I was traveling with my two children through lonely, rolling hills on I70W when my car developed a problem which would lead us into grave danger. We were enjoying the scenic ride on this beautiful Sunday until my temperature gauge showed that the engine kept running hot. I didn’t see any water leaking when I stopped, so the radiator was all right. I wanted to keep it that way. I’m not a mechanic but the symptoms screamed, “Thermostat!” Climbing through the hills increased the problem. I had to pull off the road every few miles or so to lift the hood and let the engine cool down. The traffic was light and at times even non-existent. Those who did pass us whenever we were off the side of the road didn’t stop to help this young woman with 2 small children. Frustrated, disappointed, and getting more than a little concerned, I had no choice but to keep going until I could find help. There were few exits but I took every one; looking for an open gas station with a mechanic who would know what the problem was, correct it, and get us happily back on the road. Every station we found was either closed or had no mechanic available. It took us 6 hours to go 20 miles! What had started out as a beautiful day was becoming an increasingly difficult hardship for us all and leading us into peril.
The temperature gauge shot up once again as we topped yet another hill and my tears threatened as I pulled over and got out of the car to lift the hood. The kids were getting at least as tired of this as I was and though they were warned each time to remain in the car until I was done and could then give them my attention, my daughter got out to stretch her legs. I was too tired and frustrated to correct her. I had just lifted the hood and set its holding rod in place when my son started yelling. His voice was nearly an incomprehensible screech. My daughter was leaning against the side of the car by her door and looked over at him, ready to play the parent as all older children do, when she saw why he was crying out. I had quickly stepped out from under the hood to see what was happening.
“Mom, it’s a big cat!” she exclaimed as she lifted her arm and pointed towards the embankment behind our car.
“It’s a Cougar!” my son yelled, his voice ringing in panic, “A mountain lion!”
“Get in the car, now!” I quietly but firmly ordered her as I stepped around the bumper and carefully inched towards my door.
She hesitated and looked back at me, her eyes wide and mouth open in a startled “O” as I glared at her and jerked my head at the car. She scrambled in and slammed her door. Why do kids always have to slam the doors? Raising my finger to my lips to silence the children, I was quite surprised and relieved when they did as they were told!
The Cougar had come slowly down the embankment towards us and was now stepping out from behind the car and onto the road, not ten feet from me. He was huge, fully muscled, and wild. My heart lurched into my throat, stopped, and then slammed with hard, staccato beats in my chest as I quickly looked at the distance he was from me, and I to my door. I felt as if I were moving in very slow motion as I tried to get to safety, then stopped, fearing he would pounce on me at any moment if I moved any closer to him. He lifted his large head and silently opened his mouth. His great fangs glistened threateningly. I wondered abstractly if he was getting my scent as house cats do through their mouths. All thoughts then disappeared as I felt his power and I shuddered in terror; paralyzed and helpless as he moved stealthily towards me.
“Oh God, please save my children! Defend us!” My mind screamed in babbling prayers as terrible images flooded through. “Oh Jesus, don’t let my children see me killed!”
The mountain lion seemed to look past me for a moment and stopped, one great paw still raised for the next step. With a deep throated growl, he laid his ears back and closed his mouth. He turned his fierce, yellow eyes upon me and locked mine in their depth. I blinked in shock as we seemed to share in one heartbeat, a deep awareness of each other. The moment passed and I drew a deep, shuddering breath, only to hold it again as he began to move.
To my surprise, he began to walk away, ambling across the road and seeming to give me a wide berth even as his smoldering eyes remained locked with mine. I dared not break that contact. I could feel the tension of my body, the tingling of my blood flowing, and hear the sharp, short intake of my breathing. My senses were sharpened and on alert though all life seemed suspended, frozen in these few moments as I watched him leaving. He stopped when he reached the far embankment and proudly lifted his head towards me. With a sharp hiss and a growl that seemed more of a scream as he showed his fangs, he gave a mighty leap and gracefully bounded up and over the hill to disappear from sight. I waited unmoving and fearing his return for what seemed an hour but was in truth likely only minutes, still suspended in the horror of what might have been.
The sounds of life around me slowly penetrated my consciousness and I heard my children crying softly. Reality seemed to snap back in like a taut rubber band held too long. Releasing my breath with immense relief and deeply grateful, I got into the car and held my children close in trembling arms. We stayed huddled and rocking together for a long time, gently making comforting sounds to each other as our fears and tears slowly abated.
When I pulled back out onto the road a while later, I knew we would be all right. I had no doubts now that we were sheltered and cared for. The world seemed brighter, colors more vibrant, and sounds sweeter than they had ever been before. We were soon singing and playing games again as we resumed the journey, a small family held together with love.
We made it to Columbia and a gas station with a mechanic later that day. It was indeed the thermostat. Such a seemingly small and insignificant part of the car had stopped me and made me see how small and powerless I was. It also helped me to learn that I am never alone.
Was my awareness of life that day sharpened by my encountering such danger, or because I experienced a Power greater than myself which answered my prayers and protected me? What did the Cougar see behind me that made him leave me alone?
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me…” – Psalm 23:4
“Enjoy the Journey” WIP