ONE TIME IN A BLIZZARD
I walked through a blizzard once.
It was a big one. Maybe the biggest I ever saw. Blinding, falling, blowing, drifting. Hellacious snow, choking and stopping everything, bringing down wires and communities, freezing the Northeast in its tracks.
It was a big one.
And it came on a work day. On a day when it took three-quarters of an hour to shovel a path out the driveway and into the road. A day of shoulder-high drifts and numbing cold.
It was a big one.
And on my fifth try I got the van into the road, crosswise, bottomed out in the snow. But with some pushing and shoveling and rocking it slid sideways off the crown of the street and got traction in the ruts of the last vehicle to pass.
And up Main Street I went, not stopping for lights on the deserted road, building up speed on the downhill to plow through the snow at the bottom. It was hard going across the flats to the expressway but I broke trail and got up the ramp and nursed it faster and faster to gain momentum for the big climb out of the valley.
It’s funny, at a time like that, speed saves you and speed kills you. If you give it too much gas, pushing through maybe a foot of snow atop the Interstate hard pack, you lose traction and slide off into the median or the shoulder. But if you don’t give it enough, the plowing holds you back and bleeds your momentum and you come to a halt, halfway up some hill in the middle of the road in the blizzard to end all blizzards.
So you nurse it. And you pray. A constant “Please, help me. Please, help me.” You swing the wheel coolly when it starts to slide and you ease the gas slightly when it starts to spin.
It’s really hard. And you don’t notice at the time how tightly you’re gripping the wheel, how badly you’re wishing the windshield wipers wouldn’t cake up, how desperately you want to make it to the top of this hill.
And somehow you do it.
At least I did it.
Past the cars and the trucks slid off and drifted over, beyond where the tracks ended and where the only cues were topography and memory.
And I kept on driving. I turned the defroster on high and bent down to peer through the semi-circle where the blowing, caking snow was melting as it fell.
It was two hours like that.
Maybe 10 miles an hour, trying to gently skirt drifts across the road, or to at least strike them where they were thinnest, repeatedly spinning 30 or 45 or 90 degrees out of true, steering out of them and nursing the gas pedal and pushing on.
I passed a highway plow in the ditch, and two sheriff’s cars, and the various motorists and truckers of the night. Each had lost the fight, each had slid out of control, each had become the genesis of a new drift that stretched on the leeward side another car length or two or three.
The snow got me in Avon. There was too much of it and not enough momentum and the van settled to a stop with snow to the middle of the grill.
I couldn’t see much through the van’s windows. They clouded up and frosted up and it got cold. And I knew that turning the engine on would just fill me up with gas and make something that was merely frightening truly dangerous.
It was an old van, about a dozen years then, and I’d taken the back seats out to make room for my gear. Skiing gear and hiking gear and hunting gear. It was all back there. And I thought about what to do.
And I knew I couldn’t go back, and I didn’t want to stay there, and the only way out was forward. So I stripped off my office clothes and put on some thermals and an insulated coverall and pulled knit caps over my head and laced up my hunting boots and put mittens over gloves and pushed the passenger door open against the drift.
And I stepped out, up to my hind end, into the snow.
And the howl and the cold and the wind that took your breath away.
And I began to walk, to wade almost, stepping over drifts when I could, plowing through when I had to, looking for areas where it had blown shallow and stopping at underpasses to get out of the wind.
People yelled at me to get in, to come out of the cold, that it was dangerous and foolhardy. But I didn’t stop. I kept walking. And I stopped at trapped cars, to see if everyone was OK, and a few times I borrowed cell phones to call into work.
It was very tiring, and my legs and lungs burned and the snow built up on my brows and encrusted my mustache. The snow came and went and came again, and in the high areas scrubbed by the wind I trotted to build my body temperature and at the bridge over the Thruway I stopped to look in shock at the scores of cars in each direction, snowed in and trapped, their drivers running the engines for minutes at a time to stave off the cold and charge the battery to listen to the radio.
It took about five hours to get into town and climb up a ramp and wave down a passing state trooper. He took me back to the substation and we got warmed up and then he drove me as best he could the rest of the way to work.
I had come 40 miles, about 12 of them on foot. I did it because I had to. Because it was the only way. Because it was my job, because it was my duty, because I wanted to see if I could. Because I knew I couldn’t give up or quit.
I walked through a blizzard once.
And I may have to do it again. And so may you. There are storms scattered savagely through life, blowing and chilling and disrupting, and it falls to each of us to push through the best we can.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012