on first contact

I heard one of those people who live their dream and get paid for it speak the other day.  This guy worked most frequently for National Geographic and had gone to every continent except Africa on various adventures.  He plans to make  up for that soon.  I didn’t hear what the nature of his adventures were, other than they were some form of dangerous extreme activity, like hiking the length of the Grand Canyon   alone and barefooted, or  something.  But I was stricken by a response when he was asked to talk about when he was most nervous.

He stated  that he was always most stressed just before starting the activity, as, for example, while driving to the airport where he was to get into an airplane from which he was about to jump into free-fall at 30,000 feet.

I remembered the phenomenon from high school football of “first contact.”   Just before the kickoff for the start of a game was always very jittery.  Everything was building to an uncertain crescendo.

As soon as the jar of making that first contact with an opponent, or even just from hitting the ground via a fall or slip, was felt, all worry about what might come, how I would perform, or whether everything was going to be well or not, was completely gone.

That “first contact” changed everything.  I participated in many sports during my educational career, but the only one from which I remember this phenomenon is football.  Perhaps it was because of the blatantly brutal form that football takes.   Perhaps I became more conditioned to the  phenomenon as I grew more experienced, and that’s why I identify it only with football, my first high profile sport.  I’m not sure what all of the factors might have been, but I always treasured “first contact,” and it is one of my few persistent positive impressions of football.

I’ve noticed analogies for the  first contact experience in many arenas.  Being in the fray always seems to be better than being in anticipation of being in the fray.

As with everything, it seems, immediately I find mself relating this observation to what is going on with the environment.  It feels like we in America are still very much in the pre-game activities.   It seems like we have yet to make first contact.  It seemed like the game was about  to be on when Al Gore made a big hit with his “An Inconvenient Truth,” but if that really was a first contact event, then why isn’t anything happening?

Wait. What am I talking about?  There goes the demonstration against the x-whaever pipeline.  There’s the 350 parts per million group,  Bill McKibben in The Rolling Stone, James Hansen being arrested, lots of people writing lots of articles.  How about Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, the drought in the southwest,the hurricane in the Philipeans, advances of the deserts?  Coral reefs  dying.  There’s lots going on that would say the game is fully on-that we’re already in full play.

I’m reminded  of the guy who simply refuses to aggressively make that first contact. Instead of running  toward the opponent.  If anything, he  avoids contact whenever possible.

I’ve often wondered about what the start of the game must be like for him?  The impacts may not be as frequently as if he were aggressively looking for them, but surely they would jostle such a would-be passive observer all about.  It must be  a lot like random impact.  In fact, it’s probably a lot like the impacts of extreme weather events on human societies.  No matter your belief in human caused climate change, if you’re in the way of a big hurricane, it will kick your ass.

The  would-be passive observer will look like a fool, and  he’ll only be beat up for his good intentions.  Maybe I look like a fool, too.  Heaven knows I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, but first contact is happening, so I’m in favor of getting aggressively into it.

This week I’m attending the American Geophysics Union  conference in San Francisco with a press pass from the Tahoe Mountain News.  Wish me luck.  One thing is for sure–these are the big boys.

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One Response to on first contact

  1. Hank Raymond says:

    First contact… I thought you were going to talk about first contact with aliens. My similar feeling of butterflies used to come before a kart or car race. I’d be absolutely full of adrenaline for over an hour before the race started, then I never noticed it after the green flag fell. But I don’t get that much any more. I get some, but I’m much more calm and relaxed before a race starts. Guess I’m more used to it now. I think that happens as these things become more normal. I realize this isn’t the point of your article, but I thought I’d post it anyway. It’s sort of related.

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