I've written before about the hazards of hiking up our driveway on dark, cold mornings to get the newspaper. The worst of these is the emotionally real if physically imaginary (I hope!) mountain lions that lurk behind every shadowy tree and bush.
It's completely unreasonable as well as embarrassing for a mature adult, who can do public speaking in perfect comfort and is eight and a half times a grandmother, to be scared of the dark. Over the past couple of weeks I've been attempting to confront this fear.
It started one morning when I headed outside at 5:45. The front walk and the driveway were such a brilliant white that I thought it must have snowed. When I stepped out onto the porch, though, I realized the brightness came from the nearly full moon, backed up by a blaze of stars. The front yard was silver in the still predawn air, and the sky was breathtaking.
As I walked up to get the paper, delighting in the beauty of the morning, I kept hearing quotes in my head from Alfred Noyes ("The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor.") and Clement Moore ("The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave a luster of midday to objects below.") This kept my mind so busy it almost forgot about the imaginary mountain lions.
Ever since, I've been concentrating on the beauty of the early morning sky in an attempt to trick my brain into becoming more comfortable in the dark. It's been working, too—sort of.
At least until a couple mornings ago, when the moon had shrunk to a narrow fingernail clipping above the trees and the shadows were especially deep and black. I crept warily through the shadow of the my spouse's parked SUV and headed up the driveway, walking as quietly as one can on gravel.
I made it to the top of the hill, grabbed the paper out of the box, and started back down, doing just fine until I heard the noise. A throat-clearing or coughing sort of noise, just the kind of sound my brain imagines a mountain lion might make before it springs. Or (it occurred to me later) just the kind of sound a neighbor's garage door might make.
I walked faster. Quite a bit faster. A biased observer might have even said I broke into a trot—not so easy to do in one's bathrobe and slippers. Nervous but still under control, I crossed the last strip of driveway and reached the shadow of the SUV.
Where an ominous figure loomed. It was so silent and still that I nearly crashed into it before, with a heart-thumping jolt of adrenaline, I realized it was there.
My dear partner, not knowing I had already ventured into the darkness, had started out after the paper. He was standing near the car, wondering whether that creature he heard blundering about in the driveway was a mule deer or a mountain lion.
It's a good thing neither of us was armed. Shooting each other in our own driveway would have made for embarrassing headlines in the next morning's paper. Though no doubt the nearest lurking mountain lion would have appreciated it.