I have a card from a parent of a Day Camper thanking me for taking her child out of her comfort zone. A comfort zone is a strange thing because it is something that we all crave and find pleasure in, yet it often shelters us from personal growth and new experiences. From preschoolers to grandparents, taking those steps away from the familiar, routine, and safe into the unknown is a challenge. Reluctance finds us all at one point or another.
I was afraid of snakes, but I go looking for rattlesnakes now. I don't trust my knees on mountains but I climb them. I thrive on solitude but I am a foster parent. These purposeful actions taken outside my comfort zone, the places where I feel safe and content, have changed my life. I might draw the line at bridge-jumping or eating live insects, though. We all have our limits.
The list of fears (often what defines the barriers of our comfort zones) goes on for an eternity it seems, with some of the more recognizable fears a common denominator. Bats, spiders, snakes, the dark, heights, rats, insects, even dirt, top the list and one can fathom why. Bats and rats can carry disease, spiders and snakes have venom, in rainforests there are predators that hunt at night and so on. Of the things we place outside our comfort zone, many may be related to past experiences in our lineages. Others are just not a part of everyday life - dirt, large crowds of people, elevators. They become threats by their absence.
A Timber Rattlesnake is shown in its black phase.
Photo by Don Watts
Fear is a strong motivation to avoid something, but part of embracing that fear is understanding why it exists. I have watched toddlers shy instinctively away from a snake, or alternatively reach out the grab it. Perhaps there is something in our DNA, yet undiscovered, that predetermines our fears. While valuable at some point in our ancestral story, this fear may be irrelevant and might be something better faced. But if you're afraid of a snake, there is nothing more out of your comfort zone than petting one.
If you can't find a reason for why something makes you uncomfortable, then get over it. Force yourself to address the issue, to face the fear, to delve a bit into your past. Even if you maintain the discomfort, at least you'll know why and be better able to accept them. And if you do discover a reason for the fear, it may lead you down a path of incredible self-discovery.
We are so quick to say ''I'm afraid of that!'' or (if you're 8) ''Ewww!'' without wondering why that is our impulse. And we are also well trained to behave a certain way when we encounter a spider scurrying across the floor or a bat winging through the hallway. But those behaviors can be unlearned, and more responsible and considerate ones learned.
I am terrified of spiders, especially the big ones that live under rocks in creeks. I will suck in my breath, drop the rock, and leap to perch on the highest boulder available in a laughable manner. However, if I flip that same spider with a group of kids, I will point out its beauty, it adaptations, the incredible senses it has and carefully put the rock down so as not to harm it. (I wouldn't harm it anyway). I refuse to pass along my fears to a child. So I get over them.
You may wonder why I'm all about the psychobabble this article. I'm prepping your minds for an upcoming event that is centered around bats. On the scale of things outside people's comfort zones, bats are right up there. There are many myths about them, and often they carry a reputation that they do not deserve. We're trying to change that.
On Oct. 29 we are holding a program called ''Bats, Bats, Bats!'' The event runs from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. and will hopefully will help you understand bats a little bit more so you can move them down your ''uncomforts'' list a few notches. It's $5 for members and kids and $7 for non-member adults.
I remember bats flying around the house when I was little. We would lie on our beds and watch them, then open a window and out they would go. Sometimes we would have to direct them a little bit, holding up a blanket to cause them to fly into the room with the window, but out they would flutter and we would calmly go back to sleep. I don't ever recall being afraid of a bat.
Come and learn about bats, the truth and the fiction, and broaden your horizons a little bit. If you call and reserve one you can even build a bat house for an additional fee. Visit jamestownaudubon.org or call 569-2345 for more information or with questions.
The trails at Audubon are open dawn to dusk and the building is open 10-4:30 daily except Sundays when we open at 1 p.m. We are located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown.
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and still has some fears to get over but is working on it.