I was a 4th grade student in public school in Sierra Vista, which at that time was a small but growing Arizona town: https://visit.sierravistaaz.gov/.
The house was located at the outskirts of town—we were feet from the Sonoran Desert: https://www.desertmuseum.org/desert/sonora.php.
Dad was a mathematical statistician from the University of Chicago. He worked long hours in Fort Huachuca: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Huachuca.
Mom was a clinical psychologist from the University of Chicago. She worked long hours at home, raising the tribe: I had two younger sisters and three younger brothers, so Mom and Dad were hopelessly outnumbered.
Every morning at dawn a fighter (I was told it was an F4 patrolling the US/Mexican border) would break Mach and create a sonic boom: this was my alarm clock. I would dress, grab the weapons which suited my fancy that morning [hunting bow, hunting knife, sling shot, home-made spear, boomerang, among others], select a point on the compass, and head into the Desert. I’d run half an hour out, reverse and run back home—all the time imagining that I was an Apache. I got back when the family was awaking. I’d help get the kids ready for school, eat breakfast, and get on with my day.
One Saturday I slept in a little. When the kids awoke, and breakfast was over, I decided I’d take a longer run into the Desert—45 minutes out and 45 minutes back. Off I went, armed, no water, starting much later in the morning than usual, not telling Mom what angle on the compass I would take—only when I’d be back.
When I had gone 45 minutes I was exhausted and thirsty. The sun was much higher in the sky than I normally saw. There was only a little spot of shade from a large saguaro cactus: https://www.nps.gov/sagu/index.htm.
I sat down and considered my situation. I had no water, there were no roads, nobody knew what direction or how far I was from town and it was getting hotter constantly. I was already drained.
Some buzzards spotted me and were making high circles. One landed on the top of a neighboring saguaro and stared at me. That was the last straw.
I told myself to just stand up! It was hard, but I obeyed myself. Then I encouraged myself—if I take only one step then I will be one step closer to home! I took one step, and it wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined it would be.
I continued to take one step after another, focusing only on making each step flawless.
When I looked up and saw the outskirts of town, I found the energy to run at flank speed whooping like a warrior.
From that moment on until today, when confronted by a seemingly impossible task that I need to accomplish, I simply tell myself to stand up and take one step. It has never failed me yet.
Paul R. Yarnold, Ph.D.
January 2, 2021