Thursday, October 18, 2012

Unclear and Present Dangers

This past summer I attended a writing conference with my oldest son. He writes as much and probably better than I do, so it was exciting to attend together. He still enjoys my company, although I know there are moments when he wonders how we could be related.  

This particular conference was held in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We were staying with a dear friend who lives in Victor, Idaho, just over the mountain pass from Jackson. Every morning I drove her Ford Expedition over the pass to attend the conference. Early in the evening before dark (the sun sets late in Idaho summers) we drove back to Idaho. 

The pass between Victor and Jackson is a road familiar to me. It is beautiful, steep, and offers a phenomenal view of the Jackson Valley from the top. The Grand Tetons are to your left as you come down in to Jackson and they are breathtaking, as is driving over the pass in general. I have been visiting this friend for 15 years and in that time I have never managed to ride over the pass without some moments of absolute fear. In recent years guard rails were added, which eased some of my fears, but my friend and her husband love to recount the stories of vehicles plunging over the edge of the pass. At one particularly sharp turn which has boulders instead of a guard rail, a potato truck crashed through the boulders and fell to the bottom, scattering potatoes for as far as the eye could see. “Did the driver live?” I asked hopefully. They chuckle and say, “Nope.” 

The runaway truck ramps offer no comfort and neither do my friend’s words when she says, “You’ll be alright. Just don’t use your brakes too much, otherwise you won’t have any left when you get to the bottom.” Easy for her to say. Her other words of advice directed me to not look in my rear view mirror because people tend to tailgate on the pass and it’s unnerving. 

The first morning I confidently climbed up the pass, resolved not to let any late-for-work locals intimidate me in to driving anywhere near the speed limit (50?!!). I pulled in to all the scenic vista spots to let my followers pass. When I reached the top, I flipped the rear view mirror up so I wouldn’t be tempted to watch the cars stack up behind me. There was no need for this since my son delighted in giving me regular updates, “Wow, there’s seven cars behind us now!”   

Each day’s travel became an adventure that we shared together. Instead of keeping his nose in a book, as is his custom, he monitored my progress commenting on how it wasn’t taking as long as it did the first day or laughing with me when we encountered an RV dragging an Expedition of its own and pondered asking for a lift.  

On the last trip back over the mountains, it was dark. We’d meant to leave earlier, but couldn’t drag ourselves away from wonderful new writer friends we’d met. One nice consequence of driving home so late was that there were very few cars on the pass. Still, we led a parade of about four vehicles as we descended into Idaho. I crept slowly around one of the first turns on the far side of the mountain and the truck groaned its way in low gear. Suddenly, we came upon a moose lumbering across the highway in front of us. Actually we came upon a moose’s legs. Moose are much taller up close, built upright like a giraffe. My headlights only illuminated his lower half. I was able to stop and we both held our breath as we waited to see if the cars behind us would find their brakes. 

Not our moose, but we did get a glimpse of this guy while rafting.
The moose halted his progression across the highway, his regal head just five feet in front of the truck’s hood, and regarded us. A moment later we could see headlights making their way up the pass towards us in the opposite lane. I frantically flashed my lights to get their attention and thankfully, the oncoming car also stopped. The moose was still undecided as to whether to continue across in front of me or go back the way he came. He didn’t seem panicked the way a deer would be – flitting back and forth blindly. He stood his ground, watching us expectantly, and when we didn’t move, he slowly turned and ambled back over the guard rail as if his huge feet were clod in snow boots.
We continued our drive down the mountain, only now the cars behind us kept a respectable distance. Arriving safely back at our lodging, we told our hosts of our adventure with the moose and how we had stopped and waited for him. We felt like old pros now, commuting over the mountain like locals. My friend poured me a glass of wine and commented, “Good thing that moose didn’t charge you. That would have really messed up the truck.” What? Who knew? Moose’s charge?  

Brady and I, the last day for the conference
in front of the giant metal Charlie Brown shirt.
(the conference was held at the Jackson Center
for the Arts)
Our moose adventure kind of sums up my efforts to keep my children safe these days. I am careful and attentive to the dangers I know, but there are so many I don’t know about. My kids are moving in a world quite different from the one I grew up in. I do all that I can, but in the end I must trust that they are smart people who will make smart choices. If I’ve done my job well, they won’t need me so much. They’ll sort it out, whether it’s a conflict with a friend, a decision about alcohol, or an encounter with a moose.


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