Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Deliverance! Like the movie but with a happy ending (it happens sometimes).

When I was in the Fourth Grade or so I remember reading the fiction, or fairytale part of my reading book, about this little comic character who wanted to get up a mountain; and he's given two ways to get up it: the shortest or the fastest. He is told the fastest way is to go around and around and up the mountain gradually, but he doesn't believe it and thinks the shortest way, straight up, will be quickest. Of course he was sorry later after trying to get up the mountain that way--that was the lesson and the moral of the story.  So it was for me too, a moral and a lesson, after I changed my GPS navigation setting from "Quickest" to "Shortest"and headed home after visiting my daughter and grandchildren. I expected miles and miles of lovely roads through the beautiful Maine countryside and a quick arrival home. I was so wrong.

Of course it started out that way. Road led to road through the beautiful Maine countryside. I paid no attention to the little signs crossing town lines, I was too busy admiring the fields and trees and sky; and I had no idea what town I was in, I simply turned right or left as my GPS dictated. It said I'd be home in about an hour and a quarter and I believed it. It was just then, when I was feeling happiest, thinking how much fun it was seeing this particular part of Maine that I'd never seen before, that it happened. Not all at once of course,  but almost.

"Turn right on such and such road" it said, so I prepared to turn. No road, however, appeared on the right that I could see, just unmarked dirt roads. (It couldn't mean those could it?) Thinking I'd missed the road somehow (for I am very nearsighted) I continued on.

"Turn right on Wheeler Rd. and then turn right in 1.2 miles," it said. This time I happily obeyed it because there it was, the sign for Wheeler Rd. on the right.  It was a dirt road and this might have been a warning for some, but did not phase me in the least. Every town in Maine I knew of, and I knew plenty, had its dirt roads and they are all usually navigable, if sometimes a bit bumpy. This one appeared to me nothing different. I could see where it led on up over the little rise and past a farm house on the left, and so on I drove.

 I passed the farmhouse on the left and saw that the road, still broad and level and well graveled, led across his field into the woods, dipping down slightly. A little way into the trees at the edge of the woods, the road began to narrow slightly, but only slightly, and got bumpier. Still not alarmed, and ever the optimist, thinking the small rocks making the road bumpy were bound to be a temporary matter or at least not get worse, on I went. But then it did narrow, considerably! It was just about there I realized the road itself was too narrow for me to turn around in, and even if I wanted to go back I couldn't because I I was too far in! I was so far in, that is to say, that even if I did walk out and ask for help at the farmhouse, how could a tow truck get down in there? These were my thoughts as I continued along, slowly now, for the gravel had disappeared, the rocks were turning into small boulders and the spaces of clear level road between them were growing fewer and fewer. Yet there were tracks ahead of me made by somebody--somebody had gotten through here, and this thought kept me going, though my optimism was fading fast.

Then I started getting the horrible sound of car frame meeting boulders, no matter what direction I took through the maze of mud and stones ahead. I began to do that thing you do when you know you must keep going or you will get mired--speed up, slow down in what was now an extremely narrow mud-and-boulder road closed in on both sides by dense forest. I couldn't stop, I couldn't go back, I had to keep going. In my mind's eye I saw myself as an eagle might see me far below, a tiny flash of metal which was my Honda Accord passing along an almost invisible thread of a road through a forest which was immense and unending, stretching far out into the distance on all sides. It had turned into a nightmare. I had a cell phone, but if I reached anybody would I be able to say where I was call from? No. I had absolutely no idea where I was, the name of the town, even what it was near. This part of Maine was unknown to me.  Northeast of Lisbon Falls somewhere maybe?  On I lurched, concentrating wholly upon getting through the next ten feet. It took the driving skill I had acquired since 1959 to do that. That came in handy.

When I reached the stream at the bottom of the hill I stopped. I had to, to study the best way across. The stream bed looked just like the road but with water flowing across it, shallow water and the stream not more than ten feet across, those tire tracks leading right across it as though this was no problem. No problem for a four wheel drive vehicle or a truck, which my car was not. I sat there gazing at the way through the stream, how I would go, when I would slow down, when I would speed up, when I would turn and when I would turn again. I rehearsed it over and over in my mind. There was no way even a helicopter could get in here. Finally I did it, I drove into the stream, across it--or rather through it--and to my utter amazement reached the other side. I kept on going of course, not to lose momentum in the mud, saying aloud as I went "please oh please," and started up the hill on the other side. I was aware by now that I was shaking all over. If I could just keep going, and it did not get worse, eventually I would get there, wherever that was, wouldn't I? I hoped for this in a profound sort of way.

