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Walking and Talking With Fear

Walking and Talking With Fear

Summer has begun to fade and I want to stop the calendar right here, pause the passage of time for some period of time that will allow me to wallow in the sharp angle of light, absorb the clearness of the air, drink in and gnaw on the deliciousness of the moment. The turn of the season, summer to autumn, is right now, this minute, and this minute is not long.

In the morning I linger, stand on the deck to stare at the sycamore tree and its leaves, already the green-gold of an old penny; to stare at the sky, empty of everything except birds lifting themselves from their nighttime roosts. They rise with an ease and grace I can’t help but envy, a freedom I cannot imagine, into a blueness so flat and even I find it hard to believe that it can contain their three-dimensional selves.

In the evening I amble, take my time down the road and back as I leave my footprints on top of the chevrons embossed into the sand by tractor tires. Cotton blossoms, milky white and cotton candy pink, have folded themselves into prayer hands for the night and the breeze that rustles through the leaves tickles my arms and makes me wish for sleeves. The sun is already behind the trees. The last smear of color, a bleed of florescent pink, has faded and I am walking as much by faith as by sight.

I can see the house, can make out the white lines of the rocking chairs on the front porch when I hear an animal sound behind me, a cross between a bark and caw. I search my memory for something to which I can attach the voice. There is nothing. And because there is nothing, into the nothingness springs fright.

I stop. Turn. Look back toward the sound. Make sure that there is distance between us. I can tell that it, whatever it is, is seven, eight rows in. All is still and quiet for a moment. Then the cry again. Coyote? Surely not. They do not venture this far out of Jackson Branch Swamp. Bobcat? Raptor of some kind? Whatever it is, I do not want a close encounter in the low light near-night. I turn back and increase my pace.

There it is again. This time on the other side of the road. It, whatever it is, has crossed the open space of road behind me, clearly disinterested or, possibly, as spooked by my presence as I am by his. Deep breath. Pace still quickened, I cross the yard and climb the steps. There is distance now between me and my uninvited companion, distance enough to sweep away the unwarranted fear, and I can consider what he might have been saying, what its raspy call was meant to announce.

Stepping over the threshold into the warmth of lamplight the translation comes quickly: Fear, sudden and invisible, has a purpose. It pauses your thoughtless progress and makes you think. Forces you to be aware of your surroundings. Demands that you consider what you know and what you don’t. Then it pushes you forward. Out of the darkness, familiar though it may be, into light.

I like to think that there is not much of which I am afraid. There are plenty of unavoidable things I would like to ward off as long as possible – the death of people I love, my own infirmity, winter – , but the inevitability of each makes fear, I’ve concluded, a wasteful use of energy and emotion. What I am wondering, after my encounter with what I’m now calling the Invisible Oracle of Twilight, is whether I might be too intrepid, whether I might benefit every now and then from a skirmish with something that makes my heart race, whether I might want to take a few more walks in the dark.

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