Thursday, October 29, 2015

The walking dead? Or raccoons?

Riding through the woods this time of year, it's easy to understand how this part of the fall got to be associated with ghosts and the restless dead. The sun rises late and sets early, but the trees still have most of their leaves until late in October. The darkness in the forest is more absolute than at the middle of winter.

As darkness deepens, the landscape dies more and more. Skeletal tree crowns rise above obscuring foliage on lower branches and smaller saplings. The leaves come off from the top down, giving the smaller plants some bonus photosynthesis time. Everything doesn't just blaze up and fall off in a day or two. Meanwhile, animals are still foraging. You will hear all sorts of footfalls in the dry leaves below the trunks and branches beginning to show like the bones of a decomposing body.

Imagine going through this time of year with no artificial light except a burning branch or a flickering candle. It's weird enough with a powerful LED headlight. Whatever your light source, it is only a patch in front of you. If you are walking, your own footsteps make other sounds harder to hear. Riding, you have the crunch of leaves beneath your tires and wind noise over your ears. Other sounds filter through. Or did you imagine them?

Last year, a bit later than this, I had stopped to attend to something, and heard a pack of coyotes start howling back and forth. They weren't really close, but they were close enough to suggest that they could come sniffing around pretty easily if I hung around too long.

I'm in more danger from skunks than zombies. I have also almost run into deer crossing the path. The modern mind can dismiss the myths and legends of phantoms and monsters. But the creepy feeling doesn't give up easily. You can substitute serial killers, rabid animals or hungry predators, any of which could take advantage of the privacy of the autumn night. Popular entertainment and gruesome news provide plenty of inspiration.


Steve A said...

And, in the longer night - bats!

John said...

Also beware of the killer rabbits. =)

NHcycler said...

Some sounds are real! Earlier this century, during a return commute on a moonless night, I turned onto the home stretch beside a large field. I was relaxed and feeling good. My guard was down. The only sounds being my tires, my breathing, and a sudden CLACK CLACK CLACK of hooves trotting behind me!

My barely adequate halogen light was mounted on the handlebars shining foreward, so I couldn't see if this was Bambi or her rabid uncle. I don't know how many watts I poured onto the drivetrain, but I'm sure it's a PR to this day!

I agree that's it not difficult to imagine some peasant centuries ago believing in spirits in the night forest. I stop sometimes at a large pond to look up at the stars, the trees faintly creaking as the wind blows throught the branches.

Yokota Fritz said...

Walking (or biking) through the woods at dusk is always fun. The wind rustling the leaves adds the right amount of spookiness. And around here, mountain lions are on the prowl at twilight!

cafiend said...

People like to claim there are mountain lions around here, too, but there has been no official acceptance of that. It must raise a few more hairs to know that it's definitely possible.