All the snow we got this week brought back a memory of a time, long ago, when I lived in a state much farther north than Texas. I think I must have been nineteen at the time. It was my first cold winter in six years (five years in Africa and one year in the south). There were very cold temperatures and there was lots of snow.
To one who had been living in the tropics, the snow was magically beautiful. I wanted to photograph it, to catch its pristine loveliness. The problem was that I lived in the city, where nothing was pristine for more than a few minutes. I hatched a plan. I would venture forth on the night of the next full moon, with my camera and tripod, and I would find some lovely rural spot and take some enchanting photos of snow.
A problem arose when it became clear that I would not have access to a vehicle on the night I had chosen. My friend, “Sarah,” came to my rescue and offered to drive me out into the country in her car. Sarah was a couple of years older than me, had already graduated from college and was working in our town. We had quite a bit in common and she was the best friend I had locally at that time.
I was so excited about my nocturnal expedition. I made a batch of “full moon” cookies and iced them with blue icing. I made a big thermos of hot chai. I had my camera and tripod ready and all the warm clothing I owned. The temperature outside was hovering at 3°F.
Sarah picked me up and we drove rather aimlessly up into the countryside. The deep snow was breathtakingly beautiful. We turned on to a rural road and Sarah told me to just tell her to stop when I found a vista I wanted to photograph. We reached a picturesque spot with a farmhouse off in the distance on the left and fenced fields punctuated by clumps of trees on the right. It was exquisite. I asked her to stop so I could take pictures, and she obligingly pulled over.
The moment she pulled to the side of the road, my side of the car sank suddenly and deeply into the snow. She had pulled over into a ditch which was invisible under all the snow. She tried to pull out and back onto the snow-covered road, but she had no traction and the wheels just spun merrily without going anywhere.
At this point our excursion took an ugly turn. I saw it as an adventure. Sarah saw it as a catastrophe. She was in full freak-out mode, which I frankly found puzzling. “We’ll just walk to the farmhouse and call my dad,” I explained. “He can come tow us out of the ditch and we’ll be fine.” (This was long before cell phones were a thing.)
“We don’t know those people in the farmhouse!” she all but shrieked. “For all we know, they might be murderers! They might not let us in! They might not have a phone!”
“Well, there’s one way to find out,” I said. “If you don’t want to come with me you can stay here and have some chai and cookies.”
“Don’t you dare leave me here by myself! If you’re going, I’m going!”
We set off down the deserted road. I brought my camera because it was my most valued possession and besides, I could take some photos on the way. Sarah was grim and mostly silent, except when she was chastising me for not taking our situation seriously enough. We had our scarves over our mouths and noses to keep them warm.
The snow crunched under our feet as we turned to walk up the long driveway. It was a beautiful evening. After pulling our scarves down around our necks so as not to be seen as a threat, we knocked (well, I knocked) on the farmhouse door and it was eventually answered by a very prim elderly lady, who was no doubt wondering how there could be anyone at the door when she hadn’t heard a car.
I explained our predicament, much to the lady’s amazement, and asked if we could use her phone to call my dad. She let us in, a little reluctantly, and led me to the phone in the kitchen. The house was scrupulously clean and painfully tidy. There was not so much as a speck of dust anywhere. The man of the house was sitting bolt upright in a plain wooden chair. There was no upholstered furniture to be seen, or any other sign of comfort.
I called home and talked to my mother, who assured me that my dad would be on the way to rescue us as soon as he got out of the bath. I told her exactly where we were so that he’d be able to find us. I was elated that everything was going to work out, and I thought Sarah would be as thrilled as I was to hear that my dad was coming. Instead, she seemed just as unhappy as before.
Our hostess offered us a hot drink, which Sarah instantly refused–no doubt for fear it might be poisoned. The lady asked what we were doing out in the country at night and was clearly dumbfounded when I told her that I had come to take pictures of the snow and the full moon. I don’t think she had any folder in her brain in which to file this piece of information.
She offered to let us stay in the nice warm house while waiting for my dad, since it would be a minimum of 45 minutes before we could expect him to arrive. I suggested to Sarah that she could stay in the house and I would go on outside and take my pictures, since that was the whole point of the excursion in the first place. Nope. No way was she willing to stay in the house with those scary farm people.
She followed me out the door and down the driveway in the frigid night air. When we got back to the car, she climbed inside and slammed the door. I climbed into the back seat to avoid making the other side sink down even deeper. Once again I offered blue moon cookies and hot tea to my friend, but I was met with a wall of rage. I could not understand why she was so angry. Help was on the way!
I got my tripod and set up in the middle of the road. It’s not like there was any other traffic. I would work until my hands were numb, and then climb back in the car for a few swallows of tea while my fingers thawed. Each time I tried to reassure Sarah and cheer her up, and each time I was summarily rebuffed.
Shortly after I ran out of film (remember film?) my dad arrived. He attached a tow strap and pulled us out of the ditch with ease. Then he detached the strap and we followed him slowly back to town. Now, I thought, now that everything had turned out splendidly, Sarah would be relieved and happy.
No. There was no happy. There was continuing, volcanic rage which was directed at me. Until that evening, I would not have thought she was even capable of such deep and bitter anger. I was so baffled. I tried to reason with her by pointing out how our prayers for help had been answered so wonderfully. We had got stuck within easy walking distance of a house with a phone. The owners of the house were decent and generous people. My dad had been at home, willing and able to come to our rescue. None of this comforted my friend. She kept saying things like, “But what if the people hadn’t been nice? What if your dad couldn’t come?”
This response was nonsensical to me. If those things had happened, we would have had to make a new plan, obviously, but they hadn’t happened. In my mind, the trip had been a rousing success. Not only had I achieved my goal of taking photos of snow in the moonlight, but I had had an adventure as well! Sarah was particularly bitter about the fact that I had just gone ahead and taken photos after we got stuck. Apparently she would have preferred for me to freak out and abandon the whole reason for being where we were.
I gave up trying to dilute her fury and lapsed into silence, trying to enjoy what remained of our snowy drive. We arrived at my house and I thanked a very taut Sarah before getting out.
I thought that after she had a day or two to think about it, she would realize that there was nothing to be mad about and that our moonlit excursion had actually been a success. In years to come we would laugh about how mad she was that night.
Not a chance, my friends. The one time I brought up the subject of that night, I was hit by an explosion of rage that almost shriveled my soul. We did remain friends, but the subject of that cold snowy night was off limits for all time. I think each of us thought a little less of the other as a result of that experience, though. She thought less of me because I hadn’t taken our predicament seriously enough; and I remain baffled to this day by her reaction. In my mind, she took our predicament far too seriously.
So, what is my point? Well, my point is that I think flexibility is a really good thing. It is one of the character traits that I admire most and aspire to having. I like to think that I am pretty flexible. When I suffer a setback, I like to think that I just see it as a challenge along the way to success. I am ashamed of the times that I have allowed circumstances to get me down, because almost invariably, I am able to change the plan and things have worked out in the end.
By the way, my photos didn’t turn out nearly as well as I had hoped, but I kept them as a souvenir of that very memorable evening!
I am no longer in touch with Sarah, but sometimes I wonder about her. I hope she has been able to become more flexible and to meet challenges with resourcefulness instead of panic. I wonder if she ever thinks of that bone-chilling moonlit night and wishes she had reacted differently. I guess I’ll never know.