This past summer, I was showing a man and his son how to look for monarch butterfly caterpillars so the boy could bring one home to raise. I walked right up to the long grass to point out what milkweed looks like (the only food monarch caterpillars eat is the leaves of plants in the milkweed family). The dad came to a stop about 5 feet away from the long grass. The boy, seeing his dad’s behavior, stopped short as well. Realizing that I had lost my companions, I looked back to see the father eyeballing the long grass as if it would beat him if he got too close. He wasn’t seeing a patch with grass and milkweed and goldenrod and other wildflowers. He just saw a patch of potentially allergy-inducing vegetation that probably had snakes hiding somewhere in it. I was able to coax him closer and pointed out how to tell the difference between the different plants and the correct ways to handle their potential hazards (you don’t want milkweed sap in your eye!). The father’s fear wasn’t entirely unfounded, but was easily addressed by pointing to the details he needed in order to tell the difference between the milkweed and the poison ivy.
Sometimes we become fearful because we also don’t know how to tell the difference between the milkweed and the poison ivy of life. It’s nice when we have someone knowledgeable around who can bring us in closer and show how to tell the difference, but often there’s no such person available. So, we need to become better observers ourselves. Or we need to seek out information from others who know more than we do. We need to learn to observe what we are seeing and poke around a bit to observe what the results are. But don’t go through life missing out because you have never learned to tell the difference between what is dangerous and what is not. Learning to see those differences is part of what makes life enjoyable and rewarding. Or at least I think it is!