The Slippery Slope of Winter ~ Part TWO (of 3)


Continued from Part One when our hapless hermit was about to become a sledding bug on the frozen windshield of rural life….

My body consisted of no extra parts or forces beyond tension in my shoulders, strain in white-knuckled fists on the wheel, and anxiety.

But these tensions all melted away like April snow when at last the truck, like a drunken ice skater, careened sideways onto the edge of my driveway. I breathed a prolonged sigh of relief as I sat in place, gathering my wits. 

After this grateful pause, I grabbed up my briefcase and a small bag of groceries. Already I was thinking about the big crockpot of vegetable soup waiting for me inside the dark, cold little shack.

I paused one last time, stirring up my courage, to thank God for the angels in ice crampons that had managed to keep me out of two miles of frozen ditch. But it turned out that I was counting my blessings a bit too soon.

During the drive from Floyd, the doors of the truck had iced shut. I turned sideways in the seat and kicked against the door while awkwardly holding the door handle open with one hand. The door finally crunched and creaked and stiffly opened.

Free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last! I could almost smell the salty fragrance of soup simmering in the crockpot; I could feel the relaxing heat radiating from the soapstone woodstove, and saw me curled up, cat in lap, contentedly watching Seinfeld in a mere half hour!

I grabbed my things and started to the house, and it was at this point that The Bard’s words came to me: “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men Gang aft agley.” I was most certainly ganging agley. And I was going there right quickly and on my ruddy rump in the almost-dark.

The truck had come to rest at the fork of two graveled branches at the top of the driveway; one fork went downhill a hundred feet to the snowy wood beyond the garden. The other was level for fifty feet and ended under the deck at the house. My intention, of course, was to reach the cabin with all haste.

Alas, my feet flew out from under me after perhaps a dozen steps, and thereafter, inertia and freedom from friction quickly deposited myself temporarily motionless and prostrate at the top of the road less traveled–the path down toward the garden and into the forest, dark and deep.

And here, I might as well have had my skeleton removed–like one of Gary Larsen’s boneless chickens. My motions to stand were pitifully pointless, sprawled and writhing there at the top of the driveway. Alone.

I had fallen with my first step and could not purchase a grip to save my life. What was worse was that, if I started to slide downhill at this point, I would most certainly build speed all the way down the garden road, ending up jolting to a sudden nauseating stop, straddling a tree, thereafter singing soprano in the heavenly choir.

The effort of each attempt to come up on my knees just smoothed the ice under me. In the end, I relinquished all intention of control. Like the drunk asleep in the crushed car who escapes injury by virtue of his relaxed condition, I resolved to just go limp and let gravity and fate carry me where they would. A sledding bug on the windshield of life.

My canvas satchel preceded me down the luge run. I had watched it zip past the fruit trees and into the forest as I took my first taste of the ice a few agonizing moments earlier.

It wasn’t long–as you might have anticipated–before I followed the exact same path, thankfully coming to rest without the tree twixt my frozen legs. I had body-surfed on the ice to a stop 100 feet below the cabin.

The sky was barely visible behind the silhouette of trees. Night was falling fast, while the boneless chicken could not find enough traction to do more than founder like a turtle on his back, if you’ll pardon my mixed creaturely metaphors.

Mercifully, I was giddy from fatigue and able to gaze down from up the corner of this scene–the detached and dispassionate watcher. I was able momentarily to see the humor in all of this,. 

I even laughed out loud in a nonchalant, macho, dismissive kind of way. Maybe the cat heard me; there was no one else for miles to hear me laugh–false courage in the face of peril.

Soon, the fading but still corporeal Fred regained full possession of his wet and cold, hungry, slightly bruised body that was undeniably and totally out of control. This was really not so very funny after all, he thought quietly to himself.

… tune in tomorrow for the third and final installment. 

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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