it’s a big scary world out there!

Sign Sign everywhere a sign
Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign

~ “Signs” by Five Man Electrical Band ~

Folks, it’s a big scary world out there! Or, at least, that’s how it seemed when I was tripping around in the west. Almost everywhere we went, if there was a bulletin board, or a trailhead kiosk, or a sign board next to the road, there would be a “warning” sign of one kind or another. I’m sorry to say that I didn’t give thought to photographing more of them as I would have had quite the collection if I’d started doing so at the beginning of the voyage.

Yessirree, turns out there is danger around every corner. Big bee nests along hiking trails, and Mountain Lions waiting to pounce on you up in the hills. There are ticks that want to crawl onto you and give you Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Lyme Disease, and venomous Black Widow and Hobo spiders hiding under rocks and toilet seats in outhouses. And then there are the “unpredictable” elk that might take after you if they feel provoked (I ask you, when was any wild animal predictable?).

There are wily bears lurking behind every bush waiting to rip into your untended camp cooler, and let’s not forget those ubiquitous rattlesnakes that are holed up in the rocks beside every hiking trail. And if there isn’t a sign, there’s a verbal warning from an innkeeper to “Watch out for the wild pigs that are up the canyon above the lake!”

Wild pigs? You’ve got to be kidding?!! Oh, yeah…right…like the ones that scamper through cow poop and track E. coli 0157 through spinach patches? Gotcha!

Worse still, there are signs warning of toxic algae in the rivers that we’d hoped to swim in. And more signs warning us about sneaker waves on ocean beaches that will grab you and carry you out to sea. And of undertows waiting to drown the unwary surfer, and dangerous beached logs that can crush you to death. Signs warning you of Poison Oak along hiking trails, and of falling rocks that might roll down and pulverize your car as you’re passing by. And then there were those truly *scary* bulletin boards with diagrams illustrating more than you ever wanted to know about tsumanis and what to do if you happen to be unlucky enough to be anywhere in the vicinity when one strikes.

And if all of the public signs aren’t enough to scare the heck out of you, even the pop bottles have warning signs describing possible injuries that might be incurred if you don’t open them exactly right. I thought I’d seen just about everything, but then while figuring out how to set a digital watch that one of us bought in a department store, I started flipping through the little instruction booklet that came with it. There were warnings not to even LOOK at that watch while riding a bicycle in case you crash into an obstacle. And more warnings not to WEAR the watch while doing anything dangerous like mountain climbing in case you got distracted and fell off a cliff. And even warnings about not looking at the lighted face of the watch while driving your car at night in case you got confused and got in a collision. I kid you not — there was even a warning about not looking at the watch while walking on a city sidewalk in case you tripped over a curb or crashed into a lamp post.

Folks, I gotta tell ya that it all seems a little sad that the world has become such a scary place. I don’t remember it always being so, but it just seems to become more and more frightening with each passing day. I’m not saying that it isn’t a good thing to be informed of dangers, but there’s a point where all of these signs and graphic images and labels and instructions warning you about the perils of wearing a wristwatch, become just a little too much. Is this what happens when all of us kids who were told that if we ran with scissors, we’d poke out an eye, finally grow up and get our turn to go out into the big world and scare the hell out of someone else?


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15 Responses to “it’s a big scary world out there!”

  1. Wayne Says:

    We HAVE become a stodgy old society here in North America, haven’t we? It does seem like every point of information, illustrated nicely by your signs, Bev, simply must carry a warning of danger along with it. We no longer have any perspective about the nature of risk.

    I wonder what would happen if the fearsome danger judgements were removed from the signs, and replaced with more interesting information about bee nests, rattlesnakes, cougars, or pop bottles, leaving the reader to draw his or her own conclusions? I’m assuming too much maybe – that most people would accurately come to the right judgement. Maybe not. It would still be a nice selective force!

