To Build a Fire. The Old Man and the Sea. The Bear. My Drive Home from Work Tuesday Night.
My humble addition to the canon of Man v. Nature stories was a harrowing three-hour drive in ice and snow. Ordinarily, this would be nothing to 21st-century Man in his Honda Fit, for the roads are plowed and the salt potent, even on the hills of this country.
But this storm, like the Perfect Storm, timed itself, well, perfectly. So that when I realized I needed to leave work in Westchester at 4:43 in order to ever get home, the snainy snow was falling earnestly, meaningfully, literarily, on the living and the dead alike, as it were, so anyway I got in the car.
Long story short (and short story a favorite of English teachers), the roads sucked. The Taconic was bad, Route 6 and the Bear Mountain Parkway worse. I stopped twice to clear clotted ice from my windshield wipers (and for M&Ms, because they now have a kind with peanut butter in them, yum). The traffic circle at the foot of the Goat Trail resembled Cocytus -- except that, working my way up from there, it only got worse.
But it wasn't until I had navigated those treacherous cliffs at a crawl, then descended again like an old man on a greased staircase, then crossed the bridge and another traffic circle and headed up into the taller hills, past the last motel, that it got truly ugly. On this stretch my wheels spun on the uphill slopes and, had I not come to a complete stop at the top of each rise in order to creep down the next slope in first and second gear, I could easily have careened downward out of control. Fishtailing and kept in line only by judicious use of the gas to keep the wheels grabbing, I was also contending with -- get this -- traffic, since a bunch of other idiots live up here too. And they of course drive SUVs and have a higher tolerance for the careening. There were a couple of points where clusters of cars had marooned on the side of the road, or in the road, and only those of us following ever-fainter wheel ruts could still find purchase. We passed them in a guilty line, unable to stop and lend a hand because what hand? Thus we kept going until overtaken by a plow. Even then, following the plow down the steepest hill amidst the ghosts of old crashes, locked into a sudden herd of minivans and four-wheel-drive vehicles, lanes completely invisible, everyone drifting a little off-kilter now and then, it was touch and go till we descended from the Highlands.
Later, I laid the flimsy nylon tarpaulin of Man upon the automobile against the ice that would form that night. Ice coated every twig. Water ran from my hat brim. Grainy fluzzard fell hissing, and as I stopped to listen there was music in it.