I went on a hike today with a friend of mine in the Angeles Forest. We spent a little too long at the falls and during the hike back the sun fell down behind the mountains and it got dark. It’s an odd thing hiking after dusk. It’s dark out, but not so dark that you cannot see. Shadows drift into one another and all those odd shapes and funny looking stumps and trees and plants suddenly take on a different tone. If you have a flashlight the beams bounce around and create movement when there is none. I don’t mind walking around at midnight. By then it’s so dark that you don’t bother thinking about what’s beyond a hundred yards from you since you can’t see more than ten feet. At dusk the animals of the day are moving around and preparing to sleep and the animals of the night are moving around and preparing to start their own day. It’s an active time. And I think that’s why it makes it so scary. That transition. The warmth and visibility of the day is fast receding and you can feel–not just see–the arrival of the night. It’s given me the creeps my entire life.
I remember staying at my friend’s place in the mountains just outside of Park City, Utah when I was in middle school. He lived way up there. In the winter you had to take a snowmobile just to get to the house. Well, I was staying there and we decided to ride our bikes the ten or so miles down the steep dirt road. His parents were supposed to come back from some show soon so we imagined they’d be able to give us a ride back. Well, we did the ride and then we waited at the bottom of the hill. His parents never showed up. The sun began to set and we started making the trek back up. I don’t know what triggered it. I’m not sure who caved first. But I do know when it happened–when we both started to freak out. It was at that same time. Near the end of dusk, just when it began to set in that we were going to be in the mountains at night. Cody started crying and being really quite worried about mountain lions (not an unreasonable fear.) We stopped and we cried together and then somehow we got our asses moving. His parents never did show up, but another resident up there in the mountains did and he did us the honor of taking us and our bikes back home.
I was watching “Home Alone” the other night. The aspect I enjoyed the most this time around was the recurring motif of childhood fears. Daniel Stern is afraid of spiders. Everyone is afraid of the old man. Hell, even the old man is afraid of seeing his family again. But my favorite? Kevin imagining that the radiator is somehow a semi-sentient monster. The movie is really good at capturing those fears and joys and emotions that transcend our age, from childhood to adulthood. It’s one reason I love it. Kevin never goes on a hike in the woods after dark, but that feeling I had today? It wasn’t much different from when he sees the radiator chomping its bits. You know it’s not real. You know you’re alright. But, hell, somehow you’re just scared anyway.