  2. robin andrea Says:

    I think these signs actually signal an even deeper more troubling aspect of our culture– lawsuits. Warnings tend to be how businesses public entities protect themselves from liabilities. You should see the list of stuff you shouldn’t do while on a ladder!

    When I was still working, I rode my bike through a large meadow to get to the office everyday. Whenever I started that bike trail I encountered the “You Are Entering Mountain Lion Habitat” warning sign. I always thought I should have seen at least one lion, after riding that meadow for years. Not one. Although I did see bobcats, coyotes, fox, and falcons, for which there were no warnings!

  3. Peter Says:

    I don’t think I have seen much for warnings in any of the parks or trails here, other than “stay away from edge of cliff” because it is quickly erroding. Even where the tide can easily catch you by surpise hundreds of meters off shore, there are no warnings.
    Maybe I have selective vision, or this is more southern culture you are showing us? The watch warnings are deffinitly taking it way too far :-)

  4. burning silo Says:

    Wayne – I think it’s a shame that more info kiosk and trailhead space isn’t used to communicate “positive” information about natural history rather than an assortment of warnings. Sometimes, interpretive material is quite good, but (unfortunately) that seems to be more the exception than the rule.

    robin – Yes, I would agree that many of the warning signs have to do with the litigious nature of society. I don’t think that’s as strong a tendency up here, and probably why we don’t see nearly the amount of warning signs. I can certainly see the use in some instances, but it seems to me that much of it is probably overdone. For instance, I saw mountain lion warning posters almost everywhere in California and, as a non-resident, found myself wondering if they were really so prevalent. I also saw many bear warning signs, and yet my guess is that one would be far more likely to encounter a bear up around here than in many of the areas where we traveled – bear warning signage is not all that common up here, even in areas where bears are frequently seen. By the way, I first noticed the difference in signage on trips down to Vermont a number of years ago. At many of the hiking trailheads, there were posters warning of rabid skunks and raccoons, leading us to wonder if there was far more rabies there than up here. I don’t actually think the danger was any greater, but just that the perception may differ.

    Peter – As mentioned above in the comments, I think the use of warning signs is much less extensive “up here” — and I’m including Ontario along with Nova Scotia. I can’t really speak for other areas of the country, but I’ve done so much hiking in both provinces, that I’m quite familiar with typical signage. As Wayne noted back when I wrote about Wards Falls in Nova Scotia. . .

    One of the interesting things about this is the contrast between what is allowed and what is not. Having scaled trails into the North Georgia and North Carolina woods, and visited waterfalls, what we usually find is a (admittedly well-constructed) observation deck that prohibits you from investigating any further, with many signs and dire warnings of death and injury. We’d never find a ladder to allow you to choose for yourself to move onward.
    I suspect it would be possible to go ahead and defy the warnings, but also imagine that if you were caught you’d be fined heavily.

    . . .that kind of thing is not really seen up here. If anything, most places tend to retain their rustic character and there are very few, if any, warning signs. Usually, I believe the thinking is that it’s up to the individual’s own common sense to stay out of trouble.
    As for that watch, it was such a hoot that I was practically killing myself laughing as I read the warnings aloud to my friends. It was truly over the top.

  5. Ruth Says:

    I was very fortunate to have parents (in the 1960s and 70s) who allowed their five children to roam freely, as long as we were home for dinner. We loved “exploring” and grew up confident and loving to travel. Children of later generations have been raised warily because of increased fears of perceived dangers. I would commend any parent today who encourages their offspring to be wise and alert, but still full of optimism and adventure.

