I suffer from mild anxiety. About three years ago, my anxiety was much worse. When I confessed my unhealthy coping mechanisms to my priest, he told me to go to a psychiatrist, and so I did. I got on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and after a while of that and behavioral and situational changes, I got so much better that I got off the pills.
Recently, it had relapsed a bit. It had become harder to concentrate on tasks, which had gotten more daunting, and I had become harder and harder on how well I perceived myself to have completed a goal. I’ve gotten used to staying up late, usually 12-2 a.m., to finish all of the stuff on my to-do lists. I very rarely get angry at others, but I was often getting angry at myself.
I learned last week that this really hurts my physical performance. You see, there was a group hiking trip among the other ALTs in the area to hike to the top of Mount Iwate and down. The night before, I had stayed up until 2 am trying to come up with ideas for lessons for the coming week. I then woke up at 5 am. I was unable to do much (surprise surprise), and so I resorted to one of my old coping mechanisms, which is to say hitting my legs fairly hard, mostly on the thighs.
The day passes, and I reach the peak of Mount Iwate reasonably easily. Mount Iwate is a stratovolcano, or rather is complex of two stratovolcanoes: the older one forming most of the mountain, and the younger, parasitic one forming the caldera at the top.
I love desolate landscapes and volcanoes. This strange series of ash piles, paths of bodhisattva and kami statues, and fire-colored shrubs may look like the surface of Mars, but long ago its reign of destruction helped form the land below. People had made piles of rocks and placed small objects on theme, some of which seemed like trash (such as a small phial of slightly dirty water). I got the impression there was something sincere in all of them, though. It was a surreal and fascinating experience, seeing into a piece of Iwate religion and culture.
The group had gotten started late, and soon we had to go back down. We already knew we would be hiking down mostly in the dark, but we wanted that to be as little as possible. I felt alright about the hike down at first, as I have a strong flashlight and I had little real trouble going up the mountain. At first, Tiger, my manager and the leader of the group, put me first. I was the slowest group member, and Tiger wanted to avoid people falling down the steep paths after going too fast.
I got slower, though, and after stubbing my toe, Tiger went ahead of me to give me a hand. I got slower and slower, and had to take more and more breaks. The stinging pain in the thigh muscles above my knees grew constant. When we finally crossed one of the few mile markers on that trail, the kilometer count had hardly ticked down. When I sat down to take a relatively long rest, most of the group broke off and headed down without Tiger, two other teachers in bad shape, a friend, and me. The asthmatic teacher I’ll call Deer, the nauseous one I’ll call Goose, and the friend I’ll call Hummingbird.
As we rested, Tiger said that he wasn’t really worried about bears, as others were half-jokingly talking about. He was worried about snakes or wild boars. Even tanuki can be dangerous if startled or rabid. Soon after the others left, Tiger and I started hearing rustling and falling rocks. It didn’t always stop when we did, and returned even after Tiger threw rocks or sticks in the sound’s direction.
Meanwhile, the kilometer count on the path markers finally reached one kilometer, and we could see the light of the parking lot down the slope. The only one who was feeling relatively fine at this point was Hummingbird. We took a wrong turn to an obelisk-shaped memorial of some sort, and when we walked back from our mistake the sounds came back, trailing the area to our front and left. There were no rocks on the trail to throw, then. Even Deer and Goose, who were in the back, heard the sounds. Tiger found a stick and went down the path, telling us to stay back. If anything came out, he said, climb the mostly fallen tree next to the path.
A few minutes went by, and nothing happened. Then, Tiger told us to climb the tree anyway. Deer took priority, then Hummingbird, and then Goose. One of them wasn’t strong enough to pull herself all the way up, so there was no room for me. That was okay, I reasoned, because I was the one with a long stick and a baptismal cross. I wouldn’t die, because God isn’t done with me yet.
I knew I might get mauled, though. The thought of it being a boar wouldn’t leave me alone.
We know about boars in Arkansas, you see. Arkansas is where feral pigs were introduced to North America via Hernando de Soto, in his failed quest to find gold. He kept a large herd of pigs which he wouldn’t allow his men to eat. What he was saving them for was unclear. While he was in Arkansas, he got sick and died. His starving men quickly ate many of the pigs, but a few escaped into the wild.
Feral hogs are an invasive species. They breed like cockroaches, and a group can destroy acres of trees and vegetation in just a few nights. They’re also potential hosts to 34 pathogens that can be transferred to livestock and humans. Thus, they’re legal to hunt year-round with any method, and bringing in a hog trophy often gets the hunter a sizeable reward.
This isn’t just because they’re incredibly destructive, but also because they’re arguable the most dangerous prey to hunt. They might look chubby, but their bodies are rippling with muscles, and they can charge at 30 miles per hour. Feral hogs are intelligent, but when they want to hurt something, they pay no attention to the harm they do themselves. A feral pig will kill itself without a thought just to hurt the object or its anger.
The feral pig’s weakness is that it can’t look up. So, the proper recourse is to climb a tree and shoot the pig as many times as needed for it to stop moving. Even if you climb a tree, however, many hunters wear body armor just in case.
And there I was, with only a walking stick and a phone flashlight.
Tiger told us to be quiet, except for a couple of times he told us to sing a bar of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and then stop. I’m still not entirely sure why he did that. In the silence, I heard another animal in the woods above us, maybe two. I thought about what it would feel like to be gored. I thought that maybe if I had rested more and not hit my legs, I would have been in the parking lot already. If I had been injured, I supposed, it would be partially due to my own single-mindedness and neglect of my own health.
Finally, Tiger looked on his GPS and saw that we were actually very close to the parking lot. We decided that going to the paring lot would be safer than waiting. So, then we grouped back together, singing and cursing loudly. We made it without the animals showing their faces.
I quickly calmed down, though less quickly than the others, and went back home. I got back into the daily habits, (this time with meds, which the company helped me get), but now whenever I’m tempted to sleep or hit myself, I think of that night with what could have been wild hogs.
Despite what this post may suggest, I was very glad to go on this trip. I’m glad that God gave me this lesson and opportunity to get closer to my coworkers, and I’m willing to go through a lot to get close to such a gorgeous volcano. I really do love volcanoes, you know!
Being back on my medications has helped a lot, but I still haven’t managed to get to bed earlier. Tonight is a new night, though!
Kanji of the Day:
kun: いのしし, inoshishi
Note: This is a full word, and it is usually written in just katakana, i.e. イノシシ
Word of the Day
Caldera, crater; burner (e.g. on a stove)
Thought of the Day