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Wednesday, March 25, 2015


"Life on the Edge" - photograph by Shayna Matthews
Moccasins are slicker than a buttered sled perched on the lee side of a snowbank. Pair this fact with a grassy hill just after a rainstorm, and you have the makings of a irrationally lifelong fear. It was 1983, I was about four years old. Our camp sat atop a ridge overlooking nearly a mile of white canvas tents stretched out below. And as dusk settled across the fields, campfire smoke laid heavy in the air. Lanterns and flickering fires punched holes in the night. Have you ever seen the designs of a punched-tin lantern? Candlelight shines through various designs in the tin, illuminating your path with swinging fireflies of light. This is nightfall in camp. Long after I was tucked into my bed, I lay awake, merely pretending slumber, so I might listen to the harmony of the dulcimers, mandolins and banjos...and the raucous laughter of my reenactment family. These are my earliest of memories, and my sweetest.

That night, in 1983, it rained. I don't recall the rain storm, for camping in objectionable weather is nothing new to me. But I remember, quite clearly, the aftermath of that particular rainfall.

Eager to start the day, I bounded up and out of my snuggly cot, donned my prairie dress and wiggled my toes into a pair of moccasins. My mom most likely braided my hair in two long braids, and I set off at a clip to find my friends below. The only trouble was the argument with the steep hill and my feet, now soaked from wet leather. The hill won the argument, and I tumbled in a ball, literally head over heels, the whole way to the bottom. I don't know how far I fell, but it seemed the drop, at the time, was equivalant to Mount Everest, instead of a ridge somewhere in West Virginia.

The first person to reach me as I hit the bottom was a man who was, perhaps, in his early twenties at the time. He pulled me into his lap and held me until I quit shaking. He looked down at me, a quivering little girl with tear-stained cheeks and long strands of disheveled hair, and asked if I wanted a story. I did, very much. He began to speak, telling tales of wonder and soon I was lost to my fright, hanging on every word as I sat on his knee. Looking back, I thought of that man as my guardian angel, whoever he was. It seems I gained two imprints that morning…two imprints which follow me throughout my life. Fear, and Stories.

My debilitating fear of "edges" has left me standing yards back, far behind many a scenic overlook. I grow nauseated at the thought of flying, and I always travel to the inside of a bridge or overpass. To this day, I cannot bring myself to walk up to the edge of anything and look down. No, not me. If I get too close, my mind grows fuzzy and I can feel the sensation of the fall. Which is absurd, because I love a good adventure. My passion, as you may have guessed by now, is The West...the epitome of grand mountains, cliffs, and well, edges. When my husband and I were planning our trip west a few years ago, I told him I wanted to ride in a hot air balloon. "You know balloons go up, right? And you're in a basket? With fire over your head?" This of course, was after his laughter subsided. But I was determined to do all the things I feared most on that trip. I was researching for my WIP novel...researching the land, the history and the people who made it.

Sometimes, what drives a person to face their fear is not so much bravado, as it is spite. This is what fuels me. I'm tired of being afraid. Tired of missing out on adventures because I cannot face my fears. After all, how can I as a writer sit on the sidelines and weave tales of adventures I cannot face myself?

In last month's blog, I spoke of climbing a 50 foot wooden ladder to reach the top of ancient ruins. What I did not mention, was the almost paralyzing fear I faced when I saw it. Wooden rungs, 50 feet in the air, and a deep chasm at my back. My husband kept after me, and I faced that ladder with far more trepidation than a virgin bride. My knees were shaking, and if I had any saliva left to spit, I fear my heart might have tumbled right out of my mouth. The Ranger giving the tour then declared she was afraid of heights, and while she climbed the ladder, no one was to talk to her. She gives those tours daily, and she's terrified of that ladder.
Well hell, if she can do it…

Spite, to me, is nothing more than malice to fear...determination feeds upon spite, and that's what we use to scrape through a situation. At that moment, nothing frightened me more than climbing that ladder, so the only thing that made sense was to start climbing. As I clung to that first rung, I closed my eyes for the breath of a moment. As I did, several of my WIP novel characters came to me. One, a young cowboy named Ryder, seemed to urge me forward. If you can summon the courage to write a story like ours, darlin', what's one little ladder? Between my husband, who encouraged me as he followed me up, rung after rung, Ryder and my own grit, I made it up in one piece.

