Probably the most legendary figure ever associated with logic and emotional control was Mr. Spock, from the original episodes of Star Trek. But of course, he was a Vulcan/human hybrid so what would you expect? Next on the logic scale are software developers, engineers and….biologists. But even those with a background in biology can harbor a phobia or two. Just ask Carina Port. Though she’s now an editor for California Waterfowl Association, she has a Bachelor of Science degree in wildlife, fish and conservation biology from the University of California-Davis. And it was while doing field research that she rediscovered her childhood fear of the dark.
Growing up on a farm, Carina frequently had chores to do after the sun went down, and often felt creeped out in the dark. As an adult, Carina feels a “heightened awareness” that something is present and may jump out at her. Her sixth sense is more animal related versus ghosts, zombies or live, scary people.
Carina Port loves being outdoors during the day, but not so much at night.
“I know it’s completely illogical. I’m a wildlife biologist. But I feel sometimes that something is about to happen. I find myself listening for footsteps.”
After her sophomore year in college, Carina began conducting spotted owl research, which required driving out to the forest in the middle of the night. While the other students reveled in the darkness, Carina would keep her hand on the car, ready to open the door and leap in at a moment’s notice. Fortunately, the spotted owl research didn’t require her to stray too far, so she was allowed to keep her phobia a secret.
After graduation, she started working on a project tracking flying squirrels via radio telemetry, which required hiking up to a mile in the dark. Alone. As Carina put it, she “psyched herself out numerous times.” She experienced rapid breathing and admits she had never felt that kind of fear before. While this was uncommon for a wildlife biologist, Carina took a risk and approached her bosses and co-workers for advice. Their solution was perfect - allow a friend to accompany Carina on her rounds.
The first night they went out, the team was full of bravado - until they heard terrible moaning and yelling sounds coming from the woods. “We both went into super logical mode,” Carina said. “We talked about it. The first time we heard it, it was far away, so we convinced ourselves it was a bird.”
The second time they heard it, it was much closer, only about 50 yards off the road. This time they decided it must be a fox.
Just to be safe, though, the women piled into the truck and drove up and down the road with lights on and horn blaring. When they got back home, an internet search revealed they had heard a female mountain lion in heat. One of Carina’s co-workers had encountered a mountain lion a week earlier, and she, too, was feeling less brave about tracking flying squirrels in the dark. Thus, she joined Carina and her friend on the next mission, but this time they were armed with bear spray and Maglites.
As the trio conducted their first round of radio telemetry, Carina shined her light into what she said looked like a round face. Feeling instant fear, she covered it up by calmly asking “Did you see that? Maybe it was an owl.”
They took a break before making their second round. Carina’s co-worker headed off to one spot and Carina and her friend took off for another. Minutes later, her co-worker radioed, asking in a panicky voice for Carina to come back to her location.
Knowing instinctively what she would find, Carina pulled herself together on the walk back. And sure enough, a mountain lion was crouched behind a bush five feet off the road.
The women quickly agreed on a plan. They gathered in a circle with their backs to each other and puffed out their jackets to make themselves look big. Then they started making a lot of low-pitched noises. After doing this “pretending to be a monster in the forest” routine for several minutes, the big cat jumped up and disappeared.
While on the surface, it sounds like problem solved. In reality, all it meant was they didn’t know where the mountain lion was anymore. So they had to shuffle back to their truck, still in covey formation, like some goofy characters in a TV sitcom. When they finally got inside the vehicle, they burst out laughing. Once the tension was released, though, they rode back in silence, each woman contemplating what could have happened.
Today, Carina wouldn’t call herself 100 percent cured, though a stint living on an island off Sierra Leone in West Africa helped her come to terms with the dangers of that situation. She said she’ll probably never be able to go stargazing alone, though she does enjoy going backpacking ….with her friends.