Thursday, October 24, 2013

Under the moon and the Milky Way

Photo by Andrew Wardlow
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Walking under a full moon last weekend, I listened to oak limbs creaking, the hiss of leaves shuffling in a breeze, and tried to convince myself there was more happening in the dark.

That the trees were shifting to keep an eye on me as I walked. That something lurked unseen among the limbs or in the utter blackness under the gnarled branches.

It didn’t work.

I know the woods around my house, sparse as they are, host foxes, deer, rabbits and coyotes, snakes and squirrels and other beasties. I have seen a hawk glide over the trees, and a large horned owl perched atop a pine, and I have heard the call of a lonely whippoorwill in the night.

But I have not felt the chill of fright on those empty streets, walking under the vast open dome of the Milky Way, or seeing the landscape light up in shades of blue as clouds parted for the moon. I have not feared the unseen creatures in the wild, or even the ones in my over-active imagination.

I wasn’t always so assured in the night. As a child, I hated going into my back yard after sunset. My family lived on the southern boundary of a small town, with a few acres of woodland surrounding the house. I was convinced something supernatural and predatory walked behind the fence at night; I heard it moving when I went out to feed our dog, or on evenings Mom asked me to bring in laundry from the clothesline.

It followed me on nighttime walks with my older cousins near my grandparents’ home. Or so they would tell me, weaving ghost stories and legends as the moon trailed us in the sky and noises carried from the trees lining the road.

It lurked on the corner, just outside the cone of light from the street lamp. It hid in the bushes beside the bedroom window, waiting for me to look outside so it could reveal itself. It never did, except one evening when we were moving into our home (I was 7) and my uncle (13 years old) snuck up to the window to scare me silly.

Even as an adult, I have felt my hackles rise from some unseen but nonetheless sensed danger in the dark. Because I have also learned to trust my instincts, I make it a rule not to remain in places or situations that cause me to feel uneasy.

But that hasn’t been the case of late. Maybe there are enough real-world dangers that imagined ones don’t register any more. Maybe I have put aside the childish fears of youth, or exorcised them through my writing.

But more likely, I think, I have merely recognized that I’m where I need to be for this time, and that includes a bit of walking under the light of the moon, in the narrow lane between the deep shadows, where leaves rustle and something unseen goes bump in the night.

Peace.
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(This is my Undercurrents column for PanamaCity.com and The News Herald this week.) 
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