Dustin Manwaring

Dustin Manwaring

Lost is a real or perceived condition. I’ve experienced feeling lost in a forest. Shear panic. Disbelief. Paranoia. I was trying hard to keep these emotions tucked inside. My job was to do something, anything, to make this situation better. Staying calm and remembering the objective was difficult and necessary.

The Jaguar Preserve is a 150-square-mile wildlife sanctuary on the eastern slopes of the Maya Mountains in south-central Belize. We drove up an unpaved road to a small nature center to get information about visiting the waterfalls. The ranger had just finished telling us about the self-guided hiking path to the spectacular waterfalls and pools of water.

We could not help but ask if it was safe. In addition to protecting one of the largest stalk-and-ambush predators at the top of the food chain, on display inside the visitor center was a jar with one of the most venomous snakes in Central America. We had just learned the snake in the jar was found nearby the hiking trail by a group of California students clearing brush on a service mission. The students’ weed-whacking job apparently dealt a perfect death blow to the lethal reptile, leaving the students unharmed. We were encouraged to proceed because there were no “known human jaguar attacks” and snake encounters were “rare”.

We were frozen in place in a sticky, hot sweat. We were deep in the forest. The situation worsened after apprehensively hiking the trail, carefully watching each step. The trail was covered by a thick layer of forest leaves and debris after a recent hurricane, making it more difficult to know where each step was landing and what creatures may lie beneath.

I stopped instantly. A ginormous tarantula with a big red rump skirted across the path in front of me. It was a dreadful place to stop. As I looked back to see if my wife saw the outlandish spider, I noticed a very large snake skin dangling in the tree vines above my head. This nightmare was real and we were lost, at least figuratively and emotionally. For what seemed like a long time, we were paralyzed by fear and didn’t dare move forward or backward.

I relate this story because I am reminded how feeling lost in a forest is no less scary even when we put ourselves in this position. Perhaps it is more scary because we question our own sanity. It also reminds me of the place our country finds itself in after nearly two years of investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including any links or coordination by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Now we know there was no conspiracy or collusion by the Trump campaign. We also know about two ways the Russian government attempted to influence our presidential election.

We spent nearly two years allowing a special prosecutor to investigate. The Special Counsel employed 19 lawyers, over 40 investigators, issued 2,800 subpoenas and executed over 500 search warrants. From here, we can move on or stay in this dreadful place. Staying in the place means the left refusing to acknowledge the unambiguous findings of the Special Counsel and losing sight of what it will take to successfully challenge the president in 2020. It also means the right playing too much offense and taking so many 2016 victory laps that it finds itself less focused and prepared for the upcoming task.

The waterfalls were beautiful. No one else was around. A calm serenity was a fitting end to the adventurous, somewhat dangerous, and frightening journey. We could have stayed in that terrifying place in the middle of the forest for a long time. We also could have turned around and trekked carefully back to where we started. I am so glad we were able to calm down enough to keep our fears in check and stay focused on the destination. No matter the result of the 2020 elections, I hope we can stay focused on the real creatures around us and where we are headed.

Dustin Manwaring is a business and estate planning attorney in Pocatello and served in the Idaho Legislature from 2016-2018.