Threats in the Dark

Many of us city folk have developed a heightened sense of awareness as a first line of self defense against physical attacks. When getting out of my car at the grocery store, I always do a quick scan around me to see if anyone is lingering between other cars, and casually survey my surroundings until I enter the store. When I return to my car, I always lock the doors as soon as I get in rather than wait for automatic locks to kick in once I start driving. I always keep my doors locked when I’m at home.

It’s strange that I didn’t develop that awareness until I moved from the Dallas/Ft. Worth area that had a combined population of almost 5 million to a small metro area in Louisiana with about 250,000 people. In our city, the good and bad neighborhoods have a much closer proximity. Carjackings, robberies and home invasions were not something we heard about in our safe Dallas area suburb, but they are common in our present city. Within a couple of years, I obtained my concealed carry license and learned about situational awareness being the first line of defense.

Now, when I go to stay at my in-laws camp on Cane River in a very rural part of Louisiana, you would think that situational awareness was not that important. And you’d be right, except that it’s a hard habit to break and it takes other forms. Water moccasins, raccoons, armadillos, foxes, bobcats, coyotes and alligators all live here, too, and though most of them don’t show themselves until night time, I always make sure that the fallen branch I’m about to pick up is in fact a branch and not a snake.

Speaking of night time: I’m at the advanced stage of life where sleep becomes difficult. Usually in bed by 9:00 PM, I rarely sleep past 4:30 AM and often arise before then. At Cane River, I ease downstairs, brew the coffee and head for the outdoor kitchen, flashlight in hand. Before opening the glass paned door, I shine the flashlight through it, inspecting right and left to make sure I’m not going to step on any creatures. As I proceed down the steps, I sweep the beam across the yard to warn the armadillos that I’m coming out. Last week I saw one hurtling at a jerky 0.0005 mph from one group of hedges to another. It’s not that I’m afraid of them, I just want to prevent having to change my underwear if I stumble over one in the dark.

Sometimes these precautions have an unintended effect. Yesterday morning, I opened the door and gasped when something scurried across the porch. That scurrying something was my flashlight beam glinting off the glass. Another morning, I walked outside without the benefit of my flashlight and jumped when I saw the shadow of a creature to my right. It was my shadow cast by the full moon. Last week as I walked down the sidewalk connecting the house to the kitchen, something jumped into my path. I leapt straight up and stamped both feet loudly on the concrete to scare a frog away, only to cause the unseen doves perched in the birch tree above me to crash through the branches to escape the giant loon below them. “Nyah!”, I yelled out.

I love the solitude when I’m at the camp alone. With the exception of nightly phone calls with my wife, exchanging waves or an occasional conversation with the neighbors is all the personal contact I have. I feel perfectly at peace and perfectly safe here. I do bring my firearm because I’ve read In Cold Blood, and the sheriff is at least 20 minutes away. I’ve never felt the least bit threatened here, but it’s best to be prepared.

The side of the house facing the river consists of a bank of large windows, affording a beautiful view of pecan trees, lilies, elephant ears and the tranquil water shimmering behind it all. One night a couple of weeks ago, I was seated at the dining table in the house, watching a Breaking Bad episode on my laptop. I noticed a couple of bass boats trolling the bank of the river, their green and red navigation lights signaling their locations.

It’s not uncommon to see night fisherman work the banks after dark, but these two boats didn’t just pass by and move on. They trolled back and forth along the camp’s property, and I had seen one of the boats the night before (a distinctive row of green lights wrapped around its perimeter.). I felt a little uneasy knowing that they could see me in the lighted house from their dark positions so I dimmed the lights while I continued watching the show.

When the episode ended, the next one began playing. Exhausted from a day in the sun, I shut my laptop, made sure all four doors were locked and killed the lights completely. Still seeing the boats, I remembered that my in-laws had told me they felt like any burglary threats would probably arrive by boat since it would be harder for neighbors to spot intruders than if they arrived by the road. With the house secured, I shook off the thought and headed upstairs to bed.

I had been reading in bed for about 15 minutes when I heard a brief loud buzzing noise downstairs. Then a door slammed. I sat up, rigid with alarm. Voices, two or more, speaking casually. Quiet, followed by more talking. 911, call 911. No. The sheriff is at least 20 minutes away. I retrieved my flashlight and my handgun from my kit and, heart pounding, crept to the top of the stairs. I could still hear subdued voices but nothing else. I descended a few steps, flipped on my flashlight and saw no one. No doors busted, no damage. A voice, a familiar voice, within 10 feet of me, but no one was there.

Then I realized that an electronic sprite had awakened my laptop and started playing the next episode of Breaking Bad, the lid still closed. Laughing with relief, I opened the damned thing and closed the browser, ensuring that the threat was terminated.

Situational awareness – too much of a good thing?