Kris and I proceeded down the trail in silence, making it to the bend in the trail, the light of the campfire from Century 21 casting dancing shadows onto the trees around us. We paused at the bend, looking into the dark tunnel before us that was the trail, opening up like some dark maw. As we took a few tentative steps away from the light of the fire behind us, my stomach lurched, knotting up with a primal fear, a fear that is ingrained in each of us, in our very genes, the fear of the dark. It is not really the dark that we are afraid of I suppose, but the things which live in the dark, things which in the far distant past of our species used to eat us, prey upon us at the time when we were most vulnerable. It has been many thousands of years since we have had to fear the dark, and yet we still do, just look at how much resources we put into lighting our world at night so that we never have to go anywhere in the dark.
There I was, in the dark, in the woods, and there was a real live monster in those woods, an apex predator that could kill me quite easily if it so desired. We had Matt’s word on it that they are harmless, gentle giants, but then we’d also had Matt’s word that he’d be at the camp on time the other day. Right then in the dark, Matt’s word wasn’t holding much weight. I really wanted to turn that light on, to go back to the safety of the fire, to do anything but walk down that trail of shadows.
Kris took the first step and I followed, not wanting to be left standing there. I’ll tell you right now, the trip back to the camp was completely uneventful, nothing happened, at least we encountered nothing but trail, trees, brush, and the cool night wind. That said, it was perhaps the most eventful walk of my entire life. Something in me changed during those few minutes. As my night vision kicked in, I beheld a world I didn’t even know existed; a grey world of shadows and mist, a world of beauty and serenity. I was scared out of my mind, and yet, through that, I faced those fears and dealt with them head on. Since that day, I have never again been afraid to walk in darkness; in fact, now I look forward to those moments when I get to see the twilight world and rely on my ears and nose as well as my eyes. I now love dark-walks. I didn’t love it so much that night though. I have very long legs, and more than once Kris had to grabs me saying, “Slow down, I can’t walk that fast.” I was unconsciously speeding up, striving to get to the camp that lay ahead of us.
I know that it only took a few minutes, but in my memory, that walk might as well been two hours; it seemed interminable. I remember scanning the woods constantly, expecting a rock to come hurdling at us at any time, but then we rounded a bend and there was our dancing fire, with the ladies seated by it talking merrily. I wanted to whoop with relief. We walked forward and joined them.
Patty asked, “How did it go?”
For the first time in my life, I was speechless. I didn’t know what to say. The experience was too close, too personal to express.
Kris in his usual monosyllabic understatement said, “Fine.” Then we both took our seats by the fire.
To be continued…