I didn't know at the time my husband was on the ground, taking photographs of my rump-roast as I climbed. (Discovering that little gem is another story all-together!) Reaching the top, I nearly fell into the wall of the cliff. My knees were beyond working order, but I was standing in the remote Southwestern corner of the home of the ancients. The view was particularly beautiful that day, my friends. At least, until I realized we had to get to the TOP of the cliff, and back to the parking lot. That little venture entailed crawling through a narrow tunnel cut through the cliff face on our hands and bellies, (my husband got a bit loose with his artistic photography here, as well) and traveling up a set of rock steps cut into the cliff itself. I won't repeat the garbled words I uttered when I finally collapsed to the flat ground far above.

What we faced AFTER the 50' ladder to reach the top...putting my "spite" to the test.

That same trip found us floating 2,000 feet over Arches National Park in a hot air balloon, horseback riding to the top of South Mountain in Arizona, off-roading in Moab, Utah and traipsing up and down over countless canyons and cliffs. Maybe I'll never be able to stand on the edge, but now I know I can summon my old friend, Spite, and sharpen my teeth on the bones of an old enemy.

You don't want to miss air balloon sunrise over Arches National Park. No Fear!

Fear is a frigid witch. It’s real tough sometimes, but if you saddle up, cinch those girths a little tighter and dig in your spurs, you just might enjoy the ride. Had I turned down mine just because I was scared? Man; to think of the sights, the experience and the exhilaration I would have missed out on! Thanks guys, thanks for the ride. I look forward to the next one.

Fears, everything from spiders to those first story submissions, force us to lean on our inner strengths, our spite-driven determination-to conquer.

Triumph! - and standing a little closer to the edge than I used to.
Tell me, what are you afraid of? Have you lassoed your own spite to quell those fears? I would love to hear your own stories of dealing with fear. One random commenter will win their choice of either a signed copy of Cowboys, Creatures & Calico, Vol. 1, or a pair of handwoven bookmarks, made by yours truly. Thank you for reading!


  1. Shayna you do have such a beautiful gift with words. You brought the story of your adventures to life...I was ready to climb that ladder and squeeze through that cave right along with you. LOL. I have a bit of a fear of tight places which I didn't realize until I was aboard a plane and had to sit in the middle seat. I actually felt ill and couldn't catch my breath. I was traveling with one of my foster children to Bethesda Maryland. He had a severe heart condition and was being treated at NIH Hospital. The person in the window seat was sound a sleep and I didn't want to bother him, so I asked Davey if we could switch places. Of course being the little buggar that he was he said nope, he seemed to enjoy watching me turn a bit green. By the time I got to DC I was pretty sure I was gonna die..but thankfully after I got off the plane I was fine. I envy the childhood you had Shayna, it sounds fantastic and it gave you a writers soul.

    1. Barb what a wonderful comment! I humbly thank you, wholeheartedly. I do have a picture of me squeezing through that cave, but,'s not very flattering lol. I cannot board a plane without a strong dose of dramamene, which does little to calm my stomach. I had a panic attack similar to yours on a turbulent flight from Anchorage to Seattle, then Baltimore, so I can definitely relate! It wasn't pretty. My sinuses were out of whack, my ear popped behind my eardrum and I was convinced blood was running out of my ear! Poor people around me, they hated me lol.
      I was definitely raised with a rich and unusual childhood built on history and stories, along with a fantastic dose of imagination. Thank you again for your sweet words, Barb. :-)

  2. Oh Sayna, can we relate. Beautifully said, and congratulations on going past your percieved limits. I don't like heights, and also get dizzy looking over the edge, but it hasn't stopped me from looking 1500 feet down from the Royal Gorge bridge, or 2000 feet into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. As you found out, the West if brilliant in its diversity and beauty. Now you know why I live here. (and even though I despise, 'fear' flying, I can and do when necessary, but jumping out of a perfectly good plane, that I didn't want to be on in the first place, not happening. Smile) Many more 'adventures' and the stories your characters share with you and us. Doris

    1. Thank you, Doris! Beautifully said. My husband says, when I become his "Sugar Momma-Writer" we'll live anywhere I we'll be riding west as soon as I can lasso my dreams...even if I do have to fly to get there! ;-) I recall the beauty of Royal Gorge, such spectacular views. Where we are now, I feel rather geographically challenged, lol.

