By Larry Woody, Outdoors Writer

I’ve never been scared of the dark. I’m scared of what might be lurking in it that wants to eat me.

I came across a story awhile back that said a “sizable” percentage of the population is afraid of the dark. There’s even a name a name for it: nyctophobia.

I’ve spent over a half-century prowling the outdoors, sometimes at night, and I’ve had some nervous nocturnal moments.

One year my fishing buddy and I set up camp on the bank of a remote lake in the Canadian wilderness. We noticed trails coming out of the woods and leading down to the lake, but didn’t pay much attention to them as we pitched our tent under some hemlocks.

Photo by Larry Woody
A harmless owl can sound eerie at night.

Beavers, we figured.

Around midnight we were awakened by a loud “woof” outside the tent. Suddenly a big, hairy paw took a swipe at the canvas. Beavers don’t woof and swipe tents. Bears do.

My buddy let out a yelp, the bear let out a grunt, and I grabbed a flashlight and shined it toward the shaggy intruder. The bear went crashing off through the underbrush. Judging from the noise it made, it was a big one.

My buddy and I slept in the truck the rest of the night.

The next morning a ranger dropped by and advised us to move our tent away from the bear trails, and also to stop cleaning fish around the campsite. Either that, he said, or start wearing t-shirts that read “Free Food.”

On another Canadian trip we heard a timber wolf howl nearby. This time we were safe inside a cabin, but it was still eerie. It was a flimsy cabin.

I spent one eventful year sleeping in Southeast Asia jungles in which tigers prowled and cobras slithered. I never saw any of the former, but a squad-mate was struck in the eye by venom spit from one of the latter.

On another patrol we came across a python with the girth of a football.

The cobras and pythons weren’t interested in us. They were after the big red-eyed rats that screeched and scampered over us at night as we huddled under our poncho liners.

The jungle was a scary place after dark.

While those fears of the dark were founded, some were not. One pitch-black night, while camped alongside a trout stream in the East Tennessee mountains, my buddy and I were snapped awake by a spine-tingling scream.

It sounded like Bigfoot with an abscessed tooth. I’d never heard such a horrible shriek.

A few years later I heard it again, this time in my suburban backyard. I stepped out on the deck with a flashlight, and discovered the source: a pint-sized screech owl perched in a tree.

Most of the time when I’ve been jittery at night, it turned out there was nothing to be scared of – just an owl, raccoon or other harmless critter. However, on other dark nights there were cobras, bears, wolves and tigers prowling around.

If Mother Nature had a night-light, I’d sleep with it on.