There are still places in Wayne County where the line is thin between modern man and...
Callie stood stock-still.
Ears up and nose twitching, she stared intently into the inky darkness at some terror invisible to human eyes.
I should have noticed sooner that something was up. Callie usually trots enthusiastically ahead of me when we walk.
This time, though, she'd pulled up short and refused to go any further. Whether I liked it or not, an adventure had begun.
My little dog and I are a lot alike. Ever since we first met at Dessin, I could tell we were destined to become fast friends.
We both love to go on long walks, no matter what the weather.
Callie is also a night owl like me. She dozes on her blanket while I work, but jumps up the minute I shut down the iPad or close my book. She bounds over to the door with tail wagging furiously.
“Come on, Kevin!” she seems to be saying. “One last walk before bed?”
Most of the time, I'm just too tired for a midnight jaunt down Charles Street and she reluctantly follows me upstairs.
Once in awhile, though, I'm too wired to sleep right away. So, I grab Callie's leash and the two of us head out into the dark.
This is one such night.
On Our Way
White Mills isn't exactly a remote outpost of modern civilization.
We have electricity and running water. Heck, there are even street lights planted at regular intervals to guide us along Charles Street.
However, if you walk away from the village and toward Long Ridge Road … well, things can get pretty spooky the further up you go.
On this particular night, I'd let Callie lead the way and she was a dog on a mission. The sky was overcast, blotting out the moon and stars, leaving us enveloped in darkness.
The only sounds, other than my sneakers and Callie's snuffling, were a gently murmuring creek and chirping crickets.
Had I been paying more attention to our walk rather than staring down at my iPhone, I might have noticed that we'd wandered further from home than usual.
By the time I looked up, though, Callie had stopped short and was staring into the woods.
We had unwittingly stumbled upon a mystical place … a nexus where the deepest past meets our harried present. I stood with my feet firmly planted on the asphalt road, peering intently into the trees.
Something was there.
At the Boundary
Loren Eiseley, one of my all-time favorite authors, wrote poetically about spots like this … boundaries between now and then:
“Man literally ends here. Beyond lies something morosely violent, of which we have no knowledge, or of which it might be better said that we have an eagerness to forget.
“For lurking in this domain is still the nature that created us: the nature of ringing ice fields, of choked forests and of thunders.
“It is the unpredictable nature of the time before the gods, before man had laid hold upon any powers with his mind. It is a season of helplessness that stirs our submerged memories and that causes us to turn back at twilight to the safe road and the lights of town.”
As it turned out, Eiseley's words were perfectly-suited to our situation.
Callie began growling, a deep guttural, primitive sound I've never heard her make before or since.
The fur on her back stood up, her tail went down and she slowly retreated … eventually hiding behind me and peeking out from around my legs.
By now, I could sense movement and hear something coming toward us through the underbrush.
Callie was in full freak-out mode now, straining at her leash and barking at the shadow that was slowly emerging from the treeline.
There, not 20 feet away from where we stood on the road, appeared a huge black bear. He paused for just a moment … long enough to size us up and decide we were no threat … then turned his shaggy head and ambled down the road.
Callie and I watched as he stopped to sniff a garbage can, then continued at a leisurely pace around the bend and out of sight.
He never looked back.
After another minute or so, my little dog relaxed and looked up at me. My pulse was still racing and my voice a bit shaky.
“You okay, girl?” I whispered hoarsely.
She just wagged her tail in response, as if to say: “I'm fine, human. But you look like crap!”
Light and darkness still play crucial roles in our post-modern age.
They are metaphors for all that humans have been and may one day become.
There is the light we can now generate at will, having unlocked the secrets of electricity; but, there is also another more ancient light … one that emanates from our souls.
Loren Eiseley calls it, “that strange inner light which has come from no man knows where, and which was not made by us.
“It has followed us all the way from the age of ice, from the dark borders of the ancient forest into which our footprints vanish.
“Man may grow until he towers to the skies, but without this light he is nothing, and his place is nothing. Even as we try to deny the light, we know that it has made us, and what we are without it remains meaningless.
“We have come a long road up from the darkness, and it well may be ... so brief, even so, is the human story ... that viewed in the light of history, we are still uncouth barbarians.”
The boundary between these two worlds … that which separates day and night, past and present … is a simultaneously fascinating and scary place.
There are monsters lurking there in the shadows, but some of those monsters are responsible for driving humans forward along the path toward illumination.
On this particular night, one of those “monsters” drove Callie and me back down Charles Street … out of the darkness and into the light of my living room.
There, we sat side-by-side on the couch and pondered our unexpected experience at “the boundary.”