There was just me and the cat that year, living alone in a cabin on Walnut Knob. Only two of the dozen homes beyond ours were occupied over winter. The isolation was profound and ominous when fog roosted against the Blue Ridge for weeks on end. And with the fog in winter came the ice. There was one evil ice storm I remember especially—a day when the White Witch almost claimed me for good.
It was nearly dark that ice-foggy January afternoon. I groped along the icy road toward home in four-wheel-drive, creeping along from one fence post to the next as each came into view in the dim frozen mist. “Stay in the center of the road; don’t brake or change direction suddenly. Get as close to the cabin as you can before abandoning ship” I repeated aloud to boost my courage. At least the freezing rain had stopped. Already a good inch of ice coated the wire of the pasture fence beside the road—my only visible guide toward home in the white fog.
Then all the tension melted away like an April snow as the truck slid sideways like a inebriated ice skater to the edge of my driveway. I let go my death-grip on the steering wheel and breathed a prolonged sigh of relief, thanking a merciful God for the angels in ice cleats who had managed to keep me out of two miles of frozen ditch. Already I was thinking about the big crock-pot of vegetable soup waiting for me inside the dark, cold little cabin. I could imagine the salty fragrance; I could almost feel the soothing heat radiating from the woodstove and see myself inside, curled up, warm cat in lap, contentedly watching Seinfeld. I was home! But it turned out that I was more than an hour away yet, with miles to go before I slept.
I eased my city shoes onto the glassy driveway, and, holding onto the truck door, was able to stand while I tucked my briefcase under one arm, a sack of groceries from Farmers Foods under the other. I turned to kick the door closed with my foot in habitual fashion, and about here is where the story began to go, well, down hill. I had parked at the top of the drive where my intended path would take me a level fifty feet to the porch steps. The other ice-covered lane descended steeply down the north-facing slope a hundred feet to the garden.
Alas, the inertia as I kicked the door shut combined with the icy absence of friction sent me sprawling backwards, spread-eagle on the ice, to my horror trending in the direction of the road less traveled, downhill, toward the garden, and I was utterly and completely helpless. I might as well have had my skeleton removed (like Gary Larsen’s boneless chickens) so futile were my efforts to rise even to my hands and knees. I lay their motionless. Think brain, think. If I began to slide farther downhill at this point, I would most certainly build momentum along the garden path until I came to a jolting stop jack-knifed around or straddling a fence post.
Each attempt to stand only drew me inches closer to the point of no return. Resistance was futile. In the end, I reasoned that, like the drunk found uninjured asleep in the mangled car who escaped death by virtue of his highly relaxed condition, I must relinquish control and let gravity and fate carry me where they would—a sledding bug on the icy windshield of life.
Will our human bobsled ever be united with his warm cat and salty soup? Will his wife drive up from Carolina the following weekend and find Fred an object of frozen yard art? Tune in again next time for the final installment of “The Slippery Slope of Winter.”By Fred First [email protected]