Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

On some alternate plane of existence there is a version of me that is completely cool with wilderness and the dark. Together…at the same time. That version of me doesn’t stand on her dark front lawn demanding that the dog do “business” while her eyes dart in the direction of every sound made by nature and its nocturnal woodland critters. I’m willing to bet that alternate ‘me’ probably doesn’t stand in the dark with her little doggie on a pink leash, recalling the varieties of (potentially killer) animals that she learned were native to Maine during a visit to the Maine Wildlife Park this summer. Alternate me probably packs heat and can identify animals by their footprints. She’s woodsy and wears sensible shoes.
In this dimension, I’m not quite so cool. I am attempting to adjust to a yard that isn’t illuminated by the glare of street lights. I repeatedly tell myself that the sound of sticks snapping behind me is far less dangerous than the drug dealers who lived next door in Boston. Really, so what if last spring my bare foot connected with some unseen, but fairly sizable animal that squealed before it ran off into the dark woods? Right? That’s totally normal.
Having obsessively devoured each and every one of Stephen King’s novels, I tend to relate Maine to some super creepy stuff. When normal people think of Maine they probably think of lobster and moose; I think of vampires and the undead. So last week when I was startled by a pack of coyotes in the near distance while walking Stella on a dark and foggy night, I was slightly unnerved. The fog was so thick that I couldn’t see the lights of the neighbor’s house in the distance. My view was made up of the first few feet of the tall grass in the hilly field that separates our property, then a wall of thick fog that could potentially hide an animal stalking its prey (me). Before I heard the coyotes, I was marveling at the view. I was thinking of the moors and werewolves and how utterly creepy the whole situation would be if I weren’t so brave and successfully embracing country life. Then the cackling started. Stella jumped mid-pee but wisely chose to remain silent. Those cackles were close. All pretense of bravery flew out the window as Stella and I hauled-ass to the porch and bumped straight into Dave who will never cease being amused by me and my combined fear of darkness and wild animals.

The first time that I heard this pack of creepy dog things it was last spring. I had just begun opening the windows in the house and hearing the night sounds of our new place. Naturally, the first time I heard them I was frozen with terror by what sounded like a group of cackling ghouls. What I heard in the wee hours of the morning was eerie laughter. It seemed to move closer then fade back into the distance with such speed that it could only be supernatural…like that creature in the woods on the way to the Pet Sematary, you know…the one Stephen King wrote about – The Wendigo. I quickly called myself an idiot after I realized that I was listening to coyotes or coydogs but there was a minute there when I was freaked out.

I’m more comfortable hearing street noise and traffic than I am with wild animals. It’s ridiculous really, since I lived on a farm as a kid, surrounded by 200 acres of woods, fields and animals. I should be able to adapt again, right? I grew up in the Adirondacks for crying out loud! As I ponder this, I recall that I wasn’t overly thrilled with going outside in the dark at night as a kid either.

When I was about 14, my brother once took me along to go raccoon hunting. I loved my brother dearly (still do) and even though we are two entirely different people with completely different interests, I thought I’d step outside of my comfort zone. You know, look at life through my brother’s eyes for a few hours. BIG mistake. Raccoon hunting was not fun for me. It involved a yowling hound, a gun and hiking through woods in the dark. What the hell was I thinking? I had been hoping that he’d bag a raccoon in about a ½ hour and we’d be able to call it a night. It wasn’t meant to be so easy. We traipsed through a field and into the woods, through the woods and into another field. By that time, “Crash” the annoying, barking coon hound had run so far ahead that we could barely hear him. I kept asking my brother why we didn’t bring a light and he eventually began telling me to shut the BLEEP up.

At some point during our miserable woodland expedition, we heard howling and yips from what sounded like 20 dogs. I stood frozen in the middle of a field edged by forest and timidly asked my brother, “Whh…whhhhaaa…what” that sound was.”Coydogs”, he responded and kept walking. I quietly flipped out as he kept trudging through the field cursing his coon hound. “Do they bite?” I stammered. No answer. I ran to catch up to him, suddenly wanting to jump on his back. “DO THEY BITE?!” Now, by this time he was probably sick of listening to me say that I was cold, tired, scared, the mud was ruining my designer boots, the prickers were going to rip my Guess jeans, why didn’t we bring beer?, don’t we have a flash light?, where are the raccoons…do you shoot them?, exactly how far away from home are we?, do you know where we are? and do we have to walk all the way back? I have to chuckle when I recall his eventual response that yes, yes packs of coy dogs will attack a person, especially small people. They can smell your fear, he said with a sneer.

Now, how the hell do you stop being fearful so that a pack of rabid, man eating coydogs won’t smell you, come to investigate said “fear smell”, then notice your petite stature thus causing them to attack? That was one of the worst nights of my life, but it makes me laugh now. I tried very hard not to be fear-smelly, but finally gave in and trusted that my brother would feel obligated protect me with his gun should the wild dogs decide to devour me and my designer boots.

Having grown up and put some serious distance between myself and nature for several years of my adult life, I find myself back at square one. Most nights, when the dog requires her final walk, I try to quietly sneak off to bed and leave Dave and his bravery to the task. More often than not, he catches me halfway up the stairs and slyly asks me if I plan on walking my dog. I take a deep breath, grab the pink leash, call the dog and make Dave promise to stay by the door and watch us in case that Wendigo comes crashing out of the woods. So far, so good.

The Wendigo is a creature that has long resided in Native American folklore. Mostly in the Algonquin and Micmac tribe folklore. http://www.irosf.com/q/zine/article/10278 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendigo.