An Enchanted Forest

I saw a mouse in the kitchen the other day. Out from underneath a cookie sheet cooling on the stove popped a little furry head. It happened so fast I wasn’t sure what it was. The second time the mouse took a minute to assess its surroundings so I got a good view.

Now, I’ve seen mice before. We feed them to our snake. I’ve taken pictures of them outside. This summer a day camp group found two small Jumping Mice on the side of the trail. We surmised they got flooded out of their home and, with no mom in sight, we took them into our care. In a mouse I’ve seen survival, beauty and helplessness.

However, in the mouse in the kitchen the other day I saw fear and disgust. It took me a few moments for my practical sense to overcome my initial emotional reaction. I had to slow my thoughts down and say to myself, “It’s only a mouse.” “It came inside to get warm and to find food just as you do.” “You can pick this mouse up and put it outside.”

My coworker talks about a line that people draw with nature. That line separates what is comfortable and what is uncomfortable for each individual. And the line is in a different location for each individual. For some people, they want nothing to do with spiders, inside or out. For others, the mere contact with dirt disgusts them. For me, when the mice come inside, they have crossed my line.

Why is it that? How can the same animal in a different situation change my feelings? My simple answer is that a mouse outside is in its rightful place and a mouse next to my food is, well, gross. The same thing happens with light and dark. The same location after the sun goes down or the lights go off can certainly illicit different feelings. A trail that you walk down in the daylight becomes a new place in the dark. Sounds that you could listen to with interest, or completely ignore during the day become spooky and threatening at night.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger.” The sounds and things we can’t see at night are a possible danger to us. What if it is some wild animal? More often I think – What if it is a person who intends harm? The night can be a fearful time for both adults and children. Sight is one of our most powerful senses. Scientists estimate that over 80 percent of our information is processed by our sense of sight. At night much of that sense is taken away because human eyes are designed to work in a well-lit environment.

So, how do we get over our fears? By confronting them, of course. I’m not suggesting you immediately go outside tonight for a walk after dark. You could, but some things we need to ease in to, especially with children. And that pill of fear is much easier to swallow when taken with a little bit of humor and fun. Audubon is hosting an event this fall that allows both kids and adults to experience the woods at night in a safe, nonthreatening, even funny way. Join us on either Friday or Saturday, Oct. 4 or Oct. 5 for Enchanted Forest. This is a non-scary Halloween event where you can join a group, walk the trail lit with luminaries and meet talking animals. These costumed animal actors share some of the interesting facts about their animal life.

Some of the animals featured this year, such as the bat, spider and garter snake may be those that create fear in people. Seeing them in a different way – as a costumed, talking creature may put them in a different light.

To take part in the event you must have prepaid reservations. There are still openings for slots. Tours begin every 10 minutes between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Deadline for registration is Friday, Sept. 27; there will be no ticket sales at the door. To register, call 569-2345 or stop by the nature center. The event takes place rain or shine. This event is made possible by numerous volunteers assisting in both the planning and the day of the event. Bill Colter and Bob Ungerer have been organizing the event for the past eight years. Thank you also to our sponsors: Carroll Rod and Gun Club, Stanton’s Garage, King’s Heating, Z&M Ag and Turf, Busti Cider Mill and Whittier Farms. I am pleased to work for an organization that has such support from the members and businesses in the community.

The question can also be asked – Why overcome our fears? The second definition of fear is “a feeling of respect and wonder for something very powerful.” Being outside at night and visiting with these talking animals may teach you something about the real animals out there. We live in a world full of amazing things that could do with a little more respect and wonder rather than fear. Sometimes we just have work at growing that sense of wonder and minimizing that sense of fear.

Katie is a naturalist at Audubon and has appeared as a talking animal for Enchanted Forest.

Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, just off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The Center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. except Sunday when we open at 1 p.m. The trails are open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Please note this time change and look for details as to why on our website, or call 569-2345.