Wild Words . . . Photos & Fine Art

Co-creating by heart with sandy cathcart through writers helps and art info, focusing on all things wild.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

My first example of courage

I had my first remembered example of courage when I was nine years old. Here’s a rendering of it from my upcoming book, “Wild Women.”

When I was nine years old, traveling with my father in the dark of night over the backroads of Northern California, I had my first encounter with a mountain lion. The color of its fur was as black as the inside of an abandoned well. Dad called it a panther. But there were no panthers in our area, or so we were told. It was about the size of a full-grown man. It fell off the side of the mountain and landed right in front of our truck. My dog and best friend, Nipper, went wild with barking and lunged at the windshield. Dad barely stopped our old pickup before nearly running into the lion.

“Stay in the truck, Sandra,” he said.

He didn’t have to ask twice.

With Nipper barking frantically in my ear, I watched as Dad squeezed out of the truck, closed the door with a snap, and walked to the crumpled black form made easy to see by our headlights.

Panther. Just the sound of the word on my tongue conjured up horrifying stories of young children being dragged from their beds into the jungle. It didn’t take much imagination to envision the panther grabbing Dad and dragging him into the thick forest, leaving Nipper and me alone. I wasn’t sure which was worse—to see Dad taken off by a crazed panther, or to be left alone to face Bigfoot, because one thing I was sure of was that Bigfoot would come, and Nipper was no match for him.

Dad had just passed the left headlight, making a big shadow spread across the road, when the panther sprang to its feet and took off over the side of the mountain. I never saw Dad move so fast. He was around the truck and back in the driver’s seat before the panther’s tail disappeared. Nipper jumped in my lap, pawing at the window and barking madly.
Dad and I talked of little else for days. Everyone thought we were crazy.

“There are no panthers in our woods!” neighbors kept insisting.

But it was hard for them to argue when Dad pointed me out as an eyewitness. I reveled in my high standing for as long as I could, and I never forgot how brave my father was, getting out of the truck like that on a seldom traveled rural road to check on that mountain lion.

I decided right then and there that I wanted to have that same kind of courage in my life—the courage to have firmness of mind in the face of fear, danger, and difficulty. I suspect there are varying degrees of courage, but we’ll talk more about that tomorrow.


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