My son the pteridophobic

My son Apollo is a mega boy and fears little, but what he does fear he does so with gusto. He is 5 years old and doesn’t fear the street, backtalking us, arguing with his brother and sister and climbs trees with abandon. The fireworks we hear in our neighborhood scare him a little, but for most things he’s perfectly unaware of any danger. When we were in Las Vegas and Southern Utah he had no fear of the cactus.

Get him around ferns, however, and he is paralyzed.

The picture that goes with this post is from our Thursday trip to the former Elwha Dam, which was blasted to turn back into a river, restoring historic salmon runs. The trail runs about a half mile from the parking lot, the last half through a pretty thick forest filled with ferns.

We began walking through that part and Apollo began complaining loudly. I pushed him through one section that was lined with ferns, though none came close to touching them, and he yelled like he was being tortured.

He spent the rest of the walk, as you can see from the grainy picture, riding on the back of my wife. That didn’t stop him from complaining.

This happened once before, probably when he was 3. We were hiking a trail in South Kitsap and were almost done with it when he spotted ferns close to his walking path. I ended up carrying him but he continued to wail so loudly that other hikers who could hear us, but not see us, asked if everything was OK. We told the truth, that our son is afraid of ferns.

We are not quite sure where he got it. We have always suspected he was fed that fear from his older brother, Sascha, but Sascha denies it. I seem to remember some teasing about it when Apollo was 2 or so, but I can’t be certain where it started.

When we were done with the Elwha part of our adventure on Thursday I asked Apollo what I would have to give him to take a fern, pick it up and play with it. Sascha offered him a Rubik’s Cube. Apollo was having none of it. Later that day he willingly climbed higher peaks at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park. We passed deer that were unafraid of humans, snow packs and went up trails that were a bit steep off to the sides. None of those things bothered Apollo in the least.

Until I started writing this post I was unaware there was an actual name for it. According to a story on, Sigmund Freud had the same fear. So does this woman, a nutritionist.

Nowhere could I find a way to cure Apollo of his phobia. In my head I’m thinking the promise of a good root beer might do it. That’s what got him eager to hike so much on Thursday. Years back I saw a guy help a woman with her fear of spiders by encouraging her to let one walk all over her hand. I can’t see that working for me with snakes. And if I pinned Apollo down and rubbed ferns all over him I don’t know if it would cure him or make him hate me forever.

Maybe I’ll just encourage him to live somewhere other than the Pacific Northwest when he’s older.

The Book Ahead — Spill Your Guts’ Guts

This is not the final cover version, but it’s probably not far from it.

During 2011 I set about creating a podcast, an experiment of sorts in storytelling for me. It was fun to do, but it was a lot of work and after several months I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it. I needed time to come up with a solid plan that I could eventually discard when inevitably the universe would serve up a much better idea I had never imagined.

Over the past several months I put the podcast on hold, very nearly re-released a novel I wrote years ago, then got serious about how I want to proceed with what for now is a side career.

The mock book cover here will be the first iteration of that solid plan I have in mind. Tentatively titled Spill Your Guts’ Guts, the book will take those podcast episodes and simply put them in a new format. It might read like a transcript sometimes, but it will mostly be a retelling of stories I thought compelling. You’ll get pearls like this:

“Redheaded Mike and I were old enough to know that the finger was an insult and that for some reason it was considered naughty. I yet had no clue about sex. I knew that being naked was not for public events, but I don’t even think I knew that the finger represented something people did most often when they were shy of their clothes. The boldness of the gesture and to be playing a massive trick on an unsuspecting audience of passersby appealed to redheaded Mike and me and so we decided that we would wave it at each car that managed to get within eyesight of our path.”

The audio from last year’s podcasts will also be worked over to some degree.

More importantly, a podcast will return. This time around there will be an overarching theme to the content, a focus that will be pretty much the same each week. I’ll give you more details later.

For now you can go to and find three of the podcasts, or go to iTunes and search for “Field of Steve” or “The Narrative Arts” and find more of them. For some reason they are not all there. When they are reformatted the old versions will be removed and replaced.

And now it’s time for me to get back to the task at hand, getting this book ready.

Rewards and penalties — Week 39

Well. I wondered why I had no feedback on this one. Seems I forgot to publish it. So here it is, only five days late.

There is no quit on this process of shedding half of me, though it may have seemed like it lately. Again I’ve been caught up looking for that magic bullet, only to return to the logic of the 1-degree shift.

This week I am going to a lesson from Pat Summitt, who just retired as women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee. I found this once when preparing a podcast episode. Summitt told Success Magazine her teams never began the season with a national championship as a goal, though her teams won eight in the 38 years she was head coach. The problem with that kind of goal, she said, is if there is a problem early on you risk losing “morale, self-discipline and chemistry.”

Frankly I think the term “goal” is best used for short-term accomplishments. Something for the long term takes a more holistic approach.

For the short term, though, a goal is worth pursuing. What helps get there is setting up a system of rewards or penalties, something else Summitt discussed.

“Setting up a system that rewards you for meeting your goals and has penalties for failing to hit your target is just as important as putting your goals down on paper.”

So for this week I have four 1-degree shifts I’ve committed to, with rewards and penalties as part of the operation. I’m keeping all those to myself, but they’re written and visible.