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A Winter's Tale

Sheet ice, summer tires and a glimpse of a state of grace.

January 15, 2006|Rick Bass | Rick Bass is a novelist and essayist who lives in Yaak, Mont.

In a little while, I know, Elizabeth will come driving back down, worried, and will see where my tracks leave the road and vanish over the edge, and will be further worried, perhaps even alarmed, and so I start back up the slope so I can get to the upper road before that happens. The tracks, the plowed up furrows of black earth and stone, are already being covered up, so heavily is the snow falling, but all over the hillside I'm finding various Ziploc bags and pots and pans for the dish I'd intended to cook.

How fiercely we cling to the mundane, how stubbornly we grasp at ritual and routine. Like some hillside berry harvester, I pause, trying to gather the spilled accouterments--the bag of smashed Roma tomatoes, which were meant to be diced anyway, and the avocados--and I search in vain for my $20 spatula, casting up and down the hill for it and going back to the truck to search for it, all to no avail. And when Elizabeth comes creeping back down the hill in her truck, peering over the edge to see me climbing back up, that is the first thing I say to her: "I'm OK, but I can't find the damn spatula."

It's snowing so hard that if I don't find it quickly, it'll be buried until March or April, and so I take a flashlight from Elizabeth's truck and once more canvass the cliff, though again with no luck.

I ascend the hill one last time, climb into her nice warm truck, safe, and we drive home, through swirling snow.

The girls ask if I'm OK.

"I wouldn't have gone up that hill if y'all had been in the truck," I tell them. "We'd have walked up."

"You're sure you're OK?" they ask.

"Absolutely," I tell them. "Just fine."

But they're quiet all the way home, thinking things over, even if I'm not, quite yet.

In the morning, after we drop off the girls at school, Elizabeth takes me back to the cliff. The truck is still there--the great hulk of the Doug fir has not decided, in the middle of the night, to release it, like an angler, perhaps, turning a caught fish back into the river--though because of all the snow that has fallen, it appears at first that the truck has vanished, that it is no different from any of the other hillside boulders.

I'm worried that we might have to saw down that magnificent tree to get the truck out. I don't see how any engine of man can pull it back up over the cliff, and am thinking a little lane or path may need to be cut through the woods, for a distance of 50 or 60 feet, to reach the little river road farther below that is my neighbor's driveway. I've already called Chuck, have asked if he can take a look at the situation and come up with any ideas--Chuck has both a snowplow and a backhoe and does much of the valley's heavy work.

Elizabeth heads back home, and I walk down the snowy drive to Chuck's. The roads are icier than ever, which last night I would not have thought was possible, and several times, even in the simple act of walking, walking on flat and level ground, I slip and fall so hard that I bounce, hit so hard that my teeth are jarred--it's a bad time of year for vertebrae--and yet I keep getting up cheerfully, the residue of my luck from the night before still so fully upon me that I feel light and unburdened, almost untouchable. The snowy world around me seems to be vested with the full potential of its almost unbearable and overwhelming beauty. Unless it is only my imagination, other people I encounter on this day after, friends, seem to be feeling or witnessing this same little revelation, as if it did not have to be any of them who leapt from the plunging truck and was saved, but that merely knowing of the story is enough to remind them of that larger beauty.

Chuck greets me in his tool yard. "I looked at it this morning," he says. "We can get it out. There's a lot of different options we can try, a lot to choose from, but we can get it out. It just might take awhile." He tells me that he had planned to drive over the mountain to go to town today--to put studded tires on his own truck, in fact, in addition to other chores and jobs and errands--but that, what the heck, he's running late anyway, so it won't hurt to put it off another day: a Yaakish kind of logic that makes perfect sense to me.

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