And for a while it did not get worse. I got used to the loud banging sound of the bottom of my car hitting small boulders which were just a little too high, and giving the accelerator a shove to make it over them anyway. I got used to the sliding which happened when the depth of the mud put a spin on my tires and made the whole car swerve and lurch in the wrong direction, usually into another rock. I was used to that now and all I could think was to keep going, which I did, slowly climbing the hill, driving across the top and then slowly coming down the other side again, still following the tracks through the mud ahead of the strange super-vehicle which had had obviously no problem at all with this road whatsoever, who had gone before me and left tracks for me to follow. It was just about then that I spotted in the distance--maybe a hundred yards ahead where the road met the level again--a normal dirt road. I was going to make it!

I lurched and banged and swerved along with great hope now, my heart beating wildly, my entire body one with my hands on the wheel, tightly gripped for maybe another fifty yards and then....BANG! This was the one boulder too far, too high, too impervious to anything I could come up with to counter it. The car stopped, I stopped with it. There was no forward or back. This was it. Immediately I got out of the car into ankle deep mud and began walking toward the clear road ahead. Now I just wanted to get some help, though I still could not imagine how a tow vehicle could get up what looked like an abandoned stream bed to my car stranded on it a hundred yards up the road on the hillside.

Within only twenty-five yards or so of picking my way through the mud and stones I came to a well-graveled driveway (it looked heavenly to me) leading back up to the side hill where I could see a building at the top. I walked up to the building, a barn, and it looked empty but I knocked on the door anyway until I was sure no one would come, then headed back down the driveway and kept going on my road (my road) toward the normal sandy road ahead. And just as I got to that sandy road, I saw in the distance a large red truck coming toward me. Oh wonderful! I started waving both my arms and it slowly approached and then stopped. A man was inside and I pointed back toward my car . "I'm stuck!" I exclaimed and started telling him about the GPS.

As soon as I said the word "GPS" he made a face. "Oh no!" he said and then "If it makes you feel any better, you're not the first to get stuck on that road. Don't worry," he said "I"ll take a look at it and see what we can do." He told me he would go up to his barn (that barn was his) and see what he could find to help get me out. He told me, again, not to be worried, that if he hadn't found me, someone else on this road would have. There are good people on this road he assured me. I had no reason, at this point, to think differently. All I needed was one, and I had him already. I was feeling better by the minute..

Did he drive or did he walk to his barn from there? I do not know. This man, my deliverer, was amazing. There was not one moment during the whole time the rescue itself was underway when he was not conscious of my feelings. Twice he expressed regret for the time it was taking him to do something. "Mostly," he said, "I just have to think for a minute." I was agog with the thoughtfulness of this man. One is never too old to be surprised at and appreciate anew how fine some human beings can be. They seem to redeem all the rest.

I walked back to my car and got in and waited. By now my shaking had subsided and I just  sat there, awaiting his return, turning over in my mind all the ideas about providence I had ever encountered, still wondering if a tow truck could reach my car to get it out. I knew if I started reading something I would calm down even more, hopefully something with a complicated or interesting syntax like Proust or Henry James or Moby Dick. I was happy to spy Wolf Hall, lent me by my oldest daughter just yesterday, laying on the back seat. Happily I could just reach it. I had just opened it when my deliverer appeared again, coming out of the bushes down the fern-covered bank from the direction of his barn with a large square of thick cardboard in his hands. Not once did he mention AAA or a tow truck.

He made me try to go forward or backwards. He affirmed it was indeed stuck. He expressed shock and amazement that I had come so far: "You came in from the (blank--forgotten the name) road???" A nod from me. Then realizing his cardboard would be of no help, he told me he'd go to his mom's house and get a chain. He asked me if I had a place on my car to attach a chain and I nodded--but he had to reach down through the muck to find it. Then, in the midst of all this, he pointed to a strange-looking plant and said "Oh! Look at that! I've never seen that before! Do you know what it is?"  No, I told him, but I bet my grandfather could, and mumbled something about my grandfather being a botanist. He went off to get his truck to drive to his mom's house to get his chain.

