It is still winter where I live, months after this idea to paddle the Mississippi seeped into my mind as a thing I want to do. There is a good amount of anticipation and enthusiasm about it during daylight hours. At night however, the fear comes when it’s the darkest. It becomes insidious and disturbing, a lot about large spiders, odd-shaped crunchy bugs and crawling things, curled snakes with slapping tongues, all from Indiana Jones. And sometimes it’s about my head in a bear’s mouth or an alligator swimming off with an arm or leg that used to be mine. It could be about any other critter sneaking around my tent, breathing heavy and sniffing for their night food.
Everything scary is oversized, and of course I am very tiny, in my vision of it. I imagine just about anything ravaging the goods in my boat while I sleep or tearing apart the thin nylon walls of my tent to find me inside, bug-eyed and gripping a flashlight toward their woolly face. I envision their surprise when they find me, this lady there shouting in panic, “FRIEND OR FOE!?!” I have thought often about these critters creeping into my camp crunching stones and snapping twigs with their padded feet. No animal would ever naturally answer me, “I’M A FOE!” even if they could talk or had their minds set to do harm to me and my things.
My mind wandering through the Midnight Dreads intensifies to pure shivers like Shaggy Rogers of Scooby-Doo back in 1969. The closet marijuana smoker and cowardly hippie expressed his undeniable fear, just like mine, with “Zoinks!” What might cause my trembles in dark woods along the Mississippi’s riverbanks and sloughs in the night, or on islands surrounded by endless slurping river water, just me there alone with myself? I am hardly sure how these imagined creatures would approach my dark camp, but probably they will come from inside my own head, me simply scaring myself. I wonder, will I really stir up this kind of suspense and trepidation while trying to sleep next to my boat in a pitch-dark solitary place, so many uncountable miles from my house where my family is sleeping? I’m frightened already, right here at home with the lights on! My real hopes are that the disturbances will be Fred, Daphne, and Velma Dinkley and little sister Madelyn
in their colorful cartoon selves, just looking for Scooby.
As for the real furred animals out there, it’s likely they are more afraid of me than I of them. Maybe this is my way of depleting the night-time thoughts before I get out there where, in real time, I will truly find genuine peace.