I went for a walk in the woods recently, accompanied by a little girl. When we crossed from the broad, sunny field into dappled darkness, she reached up to take my hand.
“Be careful now,” she said. “These woods are spooky.” I looked around at the tall, swaying trees, the low undergrowth. There was a crack of fellow travelers behind us, a bird crying above.
“What’s spooky about them?” I asked. She leaned in to whisper.
“The leaves,” she said, pointing. “Spooky leaves.” I peered at them.
“Spikey leaves,” I said. “Spooky-spikey leaves.”
“That’s a good word,” she said solemnly. We continued walking, and she told me about the other dangers here.
“Bears,” she said. “Foxes really, but also bears.”
“Are there fairies here?” She’d found fairies in the field that we’d just left, chasing small white moths through the tall grasses and crying “Tiny fairies! I love you!” She’d asked if she could keep them, saying “I want to take them home and make them love me and fly all around my room.”
Now, however, the mood was quite different, and I’d got it wrong.
“Shhh,” she said, reminding me of my cues. “Be quiet or the bears will hear you. It’s night and they get up after dinner, not in the morning, so we must be careful at night. Don’t worry really though, they’re tiny bears who are sleeping up,” she pointed high into the trees, “sleeping up on their leaves. The big ones sleep on empty tree trunks. Mama Bears whisper shhh to their baby bears asleep on the leaves.”
Much later on the walk, after the bell for dinner rang out from the main house and woke up all the bears, one very large bear chased the girl all the way home. The little girl laughed as she ran, kicking up fallen leaves behind her, and the bear had a growl suspiciously like mine.