By E.J. Evans
I was living with my girlfriend Laurie in a little house in the Town of Danby, a rural area about 10 miles south of Ithaca, New York. I woke to a gray morning, snowing heavily. I had to leave for work but I wasn’t too concerned about the snow, because I drove a 4-wheel-drive Toyota pickup and like many pickup-driving men I loved my truck and had a certain amount of macho confidence in my truck’s ability to handle any kind of road conditions. Overconfidence, as it turned out.
It was that kind of very light, fluffy snow that is like tiny wisps of cotton sifting down through the air, beautiful to look at but treacherous because it can make the roads extremely slippery. I pulled out of our driveway and onto West Jersey Hill Road. After about 50 yards this road goes down a long hill and then dips down into a deep gulley as it makes a big turn to the left and then goes up out of the gulley and up a farther hill. I was in general a very cautious and alert winter driver and I imagined that I was skilled at driving in snow. As I reached the top of this hill and started down the long incline, I very carefully and lightly touched my foot to the brakes in order to slow my descent into the gulley. As soon as my foot touched the brake, instantly the truck went into a slide. It became like a sled on a snowy hillside, one which I had little control over. It picked up speed as it slid down the hill. I tried to stay calm and steer the truck as best I could as it slid but my attempts at steering had little effect. I thought, “Well OK then, here I am sliding down this hill.” Gravity had taken over completely. The truck slid down to the bottom of the gulley where the road took a sharp turn to the left. The truck, now completely out of my control, swung into a graceful turn to the left, spun about another half-turn and then careened off of the road into the ditch on the left side of the road, just beyond the turn at the bottom. I sat there after the truck came to a stop, feeling remarkably calm and somewhat awed by the experience. I sat and looked through the windshield at the hill with the snowy road that I had just slid down. There was a kind of beauty to it. Wow, isn’t nature something? I thought. The mysterious elegance of it, how everything balances. Gravity. The conservation of momentum. Potential energy turning into kinetic energy and vice versa.
I got out of the truck and started walking back up the hill in the direction I had come. The road was slick with snow and I had to choose my steps with care. There was no wind. The sky was gray and silent and the air was filled with tiny delicate flakes. I pulled out my cellphone and tried to call Laurie. The cellphone reception was spotty out there in the country. She answered the call but she couldn’t hear me when I spoke. I ended the call and tried calling again. Same problem. I tried a third time and it still didn’t work. I could tell the third time she answered the phone that she was getting angry.
I gave up trying to call and just walked up the hill, toward our house. I wasn’t in a hurry and I felt unusually peaceful. I stopped and looked up and saw the billions of snowflakes coming down. I listened for any sounds in the surrounding woods but everything was silent. There were hedges of bare honeysuckles lining the road, and beyond those were fields of deep snow and then hills dotted with farmhouses and silos, all spread out under a low sky of pale gray. I listened more deeply into the silence. I wanted to hear the silence, to draw it deeply into my self. Standing there I had a vision of my own life as a unified whole. Though it had been a life of many failures and blunders, it seemed to me then that there was something subtly wonderful about it all. I had come so far, through so much, through so many years, to be there, with my boots on that snowy road, feeling rooted to the earth, standing and listening to the silent woods.
I continued my walk up the hill, and when I finally got back to the house I tried to tell Laurie what had happened, about the accident. For some reason she was angry with me. I was trying to understand why but her anger made no sense to me. Her anger was like a thick heavy curtain I was unable to see through. I looked up the number of a towing service in the phone book and called them and arranged to have them come and tow my truck out of the ditch. Then I said bye to Laurie and walked back out to meet the towing service guys at the bottom of the hill.
E. J. Evans is a poet and essayist living in Cazenovia, New York. His work has been published in Confrontation, Poetry East, The Midwest Quarterly, Hazmat Lit Review, and other literary journals. He is currently at work on a book of autobiographical essays.