It was the worst of days. It was the best of days. It was a day of darkness, light, hope, and danger.
It was a day when fear lost out to confidence---in more ways than one.
The U.S. Forest Service defensive driving school got me where I needed to be, both at The Coeur d'Alene Hotel by 10 a.m. and home safely by 4:30 p.m. I've mentioned that defensive driving school in my second book while recounting the story "To ASS-U-ME It's a Wolf."
Defensive driving school back in the early 1970s got my dear friend Chris Moon and me, then survey aides for the F.S. Engineers, to many a dangerous destination within the massive road network of the national forests of Eastern Washington, North Idaho and Western Montana.
We learned not to ASS-U-ME that the narrow, winding logging roads were safe for one moment. We learned to go slowly and to listen out our side windows before rounding a curve with a rock hillside on one side and a deep valley filled with sharp tree tops a long ways down on the other. We listened to make sure that we could not hear a big ol' logging truck rumbling its way off the mountain with a full load, freshly cut from some timber sale.
We learned all the nuances for meeting traffic along the remote roads, for changing tires, for keeping our "vehicle" maintained, and for just plain looking out for the other guy or critter that might just upset the apple cart---or should I say the "rig," as we called it.
While drivng to and from Coeur d'Alene yesterday (both trips taking a few minutes shy of two hours to cover the 45 miles), I could think of only two other times I'd been so fearful of the possibilities of meeting my maker. And I drove defensively every moment.
One instance was several years ago when our journalism students traveled to their national convention in Long Beach. My colleagues, Jack Dyck and Mona Stafford, my husband Bill and I each took responsibility for seven young lives in our respective vans as we zipped down the Los Angeles freeway. It was night and the first time ever for Bill and me to take that route as we left the airport.
No defensive driving school ever prepared me for such a challenge; only the nuns from IHM academy who taught us our "Hail Mary's" and several packs of Juicy Fruit gum for chomping helped me survive every time I got behind the wheel on that trip. My fingers remained in the same arthritic-like curvature for days afterward, and it's amazing the steering wheel stayed attached to the van after dealing with my vise-tight grips.
In the other scary episode, defensive driving techniques were trumped by pure hypnotism. That occurred last this past March, when the most blinding, mesmerizing, unrelenting snow storm kept me in total fear all the way from Spokane Airport where I had picked up Annie late at night. That experience offered no respite from total fear until we finally hit the north end of Sandpoint.
Yesterday offered plenty of reasons to get the heeby jeebies. "Hazardous" is hardly a strong enough adjective to describe a situation with blinding, blowing snow, falling on top of ridges of ice, deceptive clear pavement which is really sneaky black ice, wind shield wipers caked with melting ice, forming constant ripples of moisture across the window.
Let's see, is there anything more besides the fact that Old Lead Foot here seldom moved faster than 35 mph. Maybe I should mention all the flares or the jack-knifed semi or the constant sightings of Idaho State Police.
Anyway, it was a scary drive both ways, but I felt proud to have made it to both destinations safely, thanks to the defensive driving teachers of the '70s.
Maybe it was all the energy invested in my roadway fears that helped the other phobia dissipate. That would be the fear of speaking to all those ladies.
The drive could be the reason I lacked any more energy for being nervous, but I'm willing to bet my calmness had more to do with the audience and the warmth I felt from the minute I walked into the hotel where the book club was gathering.
I have Betty Cheeley, my hostess with the mostess, to thank. I have my former teaching colleague Florine and her friend Caroline to thank, and my former student Maggie and her sister Dee, whom I worked with for years, and my friend Ginny Jensen, mother of two former students, who promised to sit up front and smile.
I also appreciate all the others I met for the first time, who shared commonalities ranging from babysitting Jim Wilund to graduating the same year as I had from the University of Idaho. It was a room filled with a lot of teachers, and they had many wonderful tales to share as we laughed for nearly two hours.
And, my greatest thanks goes to the surprise introducer, Erica Curless. I was telling Bill this morning that Erica is one of a small number of former students with whom I share a striking kinship: our love of horses, Border Collies, cows, impishness, people, story telling and journalism.
It felt magic having Erica there yesterday as we bantered back and forth from beginning to end. I felt so proud of her and so proud to have her by my side.
My thanks to all, who attended the meeting and luncheon yesterday, for every kind gesture or comment that helped me forget the fear and get on with the fun.
It was the worst of days on the road but the best of days spent with the 3 C's Book Club.