Monday, October 24, 2005

For The Terror By Night

My topic heading comprises part of a longer Biblical passage. Psalms 91:5 begins "Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night . . . " Psalms aside, however, I've always maintained a healthy fear of the dark. In my youth, I shut the door to my bedroom closet lest I catch a glimpse of some beast hidden in the blackness there. Nightlights were mandatory in my part of the house.

Watching the occasional scary movie was a guilty pleasure that stoked the fears of my imagination. After watching Night of the Living Dead, I lie in bed afterwards wondering perchance where the closest cemetery just might reside. That was the only night I recall sleeping with the light on. Not just a nightlight, but a 100-watt overhead reading light that burned brightly till dawn.

Even as a young man, I was startled by the gruesome cinematic reality of the original Friday the Thirteenth. Not long after that movie, I married Wendy. Our post-nuptial retreat just happened to be a lonely cabin on a lake. Late night there I lie in bed hoping that the empty cabins around us would soon fill with people. How many guys wish for crowds on their honeymoon?

My most terror-filled night was not filled with dread of the supernatural, but of something real and most deadly. My boys and I did a father-son canoe outing with my high school buddy Bob in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota some years back. The Boundary Waters is a primitive wilderness area that beckons the hearty sort of camper who doesn't mind carrying his canoe and backpack overland through swamps, over rock outcroppings, and around trees fallen into the rushing waters.

We were not that hearty sort. That's something we found out a little late. After an arduous day paddling and portaging, we found a small camping spot. Dehydrated, badly bitten by mosquitoes, and too tired to build a fire, we pitched our threadbare tents among a stand of large trees that had survived a "storm of the century" two weeks before. That blowdown felled tens of thousands of trees, weakened many others and stranded many wilderness trekkers. We were among the first to enter the Boundary Waters after this storm.

Out the window of our four-man tent, I saw a trio of lodgepole pine trees, leaning on eachother as they swayed in the wind. If the wind was right, they swayed in our direction. Each time that happened, my heart rose in my throat. I could imagine them falling domino style on us as we slept. Then it became worse. Night fell. I could hear the trees cracking and groaning in the wind but could not see them. Unable to sleep, I heard the rising wind and the distant rumble of an approaching storm.

Rain fell hard, slapping the tent with each drop. Lightning flashed on our tiny refuge in the woods. Only the crash of thunder drowned out the ominous rustle of the large trees. I'm not sure when or if I slept that night. But at some moment I felt a slight trembling of the ground, accompanied by a muffled snapping--roots breaking. A tree was falling, a large one, very close. I held my breath as I heard it slowly break free and topple earthward. Only when it struck the ground did I exhale again.

The dawn light finally began to illuminate my surroundings in dusky fashion. To my surprise, that tree landed less than ten feet from our tent. It had already been leaning the night before, and I pitched our tent away from where it might fall. The only damage occurred when one of its branches impaled Bob's backpack lying on the ground. My boys never even heard it fall. They slept through all of it.

Some people have no respect for the dark.


Blogger Nankin said...

Dave, your story reminds me of a night in Michigan where we were pitchin our tent. Suddenly a huge storm came up and the tornado sirens went off.

There aren't many places to hide in a tent. We prayed that we wouldn't be blown away tent and all.

3:09 PM  
Blogger Fred said...

One word. Whew!

I'm not big on camping; now I know why. With my luck, I'd wake up and there would be a bear in my tent.

Glad the boys slept through it all.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Lucy Stern said...

Aren't you glad the boys slept through it all. If they had been awake, it would have been really miserable. I don't think I would have pitched my tent so close to those leaning trees. I do love to camp though.

5:23 PM  
Blogger bornfool said...

I've always wanted to canoe in the boundary waters since a trip my friends' and I had planned fell through. Whew, that was almost 25 years ago. Now I feel old.

5:35 AM  
Blogger Peter said...

Hi Dave, good story, there's nothing to beat a cozy campsite but that one sounds a bit different to cozy.

7:05 AM  
Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

I had similar thoughts being on a tree-lined highway in 1962 when the wind was blowing about 90 miles an hour. No funsy.

8:50 AM  
Blogger poopie said...

I absolutely HATE scary movies, or anything like that. Yup..I'm a big old chicken. *squawk*

9:00 AM  
Blogger Gypsybobocowgirl said...

I have never liked to watch scary movies, but was persuaded to watch "Silence of the Lambs" and didn't sleep for three days. Luckily I was working night shift, and could catch a nap during the daylight. However, I'm never scared in the remote woods--I have more fear of other people than the woods and animals.

4:42 PM  
Blogger LisaBinDaCity said...

Yikes! Now I'm scared. I have to remind myself it's daylight here in NYC ;-)

4:53 AM  
Anonymous Monique said...

I'm not a camper, and your story has given me another excellent reason to not change my opinion now.

Your comment on my blog yesterday made my day. That picture was actually taken just last month. But if I can pass for younger, I'll take it!!

8:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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6:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

scary?I'll tell you something about northwestern's offense,boo!!!

6:31 AM  
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8:57 AM  
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10:59 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

Great story Dave. Yep, the horror movies have the same impact on me.

Wow! You really had a close one in that camping experience.

5:58 AM  
Blogger WordWhiz said...

I went to a haunted Halloween attraction last night and I screamed like...well, like a girl! My throat was raw this morning! but it was fun! (see my post about it today)

7:54 PM  
Blogger WordWhiz said...

Eek...I just promoted my recent post in your comments. I hope that doesn't make me a SPAMMER!!


7:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


1:02 AM  

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