quote by the Dalai Lama. Kindness goes a long way to heal, and I wish for you and the men and women of your country to be kind to one another. You are much more alike that you are different. Democrat and Republican are labels, and people are much more than that.

    Sending peaceful thoughts, xox
    eden

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Totally, Eden! Yeah, the election gloves came off on social back in the beginning of the year (hence, my Facebook post to ask people to “keep it clean”) and I was surprised to be hit by the negativity so early. I can’t speak for everyone, but I felt like we were making positive strides in our country. I suppose that makes this even harder to see.

      Regardless, we do need to move forward. And kindness is the best way to do that.

  3. Andrea Stephenson says:

    Wow, that strikes me as a very profound experience Britt – to have the fear and to be forced to face it is a very apt metaphor, though of course it wasn’t only a metaphor, it was a real experience. The forest is certainly a different place at night and I can understand your fear – I’m generally not afraid of the dark, but I still find the forest scary at night – and I think this goes back to something deep in the human psyche. But facing fear with peaceful thoughts is no less than I’d expect of you 🙂

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It was pretty crazy, Andrea. And all I was trying to do was get away from the madness and relax with a nice stroll in the woods! I wasn’t expecting a life-changing moment. But like you, I do believe in the powerful vibes around us playing a big part in our lives.

      Yeah, the forest at night is really something. Being a writer doesn’t help with cooking up potential scenarios in a setting like that either! xo

  4. Letizia says:

    The concept of the two wolves is so beautiful. I have been reminding myself this past week that now, more than ever, is the time to practice compassion and love. I hope you return to this exact path in the woods soon, and you see everything bathed in sunshine once again.

  5. Kate Johnston says:

    Definitely a personal journey, Britt. I was somewhat reminded of the book, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and the hiking she’d done, by herself, the things she’d faced, both internally and externally.

    Yes, indeed, wolves are amazing creatures, but I understand your fear. Fairy tales of old don’t help any. That goes for dark forests too — I think we learned these fears as kids. I don’t think they’re innate.

    I love that quote about the wolf of love and the wolf of hate. It’s quite true for all of us. I think we have to pay close attention to how we treat others, always going with kindness first. Sure, there are bad days where we have no patience for long check-out lanes or heavy rush hour traffic, but the angry place that many people go to only makes things worse.

    Glad you got home safely! 🙂

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Loved the book, and the movie too! Obviously the book was more captivating, because you felt like you were right next to her.

      Yes…agree that we learned these fears as kids. Didn’t know I was going to play Little Red Riding Hood on a Tuesday after work, but it happened! 😉

      There is an obvious difference between someone who truly owns a kindness mindset versus someone who doesn’t. Really, kindness should be an anchor for all of us. Have your bad day/hour/minute and move on.

  6. Sheila says:

    This is such a beautiful post, and so true. We’re all afraid of those noises in the dark and we have to remember not to let those fears creep in or change our way of thinking. I can’t believe how much I’ve cried since the election, but in a way it’s a bit of a wake-up call. It shows we need to love now more than ever and not just those we’re already in contact with, but all lives and all of nature. I hope you’ll keep dancing in the sunshine.

  7. Carrie Rubin says:

    Lovely post, Britt. Like you, I’ve had a lot of post-election anxiety, but unlike you, I didn’t stay away from social media. I should have. It’s wearing me down to face the anxiety nonstop. So I think I’m going to step away a bit. Well, we’ll see…

  8. Minuscule Moments says:

    Britt what a smashing post! I know that feeling in the dark it can be suffocating I have a similar fear. But I would have been more scared of spiders and snakes than a wolf.

    That quote blew me away the first time I read it somewhere too. Thanks for reminding me of it. Now you can write a riveting scene when you need to of someone in the forrest at night. Short story maybe? I think your dance on the beach is exquisite and maybe its the way you can deal with the news of the coming President, he does not define you. You are unique, talented and very strong keep being you.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      We don’t have very many bugs and snakes out here, because it’s too wet. But larger furry animals are a strong potential!

      Yeah, the wolf analogy really stuck with me. I don’t remember as much from the book, since that part stole the show. The novel I’m working on is set in a dystopian Portland actually, inspired by the “what if” scenario that happened in this election. Looks like I have another scene to add! 😦

  9. Les Petits Pas de Juls says:

    I believe we definitely have to cope with our fears and manage them the best we can so we can go on with our lives. Fear is what brought us where we are today, fear of our neighbors fear of loosing our jobs, fear of loosing what we have. Problem is, with fear, we go nowhere. Whereas, as you stated it so well here, when we face fear, embrace it maybe and answer with love, respect and understanding, we go further, we enhance our limits and learn from the experience than nothing can stand in our way if we put our mind to it.

    Love will always be the answer. We deeply need to care for each other now. Where you are, where I am, where we will be. Show each other trust, hold hands and defeat fear, hate and darkness.
    I will stand by you. And I send you my best thoughts and wishes and know that you 2 will do your best in this dark hour.

    Sunset is around the corner.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Absolutely. We were joking that we were going to make “powered by fear” t-shirts earlier this year, then we decided that was hitting the mark a little too well.

      Losing my job in May changed me for the better, for sure. That is one of the ultimate fears that holds us back in the modern world—when it happens, and you land on your feet again, it’s quite an empowering life lesson.

      Love you and your beautiful soul! xo

      • Les Petits Pas de Juls says:

        Coping with difficult and fearful situations with a kick in the butt and positive thinking for what’s to come is the only and best way I’ve found; and it’s working. Then you won’t be afraid to quit your job (instead of losing it) to realize other dreams! 😉
        Beautiful souls in the making!
        Take care of yourself xoxoxo

  10. Jilanne Hoffmann says:

    Britt, so beautiful! So true. We must choose to feed the wolf of love and work through this together. My son’s farm school has a mini version of your darkness experience, tamed down for 4th and 5th graders and then ramped up for those in 8th grade. The 4th and 5th graders must walk alone down a dark path, without using flashlights. And the 8th graders must sleep outside alone for an entire night on a property with woods and meadows. It’s an experience that tests their courage and makes them more confident. Your experience was even more intense, given your emotional state and context. We are all stronger than we know. And now we need to draw from that and move forward in a positive way. To do otherwise will only encourage the wolves of hate to take over the world. xo

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      I did the same night hike in summer camp, but it was a fun/tame adventure! I thought of that too while I was on the hike. I was trying to reason with myself, but then I was like…there’s no teacher here, or anyone else for that matter. But, you’re a grown ass woman, so handle it.

      We are all stronger than we know. Absolutely!

  11. Roy McCarthy says:

    Scary, maybe store that experience away as fuel for a chapter or scene Britt. I’ve got my fears but I quite like the lonely darkness – matches my soul probably.

    As to the election I’ve yet to hear from anyone who admits voting for Trump. We’re every bit as surprised here but I imagine plenty of intelligent and sane people did, as well as the rednecks. It’s democracy but it seems a strange type of democracy.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Totally agree. I’ve got dystopian Portland all over the WIP, Roy, so I think I can add this scene in pretty easily.

      I’m related to a few, believe it or not, but everyone has a choice. It can be strange, this thing we call democracy. I just don’t know sometimes…truly.

  12. diannegray says:

    I absolutely love that wolf story, Britt. We were all shocked (in Australia) about the election results, but I guess we will all have to live with it. I love your story of facing the darkness – you are a strong and beautiful woman (but please don’t walk alone in the darkness too often) xxxx

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Not sure the world has ever been this stunned before. SO much build-up, and then…seriously, you guys? When we were in Italy this summer, seems like everyone we talked to was anxious to see what would happen. Pretty crazy!

      I won’t hike in the dark ever again, if I can help it!

  13. roughwighting says:

    Oh my, I can’t possibly write every emotion/thought/prayer/praise I’m experiencing, reading your post. I’ll just include these: (1) we writers are sensitive souls. And we have huge wonderful scary playful painful imaginations. We can’t deny our imagination; we can only live with it and cast out light in our shadows. (2) I try and feed my love wolf every day. Otherwise, I’d be curled in the corner of hate and fear. (3) Lastly, your dance is magical and lovely. The day after the election, I attended my dance class, and a dozen of us ‘danced our hearts out.’ It helped. It helped.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      Believe me, I debated about writing anything at all, honey. But it was a great release, and it sounds like it was a good for our little blogging community as well!

      Going to ballet tomorrow…can’t wait to dance this out! I need to give my yoga mat a break, since it’s been absorbing my rampant emotions all week.

  14. Gallivanta says:

    Love your dance in the sunshine and your happy voice. I detest the hateful, angry wolf which has been trying to feed off me since the US election day. I haven’t quite managed to starve it into submission but I am working on it. 🙂

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