There are woods behind my house, and to the west, across the road, is a lake. All sorts of critters live in the woods, including a cautious coyote.
The coyote likes to go to the lake just before sundown every day and returns to the woods at dark. But he has a problem.
He sits on a little hill behind my fence, about halfway between the woods and the road, and watches. When traffic clears, he runs toward the road. When he sees or hears a car, he sprints back to the hill, then turns and watches again, waiting.
His problem is one of being overly cautious. I watched him eye the road for over an hour last night. He’s like drivers who won’t go because they see a car three miles away and don’t think they can beat it. I found myself chanting go now, go now, go now each instance he had time to cross. He didn’t hear me. It grew dark, and the coyote retreated to the woods without his cool drink of water.
When I was about six my family visited the dam at Lake Pomme de Terre. We parked on a dead end, with a scenic overlook. There were no other visitors in sight. My parents were taking videos (they were called home movies at the time) and told me to cross the road.
I stood by the car. I looked left. I looked right toward the dead end. I looked left. I looked right. My parents laughed at me and told me again to cross the road. I was a sensitive little bugger and crossed, but I wasn’t happy about it.
After playing my role in the home movie, I returned to the car. I don’t remember what my parents were doing that they didn’t see – probably filming my sister crossing the road umpteen times like it was no big deal – but I got the bright idea to gather a handful of tiny, tiny gravel, and stuff as much of it as I could into the ignition switch. That would teach them to laugh at my fears.
When it was time to leave (there are no home movies of this), Dad had to pick out every little bit of it, and I was in deep doo-doo.
By the time I was grown, I’d gone from being like the overly cautious coyote to acting more like a squirrel in the road – trying to get to my next adventure, often darting around without direction, but moving nonetheless. I made some bad choices, but I had fun and I didn't become buzzard food, like many squirrels do.
These days, I’ve mellowed into another animal – somewhere between being so cautious that I never get anywhere and being so reckless that it’s just stupid for a woman of my respectable age. Maybe I’m like an owl now, who sees a mouse, and wants it for supper. He has to consider the plan for a little bit before swooping – the coyote may have his eye on that same mouse – but not for too long, or he’ll go hungry.
So I cautiously consider my decisions, and then act swiftly. I don’t want to be thirsty because I was afraid to cross the road to get to the water.