December 12, 2002

Down the Slippery Slope

A pitiful true story of a man brought to his knees by the icy fingers of the White Witch. In three parts, for those with short attention spans, reading blogs at work.

Not a snow for frolicking, this one. There is a sharp, brittle crust on a half foot of dry powder so that each step is like walking on an endless eggshell. At the last instant before stepping out with the right, the left foot sinks suddenly through the white veneer into an icy pit, and conversely with the other foot, step by ponderous step across the yard and pasture. The road is not much better. Scraped, packed, melted, refrozen and rutted, it threatens harm to auto and foot traveler alike. But this slickeryness is nothing compared to the worst-case ice storm a few years back that almost got me for good. I almost died laughing.

It was just me and the cat in those days. Ann stayed in Carolina to finish her degree, and I moved into a small cabin tacked on the side of a dead-end road. Walnut Knob is a peninsula of blue ridge-lets that are surrounded on all sides by steep valley leading off way below into the piedmont. The views and wildlife were spectacular. There were 17 dwellings on this road; only three were occupied over winter. Mine was one of them. The isolation was made more profound by the week-long fogs that singled out these particular high hills, especially in winter. I would often drive 12 of the 13 miles home in 'good' conditions, only to turn down the knob road on the edge of what my neighbor called 'the droppin'-off place' into an other-worldly microclimate. Sometimes this was exciting and mysterious, making me feel special, honored. Other times, it seemed like a curse and a punishment.

Almost dark, I groped along in four-wheel-drive from one fence post to the next, operating within the visible range of my headlights. Stay in the center of the road; don't brake suddenly or change direction any more than necessary. Get as close to the cabin as you can before abandoning ship. This was my mantra and I was repeating it out loud to give me courage. The hill and curve beyond Max's house were just ahead. If I could make it up that one rise, maybe I would get the truck and me home in one piece. At least the freezing rain had stopped for now. There was a good inch of ice on the wire of the pasture fence that was my only guide in the frozen fog. It would have been beautiful if the adrenalin had not obliterated every shred of aesthetic care I'd ever had. At that moment, beauty was the farthest thing from my mind.

Posted by fred1st at December 12, 2002 05:41 AM

Do you think that part of winter's beauty is its danger, perhaps? I love those unearthly winter fogs, or blinding winter white-outs, for example . . . but respect their danger, as well. They make me feel the potential for my own mortality more sharply, which always then makes me feel more alive. During the winter I sometimes mourn the paucity of the English language when it comes to snow and ice, and various combinations thereof. You've done such a beautiful job with this here. The Inuit have the vocabulary to cover these nuances. Does having a lack of names/words for things end up making us less observant, do you think?

Posted by: Artichoke Heart at December 12, 2002 10:59 AM

Snow is beautiful AND dangerous...that's what adds to the beauty. It's a delicate balance.

I believe that most beauty is always coupled with danger.

Posted by: Da Goddess at December 12, 2002 02:08 PM

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