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Wednesday, 14 June 2006 00:00

Scared of the Dark?

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By Stephanie Wampler • Columnist

The dark is a strange creature. It has so many faces.

“Dark” is how we have always described our worst times. Thousands of years ago, the phrase “the valley of the shadow of death” was coined, and it still strikes a deep chord. We can all think of some dark time in our lives.

The dark is ground zero for evil deeds. All the bad guys live and operate in the dark. Where do murderers and rapists live and work? The dark (or so we like to think). Burglars? The dark. Monsters, goblins, ghosts, and witches? Need I say it? It’s an absolute rule that those guys have to be back home before the sun comes up.

We’re all scared of the dark. Even big, strong men are scared. They won’t admit it, but if you’ll notice, they all have a big, strong flashlight somewhere handy. They’ll say they have it so that they can see to fix the pipe under the sink, but we know better. We know that that pipe has been leaking for years and that the flashlight has not been recruited to help fix it a single time.

I’m definitely scared. I remember as a kid when I was sent out at night to feed the dogs in their fence at the far end of the endless back yard. With the exception of a small porch light, the yard was pitch black. I would run as fast as I possibly could and start turning around before I reached the fence. As I turned I would literally throw the food over into the pen. I wouldn’t slow down until I was safely back inside the house.

Our dog today has no idea what a pen is, but my husband’s wood shop is at the far end of the driveway. If I have to go out there at night for some reason, I make myself walk, but I really want to run. I’ve heard that the coyotes are bad near where we live. And the catamounts, spiders, snakes, and possibly the bears.

So the dark can be very frightening.

But it is also very soothing. Nothing is more quieting than swinging on the porch in the evenings, just after dusk, with the crickets singing and the bats swooping through the dying light, with evening sounds are softly echoing from the neighbors’ houses.

Nothing is more calming than lying in my bed at night, warm and cozy, listening to the soft sound of rain on the roof. Or watching the snow fall through a quiet winter evening.

The other day, my son pulled everything out of the closet to make himself a penguin nest in the dark, icy water. (Aren’t all closets full of dark, icy water?) He piled in all his blankets, his pillows, his stuffed animals, and his favorite toys. Then he climbed in and shut the door. I watched him curiously, thinking that any moment he would burst out and that would be the end of the dark closet. But I was wrong. He sat in there very quietly for a long while.

As I watched him go back into the closet and shut the door, I could somehow understand why he chose to play there, in that dark, scary water where a penguin can just sit quietly and be.

(Stepanie Wampler is a writer who lives in Waynesville. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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