A Friday in winter, somewhere around 2006. Early rising, as usual, but today I’m not bringing my son to the bus stop, because in Custer County, no school on Fridays. Back in my old life in Portland, Oregon, I’d never heard of such a thing, but it seems to make sense: four long days of school, and a 3-day weekend. Smart Colorado.
Snow is beginning to drift down from a white sky, but it doesn’t look too threatening. Yet. Time for coffee and oatmeal before awakening my 7-year-old son, who will accompany me today to Candy’s Coffee, where I work as a barista. In winter, my job starts at 7:30 with building a fire in the woodstove. In those days, Candy’s took up the whole building on 2nd Street, and the big lounge, complete with couches, would warm up nicely. People had meetings at the big tables, and solitary folk would arrive with their laptops and stay all day. My son planned to entertain himself with reading, drawing, and playing computer games while I worked.
Snow falls steadily. I wake and feed my child, and then we’re off. Five miles of dirt road to the highway, including Little Bad Hill, which we’ll have to descend — always scarier than climbing. But I have all-wheel-drive and a sturdy Subaru, so I’m confident. Our 3rd winter at 9,100 feet, and you’d think I would be more cautious, as I’ve already had various winter accidents, but I want to be a tough mountain woman, so we get all layered up and leave.
No plowing in Centennial Ranch. I know that, but imagine my Forester is high enough off the ground not to worry. We slog up the hill to where I’ve left the car at the top of the driveway – knowing the forecast and planning ahead — and it’s slow going. In the car, we make very slow progress on the one-lane dirt road. Perhaps I have been over-optimistic, which is not my general approach to life, as a born-and-bred New Yorker.
Just around the bend but before Little Bad Hill, we stop. Can’t move. High-centered cease and desist. The only thing to do is walk back home, which is now less than tempting, with the steady stream of snow covering our boots up to my son’s knees. No phone service. No one anywhere, and the temp is dropping steadily. I carry the backpack with all my son’s things and hold his little, mittened hand as we trudge back toward the cabin, me singing so as to pretend all is well.
At the entry to someone’s driveway, a pickup appears and a man I’ve never seen before says, “Hop in. I saw what happened. I’ll get you to the top of your driveway but I won’t drive down it.” Amazing. We’ve probably only walked an eighth of a mile so far, and it’s another mile to my driveway. I don’t know this gentleman, but I’ve seen the yellow, rust-eaten truck before.
“Thank you so much, Sir.”
We exchange names and his little Toyota drives in the tracks I made to the head of my very long driveway, a hill on which last winter I burned out my manual transmission trying to escape the snow – like a dumb newbie. A very expensive mistake.
We thank him and leave his warm truck. Slowly we descend to the cabin, and I know we are stuck for a long time; I won’t be making it into work today, maybe not tomorrow either. Of course, there’s not enough bars to make a phone call or even text. Fortunately, we have firewood and food and I’ve reserved a kettle of water in case the pipes freeze, as they have every winter thus far.
The first year, I ordered snowshoes and was so excited – never having snowshoed in my life – that I started skipping, carrying my package of bright blue aluminum snowshoes, but there was ice under the snow, and I fell, spraining my ankle. What started with joy ended in pure hassle. Luckily, my babysitter had an automatic transmission Jeep and agreed to exchange vehicles with me until I healed.
That, and the miraculous neighbor in his tiny truck, have made living in this isolated, fantastically beautiful part of the world in winter manageable, in situations that might have turned dangerous.
We are home, at last, building the fire and settling in. A foot of snow, and still, it falls. Magical silence, the smell of cinnamon bubbling from the steamer on the stove. My son is disappointed, because a schoolfriend was supposed to show up at the café for lunch and playing video games afterward.
I clear the table for space to do art projects: today we will try printing with linoleum blocks.
Shortly, I hear a sound outside. I can’t distinguish what it is, at rather close range. What could be that close to our snowed-in home? It’s a horn, honking.
I look out the window and see a giant truck with a plow, which has arrived at my door. Jim, my boss’s husband, to the rescue! When I didn’t show up for work, and didn’t phone, Candy had intuited what had happened, and sent her plow-driving husband to rescue us!
Once again, we suit up and get ready for the day, pile into the huge truck, laughing. My son is thrilled to be able to meet up with his friend after all, and I can’t wait to smell the espresso and make my first latté of the day. Jim has plowed the road so that I can now get in my Subaru and drive to work after all, down the now not-so-scary Little Bad Hill.