I slept alone in my room as a child, hidden beneath the covers with a hole small enough to breathe. I wasn’t afraid of darkness; I felt terrified of the dangers that accompanied darkness, the monsters, the intruders, and lightning on stormy nights. Hidden beneath the covers, I felt safe in my cocoon.
Boarding school helped calm my fear of darkness. I was never alone in a room full of bunk beds. Although I continued to hide when I slept, I did so out of necessity. Himalayan winters were brutal. In high school, while visiting my parents in the jungles of southern Thailand, I hid for a good reason. The communist guerrillas had threatened to kidnap an American. I was American.
When I returned to the United States for college and later married, my fear of darkness disappeared. I pulled the covers up under my chin every night, stuck out a foot and fell asleep effortlessly. There was nothing to be afraid of. We lived on a cul-de-sac in suburbia where the night glowed from the nearby Walmart and helicopter searchlights patrolled the murky sky. Darkness wasn’t dark at all.
On our first night at Cook Peak, David asked the girls and me to join him by the pool to see at the stars. Surrounded by a wood fence and a wall of Juniper trees, the pool area was a private mountain oasis. I switched off the porch light and felt my way up the steps and through the gate, directed by a Marco Polo routine. Once night blindness subsided, I looked up to the heavens and marveled. I saw the Milky Way for the first time in many years, a broad stroke that filled the sky from horizon to horizon. It was an orchestra of stars and Orion was the first chair violin.
While David named the constellations and explained star clusters and red dwarfs, the girls and I suddenly realized wild beasts lived beyond the pool fence, watching us. Earlier in the day, the previous owner had told us about a black bear in the pine tree. She said raccoons frequented the upstairs balcony after midnight, which happened to be right off my bedroom. She also reassured us not to worry when coyotes screamed like colicky babies. We’d get used to it. They were just flushing out the cats. Huddled as one, the girls and I shuffled toward the house, trying not to be rude until David was left explaining black holes to a Schnauzer.
I am not afraid of the dark, but I do have respect for darkness and all of its inhabitants. I know what’s out there. We rarely turn on the porch light, and I can’t remember the last time we used a flashlight or if we own one anymore. We have grown accustomed to the darkness and cannot imagine living in a city that never sleeps. And now when the coyotes scream in the middle of the night, or the bear ransacks our trashcans, it’s easy to fall back to sleep, safe in our cocoon.