It’s still snowing. If you were living in Point Barrow, Alaska, this constant snowfall wouldn’t be surprising, but on a downstate Illinois farm, these weather conditions were unusual to say the least.
No, wrong again. Point Barrow never had this much snowfall in a two week period. The temperature there is too cold for any sustained blizzard. Wait, that’s misleading. It isn’t a blizzard at all. The snowfall is gentle and beautiful. The pine trees edging the road would make a great Christmas card photo, if you had anyone to send it to.
It seemed a good idea to live isolated from humanity—a mile and a half to the closest neighbor, twelve miles to the nearest small town and forty-five miles to any resemblance to a bastion of humanity. That’ll teach you to be rereading Emerson and Thoreau. “Get back in touch with nature,” and “Live simply,” are good philosophical tenets, but not so good for practical guidelines for living. Even Thoreau was only a short path from civilization, having visitors almost daily.
You enjoy the solitude . . . at first, for about ten days, until restlessness sets in, until you start talking to yourself and answering, until you need some help when your car slides off the road into the ditch.
Part of the cabin’s appeal was being the last house at the end of this road, but that means also, the last one to get plowed out. You’ve got enough food to last another month if you don’t overeat, which usually isn’t a problem, but during the day there is not much to do, but overeat. You’ve got to be smart and not gobble up all your vittles, as grandma used to say, in more innocent times. That would be cause to panic.
No. Panicking is what did you the last time and the time before that. This time it’s going to be different. It’s not such a bad situation. You’ve got a cord and a half of wood on the porch, maybe a month’s worth of food.
It’s getting colder, not a day above freezing for at least a month.
But the snow is beautiful, floating gently down, glistening on the trees, giving a kind of pale blue sheen to the acres of the harvested corn fields. You can’t even see the chopped off corn plants any more. Even the tallest ones are covered. Some drifts cover the top of the fence posts.
You might be living in Antarctica except there are no penguins around. Some penguins would be nice, cavorting around the field, popping out of the pond to land standing on their feet. You can’t help but be happy to see those little guys waddling around or sliding on their bellies. It sure would break up the tedium.
When the snow reached three feet, the Post Office lady called to apologize for not being able to get the mail through and promised that they’d deliver it as soon as possible. Quite a change from the big city. On the other hand, so much for the “neither rain, nor sleet nor snow” business. Not that there ever was anything but bills and advertisements.
Occasionally, some of those ad models looked familiar, like some girl you knew or at least recognized from a class, or more likely from some bar. No big deal. It’s not like you were some big ladies man or something.
Calling to check on your neighbor would be the friendly thing to do, asking how he’s doing and so on, but since you never talked to him before, what would be the point? As far as that goes, he could call on yours truly if he wanted to. Aren’t you supposed to welcome new people to the neighborhood? He was probably mad that this “outsider” encroached on his privacy, and besides, what kind of kook would choose to live way out here in the boonies? Some kind of hermit? A misanthrope? He’s probably a creep. A friendly visit? Not gonna happen.
Wind’s picked up. Can’t even see the road, just a total white out. Getting dark in here, better turn on some lights.
What? Great, just what you need –no power. At least there’s no problem with the food in the refrigerator defrosting; just put it out on the porch. For sure, nobody will be making any house calls at this hour, so no sense calling Ameren till morning, but you do anyway and get a friendly voice on a non-user-friendly menu. Leave a message. Maybe that’ll move you higher on the priority list.
You might as well call it a day. Tomorrow’s got to be better. Plenty of blankets and a soft bed, you can’t ask for more than that.
Next morning seemed a bit chilly, but that’s to be expected with the power off. Might be a good idea to bring some of that firewood in just in case. Damn door won’t open. Looking out the window, you can see it’s still snowing, and the wind has got some good drifts building, maybe three and a half feet tall up against the door.
Better call someone, but who? Finally, 911 seems to be the logical choice. A very nice, but tired sounding, apologetic lady eventually answers, but “because you are safe in your house, we’ll get to you as soon as we can, but it won’t be today or probably not even tomorrow.” You leave your phone on, as she suggests, just in case.
The snow seems to be coming down heavier. You seem to remember reading somewhere that snow can act as insulation. Let’s hope so. You don’t have a lot of wood left inside, but decide to build a small fire, not only to warm the place, but to roast some hot dogs. Not a great meal, but it tastes pretty good with some potato chips. It’s almost like going back in time and having a picnic in the back yard. A little warmth in the belly makes everything seem more optimistic. Funny how food, no matter how simple, can make you feel better.
Next two or three days are much the same. The snow has covered the windows, so you can’t tell if it’s still snowing or even if it’s day or night. Without any way to charge it, the cell phone died. It seemed like a good idea at the time to leave it on, but now it’s dead.
There’s no more wood, but while rummaging around, you find a table grill or maybe it’s a hibachi, and some charcoal way back in the bottom of one of the kitchen cabinet drawers. It must have belonged to the last inhabitants, and they didn’t think it was worth hauling to their new house, or maybe their kids when they were divvying up all their parents’ worldly possessions, decided none of them wanted it.
A good omen for the lonely guy stuck in the old cabin?
You’ve been saving a steak for a special occasion. Now seems about as special as it was going to get. You load the grill with charcoal, fire it up and look forward to a real feast. Half an hour later the Café de Snowbound serves up the special of the house, steak and potato chips, even presented in a sexy, smoky atmosphere, kind of like a nightclub. Throw in a few dancing girls and it would be heaven.
That grill poured out a surprising amount of heat. Just a few more briquettes makes it almost cozy. You know the feeling how when a full meal makes you drowsy, there’s nothing better to do than climb under the covers and rest.
You’re still feeling so sublime the next morning, it doesn’t even seem cold. Lying there inert, at peace with the world, staring at the ceiling seems to be the most attractive option for the rest of the day’s activities. People have spent the rest of their lives doing worse.
Later, when the rescue squad finally comes, you just ignore them, smiling enigmatically and don’t even give ‘em hell for being so late. DSS
Gordon Petry, 72, of Pekin, IL. teaches English at Bradley University in Peoria, IL. He has been a high school and junior high English Teacher, a tennis coach, choir director and accompanist, and taught creative writing at the federal prison in Pekin. He has six grandchildren.
What a fascinating story!Snowbound in the 21st century. Keep Downstate Story publishing stories like these by donating here.