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  4. Wonderful post, Shayna. I used to have no fear of anything. Back when I was young and stupid. LOL I thought my mother was the worst worrier of anyone I ever knew and that her fears were ridiculous. Only until I had a child of my own did I truly understand--and I'm sure now, they think the same thing about me. LOL

    But I didn't only worry for them--I worried about what might happen to them if something happened to me. So I quit taking chances and I am happy with that. I have other things that push me to "the edge" internally--if not physically. A whole 'nother blog. LOL

    Thanks so much for sharing this with us. You are a very brave woman. There is no way I would do the hot air balloon, or the ladder. I'm not afraid of heights as long as I'm firmly planted on the ground, safely looking from above. The Grand Canyon and New River Gorge both come to mind. Beautiful, and I enjoyed them, but I knew there was no danger. BTW, my husband is from West Virginia, so we try to go to the New River Gorge every time we go out for a visit. And Hawk's Nest--lovely--you're standing above the hawks watching them circle below you.


    1. Thank you, Cheryl!
      No fear of anything...I envy the concept, lol. Now that I am also a parent, I understand the "annoying" worries of our parents as I watch my son explore life. It's enough to make a woman begin coloring her hair!
      The hot air balloon was the experience of a husband thought it would render me unconscious, curled up in the fetal position in the bottom of the basket. As it turns out, I felt far more at ease in the balloon than I did on those cliffs!---even when we "crash-landed" and the balloon drug the basket on its side when we landed. I wanted to climb right back in and do it again!

      West Virginia is a beautiful state, I've camped there many times over the years, and not too terribly far from us.


  5. Well done, Shayna. I enjoyed reading your story. You have beautiful photos to prove your bravery - and proclaim your spite against your fears.

    I don't have a fear of heights, but I can not watch movies where people are trapped underwater - like The Abyss. That is probably why submarine rides and scuba has never appealed to me. Up high, I'm good. Underwater, not so much. LOL!

    1. Hi Connie! Thank you, so glad you enjoyed reading my story. Photography is one of my many little hobbies I've picked up over the years. Learned the art of sepia-toning in classes back in high school, and they stuck with me.

      I don't go to the beach very often, though I do love to go and walk the edges, letting the waves lap against my ankles. But I cannot go in very far, for I cannot abide the thought of swimming where I cannot see below me. Yikes!

  6. Shayna,

    I'm not totally comfortable with heights, but I'm not terrified, either. Now, having said that, I can climb up a ladder, but the coming down is a challenge. lol I do have some vertigo issues, but they're manageable. Tight places, tough, are a different animal all together.

    1. Hi Kaye! The tunnel we crawled through was a very tight squeeze, but it was definitely preferrable to having to climb back down that ladder...I might still be up there! Lol

  7. Shayna,
    Great post! Well done. I have long had a fear of falling, and in recent years I've had panic attacks while hiking in the Grand Canyon. What a nuisance they are.

    1. Thank you Kristy! Ahh, the panic attacks are a nuisance! I really noticed a difference in the air when we were in Arizona... I can certainly see how easy it would be to get yourself in a mess of trouble out there, fast. We saw the mule rides down to the Phantom Ranch, but I could never bring myself to attempt it.

  8. Shayna, I'm afraid I don't live on the edge--and not missing it. I am terrified of heights and flying. The most difficult and scary thing (for me) was to fly in a single engine plane. I only did it because a doctor at work talked me into it since I was driving him nuts researching how to fly a small plane for a book I was writing. I felt I would be a coward if I didn't do it. It was quite an accomplishment for me, but I guarantee you I will not do it again. Okay, I did do it once more only the plane was a C130 transport plane for the Air Force. I received a once in a lifetime invitation from a dear friend of mine. I would have always regretted not accepting because the Air Force would most likely never allow civilians on a C130 again. My nephew talked me into staying out of work to go. I had to really wrestle with my work ethics on that one. But it was quite an experience learning how different it is to care for the wounded on a plane as opposed to caring for them on the ground.
    I commend you for the courage you had to accomplish these adventures. I can do many brave things, but getting too far up from Mother Earth isn't one of them.
    I wish you all the very best, Shayna.