In the time it took for him to go and return, a lady came by walking up the road toward me with her dog. I saw her appear in the distance, tall and spare with white hair, and I wondered if she was a man or a woman until it became evident--she must have been about my age. She asked me if I needed help and I told her Steve (the man's name) was helping me, and she immediately said "Oh good! He'll help you." And after expressing shock and amazement: "You came in from the (blank--forgotten the name) road???") asked me if I had AAA (no) and why I hadn't turned around? I explained about the slippery slope of the road turning into a stream bed before I had time to, and she went on her way, wishing me well and again expressing optimism about the help I would receive.  I began to read Wolf Hall, but couldn't stay with it, complex as it was, for more than a few moments. Thoughts pervaded my consciousness about providence, what leads us into these situations, what gets us out of them. "The Line" chapter of Moby Dick came to mind, the chapter in which Melville points out that the proximity of death is always with us, like the line in the whale boat whipping along, ready to get wrapped around some rower's foot and whip him overboard to his certain death, even when we are sitting by our firesides, pictures of domestic felicity. The problem, or the reward, depending on how you look at it, of doing a lot of reading of the classics--that is, books about big ideas which have endured for a long, long time--is that you think about them when the line, so to speak, whips by you and you can almost see it. That is to say, when you are almost lost deep in the woods, but then you go on and someone finds you, but you are still not completely out of the woods yet (Can I afford another car?). You think of things like this at moments like this. Or I do.

He came back with his truck and his shovel--or was the shovel in the truck and had he already backed it up that road from the smooth place where he had parked it after returning with his chain from his mom's house? I do not know the sequence now of those events, they grow hazy. I did not ask if he thought I could help. I knew the answer to that and didn't want to bother him with niceties ("No, you sit right there")--I just sat right there and watched him work. He shoveled and shoveled, and pitched rocks, and shoveled again--and once again pointed to the strange plant, wondering what it was. Finally he backed his truck up to within ten feet of my car; he asked me to pop the hood and right away said "Good" when he looked down to where the chain would go-- then I was hopeful. At last the chain was attached and he told me to put on the engine. I asked him if I should put it in neutral and he nodded. I did and once again gripped the wheel.

What ensued was as terrifying as anything I've ever endured. His truck pulled ahead and I was moving again, but this time with no control over the speed, just trying to keep the wheels straight. And yet the car would not stay straight, it bounced from rock to rock (bang! bang! bang!) and up the side of the slippery muddy bank and onto more rocks--bang, bang, bang, bang! And finally, finally, rolled out onto the firm and level gravel road. I was shaking and gasping for breath.

He gave me careful instructions on how to get out to a paved road, I asked him for his address and his email address. I said "I owe you so much," and he said don't send me anything but a card.  I said, thinking of the plant (which even now he was asking me about, wondering if it would survive if he tried to transplant it) and my grandfather's books, "I know what I will send you." I said  said this latter confidently, said good-bye and thank you once again, and drove off. A mile or so later I found the paved road he had directed me to, and I thought I followed his directions well, but I must not have because, with my GPS on again (this time set on "quickest," not "shortest"), I once again came to another dirt road!

Has anyone ever read George Quackenbush's wonderful story Henry's Awful Mistake? (http://www.amazon.com/Henrys-Awful-Mistake-Robert-Quackenbush/dp/1563832755) It's about a duck who sees an ant in this kitchen and tries to get rid of it and ends up destroying his whole house in the process. At the end he sees another ant. This time Henry looks the other way, and that is the end. When I saw that dirt road I did what Henry did, I turned right around and stayed on the paved and wide way until my GPS told me how to get out on the highway. It is a good thing I am well read.

The next morning I woke up with flashbacks--I was in my car and all I could hear and feel was the terrible sound of car frame meeting granite, again and again and again..............But I took my car to the garage and believe it or not, nothing was broken. Just a whole piece of the bumper was broken off, to remind me that it had happened at all.

Deliverance, despite what some movies suggest, can have happy endings. But whether this is due to providence, the result of the random workings of the Universe trying to recover equilibrium, or angels disguised as regular human being with mothers, I can't say with certainly.  I'd argue in a second for the latter though.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Mary! What an ordeal! I'm so happy you were delivered from peril by such a kind person. It gives one hope for humanity, no?