I have had far too many opportunities in these last few weeks to meditate on the meaning and qualities of courage.
This lifestyle requires courage on many different levels. From dealing with wild animals to navigating rough water in small boats to living without many of the security nets our society relies upon so heavily, the demands on one’s nerve weigh heavily.
Any fear we feel seems intensified by the contrast between our peaceful, largely stress-free existance and the occasional crisis. The usual calm has made us a bit more sensitive to surprises than “normal” people might be; by the same token, a real problem seems far larger than it might if considered against more common background stress levels. And, while I may preach a good line when it comes to dealing with fear, I often find myself close to despair when dealing with homestead crises, especially when they involve the electrical system.
If I have one nemesis on this homestead, it’s our wind generator. We rely heavily on it operating properly, and enjoy many benefits when it does. When it doesn’t, a crisis develops, and whatever courage I can summon is called upon to manifest itself.
The worst part about repairing or maintaining the wind generator has to be that so much of this work occurs on the tower. I am not unduly afraid of heights. As long as my balance is centered and my footing firm, I will stand comfortably at the edge of a presipice and look down. Take away the secure stance, and all bets are off. Even 20 feet off the ground, if I have to cling precariously to stay aloft, I begin to worry.
I’ve assembled some impressive safety equipment, and almost perfected my method for climbing the tower, even as we built a new, cantilevered tower than can easily be raised and lowered when necessary. The need to climb the tower remains, however, and as I get older, I find myself less able to face this task. Each time I climb the tower, I feel I can’t do it. Each time, I do it anyway.
Each trip up the tower has its own affect on me. Sometimes, I feel almost at home clinging to the pole, 20 feet or so from the near side rocks, 30 feet from the jagged beach rocks on the other side. Other times, the fear numbs my mind and impairs my thinking. I never know what to expect, other than the worst—hoping for better, but braced to do as much as I can in the time allowed.
The difference has to be a combination of weather conditions and my physical condition. As I tire from the various strains, as the scrapes, thumb crushing, and fatigue mount, my ability to remain aloft diminishes. I’ve learned to control my breathing, to avoid distractions, shift the position of my feet often, and to take pain relief medicine as soon as I return to the ground. Mostly, I focus on my resolve to accomplish my goals quickly and efficiently, and get off the tower as soon as I can.
I assume the fear will only increase as I continue to age. I assume there will come a day when I can no longer do it. All I can do is strive to put that day off as long as possible.
Wise people have stated that courage isn’t an absence of fear, but the ability to take action in spite of fear. I cling to that definition, as I continue to do what needs to be done around here, despite the fear.
In the past, I’ve dwelt on the nature of fear for different reasons than this.
You will find a version of the essay above, as well as writing on similar and related topics in the ebook, Sacred Coffee: A “Homesteader’s” Paradigm by Mark A. Zeiger. The ebook version will likely be expanded, clarified, or updated from what you have just read.