"Did you see that?" I ask softly. The flashlight in my daughter's hand has caught a pair of sparkling diamonds in the dark forest. She shivers and the light bounces just in time for us to see an owl take wing.
"Whoo," he says as he floats quietly away.
"You. That's who!" my daughter says with a laugh and then listens as her voice echoes back in the frosty air. It is autumn camp time with the Brownies, cabin No. 4.
It's past 9 p.m., and we are taking the walk to the latrine. Wearing shoes on cold feet, and fluffy Pj's with sleeping kittens on them, I don't think we are much of a threat to the owl and the other eyes that are just out of flashlight reach.
The ground crackles and snaps underfoot. Frost has covered the leaves, making them slick, so we try to walk carefully. But the sounds and the imagination of a noncamping mother and her 7-year-old daughter make us go faster.
Why do they have to build the outhouses so far away?
Crack! We hear something in the bushes and it stops us in our tracks. I go over in my mind the animals that are known to live in this part of British Columbia. I go over the possibilities, trying to guess what size creature could have made such a loud crack.
Cougars? (But shouldn't they be sleeping by now? Or are they nocturnal?)
Bears? (If so, why aren't they starting to hibernate like normal bears? Maybe this year's weather has been too good.)
Raccoons? (I've seem them grow pretty big in the city.)
Wolves? (Could there be wolves on the island?)
Wolverines? (Now we're getting ridiculous.)
Wolves have yellow eyes that to me seem magical and mysterious. It's a look of wildness that can never be captured. How I wish for the familiar eyes of Kali, our German shepherd at home. She would be able to see what was out there and protect us. But no, dogs are not allowed at camp, just scared adults and kids in funny pajamas.
Crack! Again we shine our flashlights into the woods. The cracks are starting to come closer and become more rhythmic. We hold our breath.
Suddenly there is a bobbing single eye in the distance. Up and down it goes like a deranged cyclops. The noises – the cracks and clumps – come closer.
I pull my daughter close and check the ground for a weapon. Somehow, sticks for roasting hot dogs just don't cut it.
Suddenly the eye disappears. With our flashlight, we search the woods for it.
"Hello?" a voice whispers from the dark.
"Hello?" I whisper back quietly, and then I clear my throat and try again. "Who's there?"
"It's me. Angie," a small voice says as the eye reappears and comes closer. "I got lost on the way back from the bathroom. Can I stay with you?"
"Sure you can, Angie," says my daughter and takes her by the hand as I take the "white eye" (her flashlight with very weak batteries) from her and give her mine.
"Don't be scared," my daughter whispers as I lead the way. "After all, my mom is here. She knows all about the woods."
I wait outside the outhouse and smile as the girls giggle and make lights appear through the cracks on the wooden doors.
Later, maybe we'll shine the light on the sleepers in cabin No. 6, who told us all those scary stories tonight about monsters, and give them a scare.
I stand alone in the darkness of this cold and frosty evening and realize that to the girls, I am someone who is "here" who can be relied upon to make sense of those eyes that shine in the night. I am strong. I am invincible. I am a mom!
Now, as long as that other flashlight doesn't give out on the way back.