  6. Cathy Says:

    I’m so glad I discovered your blog. This is a as good as blogging gets. Great photography,entertaining and informative writing. Funny too. I love the revenge of the don’t-run-with-scissors crowd comment. If I didn’t sense your innate honesty – I swear, I wouldn’t believe the instructions that came with the watch.
    I’ll never forget the sign at a trailhead just outside Boulder, Colorado. My son was working on his doctorate in astronomy at UC and on one of our visits decided to take his parents on a hike in the foothills. Can you imagine a mother’s concern when the sign warning about the presence of mountain lions recommended sticking your arm down the animal’s throat in order to suffocate it should you be attacked.
    He’s in Boston now. No cougars, just collapsing tunnel ceilings.
    Ruth grew up like I did and her advice is sound. But it is a different world in ways. I know the state vet here in Ohio (just retired) and he’s a rather stoic fellow. But doggone it, I found him reluctant to step out into a summer night a couple years ago because of West Nile. Drats.

  7. burning silo Says:

    Ruth – I too roamed quite freely when I was young. At my family’s cottage, we had a small wooden boat and 3 h.p. motor which I would take off in with a couple of friends to have a picnic on an island a few miles downriver. I walked and rode my bicycle all over the countryside wherever we lived. I have a healthy respect for wildlife and the elements, but no real sense of fear. It seems to me that the best things a parent can teach children about nature is the skills to be safe and confident when in the forest or around water.

    Cathy – Welcome to my blog — glad you found your way here! Yes, the instructions that came with the watch were just as I wrote. There were even more warnings. They seemed so crazy that, at first, that they seemed more like a joke. I’m sure the company probably had someone dream up every possible “bad scenario” and then had a lawyer write a suitable warning to prevent injury or death. It made for some hilarious reading!
    Regarding West Nile – I’ve found that some people are very afraid of getting it. Living here on a farm and doing as much volunteer stream monitoring as I have for the past few years, if I were worried about WNV, I’d have to either quit doing everything and stay indoors for about 5 months of the year, or just do as I have been — doing my best to avoid bites and carry on as best I can. At this point in my life, I’m not about to stay indoors through the best part of the year.

  8. LauraH Says:

    Thanks for the warning – I’d better stay inside.

  9. burning silo Says:

    Laura – Ha! I have a feeling it would take quite a bit to scare either you or I into staying indoors! (-:

  10. Cathy Says:

    I’m sitting here crying as I’m reading aloud to my husband the inspiration for your blog’s name. Boy, can you write. Those imgages of scurrying fireman – the rocket’s red glare – I tell you, I’ve got to find the Kleenex box. I’m humbled and happy, as I suggested above, to have found you. Humbled, because I try to write. Happy – well I haven’t had that good’a laugh in ages. Thank you.
    Oh. That West Nile business: my fellow birding friends figure that anyone who’s been outside as much they, have already been innoculated and needn’t worry. (Hope Laura is kidding about staying inside)

  11. burning silo Says:

    Cathy – Thanks! I’m glad you got a laugh out of the Burning Silo story. It still makes me laugh every time I think about it. (-:
    On the WNV, I feel the same as your birding friends — I expect that I’ve already been exposed to it (probably a number of times) as I’ve spent many hours paddling and doing stream surveys, fish surveys, etc… in places where there were often swarms of mosquitoes. Can’t imagine having avoided it all this time.
    And yes, I’m *sure* Laura was kidding about staying inside. ;-)

  12. pablo Says:

    Years ago I was backpacking in southern Missouri and there was a sign at the trailhead warning about black bears in the area. What was really neat was that the wooden standard the sign was stapled to was actually full of scratches left by visiting bears.

  13. burning silo Says:

    pablo – well, that’s the kind of sign that you might want to pay attention to! Around here, the “signs” that I usually pay attention to are fresh bear scat and deeply gouged “scratching trees.” (-:

  14. Pamela Says:

    Best sign I ever saw was a hand-lettered warning on a piece of corrugated cardboard: “Wild turkeys on the road,” on the side of the little 2-lane highway that runs up BC’s Sunshine Coast. Then around the next bend there they were, wild turkeys!! First time I’d ever seen them.

  15. burning silo Says:

    Pamela – When I was in Oregon in late September, we came across a place where there was a “Quail Crossing” sign at the edge of a town – and sure enough, there were plenty of quail racing across the road just beyond. Pretty amusing!