Monday, August 22, 2011

Driving Home

I went to the Kost Service Center today to buy two new All Season radials for the front end of my Saab 900 only to find the low profile tires I required weren’t in stock. What for a Saab is ever in stock? 

It might have been wise to have placed the order back in October or during that stretch of balmy weather just before Thanksgiving. Only a fool would have chosen to buy tires on a slushy December afternoon during the first real snow fall of the season; only a fool famous for never giving a thought to food until starving or to tires until being dragged from the depths of a roadside ditch. 

The ride home from town was challenging; the interstate, a wind tunnel of corrosive salt brine, battering windshield and wipers, blasted from high pressured nozzles mounted on the backs of speeding semi’s and bulky SUV’s. 


But the historic Great Bend Turnpike, the two hundred year old dirt thoroughfare that winds from the village of Gibson over the hill to our farmhouse greeted me with a glistening sneer and toboggan run sheen unmarred by even the faintest fleck of traction inducing cinder. 

I made it exactly nine tenths of a mile; well within site of the eternally glowing pole light by Grosvenor’s cow barn; no more than 300 feet from the summit, just shy of where the road “Y’s and the right foot leaves the gas peddle and habitually taps the brakes to navigate the flocks of Guinea hens, Banty roosters, goats and sheep that push through broken fences and cross between fallow fields like the starving masses in famine plagued Calcutta. 

So close! 

And then begins the blind, backward slide, the terrifying reversal of fortune witnessed only by the leafless limbs and scarred trunks of ancient sugar maples, dormant as death to my frantic brake-pumping pathos.

A hundred yards down grade I manage a “one-eighty.” A sphincter flexing, do or die maneuver, in which the current of the road sucks the rear end of the auto into the eddy of a driveway as gravity’s momentum swings the car’s front end around like Clooney’s doomed fishing boat in “The Perfect Storm.” I can hear the cheer of the absent crew above the howl of the snowfall’s silence. I feel a momentary rush of relief as my Swedish vessel rights itself and then slumps into a far more dignified slide cushioned now by the pillowy illumination of its headlights. 

Safe at the bottom I choose an alternative route home, Berg Hill. A three mile detour combining State and Township roads, macadam and dirt, with a longer, more gradual ascent past the old Union Hill cemetery. On the last slope, in second gear, my wheels spin at such an incredible RPM that they melt their way through to the gravel and are able to catch just enough surface to inch over the final rise beneath a shower of obscenity enhanced prayer. 

Forty minutes later the phone call I place to the home of our Road-master is my first ever. Leonard is 75 years old. With no pension coming for his 35 years of unblemished service he seems to have grown tired if not bitter from the many snowstorms he's played shepherd to. His response to my inquiry concerning the apparent lack of storm maintenance is blunt.

“Went through with the plow about 4:30. We’ll cinder in the morning.” 

It is now 8pm Saturday night and still snowing. Could I be the only local with tread worn thin? The only mountain man who passed up four-wheel drive for a pair of flurry white adrenaline soaked knuckles? Could there be truth to rumors that dollars spent in un-spread cinders pad the ledger of a secret retirement fund? 

Winter is a bitter pill indeed. 

And every year it comes earlier and stays later. Summer seems little more than a fortifying sprint against the glacial season’s inevitable assault. I talk more and more about moving south. I suppose I’m getting soft or old or both, but the dry skin, head colds, flu shots, firewood, shoveling, plowing and the incredible number of gray, dreary days makes me wonder why one hangs on up here. 

Christmas is the biggest pain in the ass there is. I am repulsed by the hollow ritual of consumer gluttony, the cattle drive to market under the whips of Christmas music and gaudy decorations, the costumed cowboys ringing sleigh bells and begging alms; the shock and awe media blitz that now begins in mid November. 

I don’t ski, skate or snowboard. I don’t snowmobile, deer hunt or ice fish and worse yet, I abhor televised football which is the only non-cable weekend offering for like minded unfortunates relegated to indoor living by our eclectic taste for warm air and ice free seating. 

Reading helps. Certainly there is romantic appeal to the holiday image of yellow lamp light on snow drifted sills, but I can read in heat and I can read in humidity and I can read in the all healing glow of brilliant sunshine with equally unbridled vigor.

And so I boil water and make tea and eye the calendar conscious that for many December holds the holiest of days. It does for me too. Only mine is the Winter Solstice, the annual starter gun in the race away from cold and darkness.

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