I’m not sure how old I was when I first read Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I had certainly read quite a few of his poems, but this one did not leave me with a warm happy feeling. It left me with a feeling of dread, as though the gentleman who lived in the village may have been not quite all that he seemed to the village folk. The first time I read it, I got a chill from the reflected snow that wrapped my thoughts. I felt that it was not promises that kept the young man from entering the snowy woods, but fear. Was Washington Irving’s “Headless Horseman” perhaps lurking deep within the cold shadows? Was the young man afraid that some nameless monster could be hiding behind the false prettiness of the wood? Had he just finished reading Mary Shelley’s Gothic horror, “Frankenstein?”
I regret to tell you that this very poem gave me a fear of the dark. I would hurry to my bed and pull the covers over my head and sleep that way all night. My parents worried that I would deprive my brain of oxygen sleeping in this cocooned way and once even took all my blankets and the pillow from the room to try to break me of the habit. I thought them to be most cruel for this act. I don’t think they acted out of cruelty but out of desperation. I still think back on that night and wonder how I managed to get through it without having a panic attack. Ever after that, I always lay awake until everyone else had gone to bed, then feeling safe at last, would haul the blankets over my head and sleep peacefully.
I outgrew the fear of the dark while in my room, but the fear of the darkling shadows outside still hold me in a cold grip. Our home is surrounded by woods and at times they lay deep in snowy shadows. I avoid them at night. Just after we first moved here, it was getting dark and I had taken Mindy, our blind dog, out for her last romp of the day. She and her cats had wandered down to the wood line and I stood under the security light (I didn’t name it that, the power company did), and watched them. Suddenly I saw the cats stop and sniff the air, noses pointed up, then Mindy did the same thing. As one, the dog and the five cats turned and started to run towards the house. My mind froze momentarily and then when it came back to me, I saw all the monsters that could possibly inhabit the imagination lurking in the wood in front of me. I turned and ran like hell, in fact I got up a pretty good speed for someone who walks with a cane, and the cats and the dog passed me. I refused to turn around and look behind me. My breath was coming in gasps as my feet made purchase on the porch steps and I ran straight into Mac’s arms.
His face was perplexed and all I could do was start laughing. I was so glad to be the winner in this weird game of “ally ally oxen-free” that all I could do was grasp Mac’s shirt front and laugh hysterically. I think I may have been crying, as well. What had the cats and the dog sensed in the woods? Coyotes probably, perfectly natural. No wraiths floated out to grab at my running feet, no monsters emerged from a dark lair. I’ll never find out, either. I don’t get far from the porch at night. Any dog walking is done by Mac. He’s not afraid of anything.
— Sandi McBride is a resident of Jefferson, who blogs regularly and enjoys her garden and her furry and feathered friends. She is a wife and mother of two sons.