Ditch the halls with boughs of folly


Last updated 12/20/2022 at Noon

As a kid, I spent a lot of time watching people get their vehicles out of ditches. I learned the sticky value of mud, the slick potential of black ice, and the inevitable off-road sliding that would come with snow.

Sometimes I was helping. More often I was huddling in my dad’s red truck while he got the job done. There were no cell phones; if you were stuck in a ditch out on Gimpl Hill Road, you were good and stuck. If you wanted help, you’d need to trudge up someone’s snowy driveway and ask to borrow their phone.

They’d usually let you, or they’d come down and help. It was a neighborly process. Folks got to know one another. Someone might offer you a cup of coffee to go with your phone call.

Or my dad would drive by, or a neighbor would call him. There was never any question of not stopping. Of course we stopped. Of course we helped. My dad would get the rope or the chain, do his best to tow them up and out of the ditch.

One time, in a much bigger snowstorm than anyone was used to, a bunch of my disreputable-looking New-Wavey friends and I wandered the streets of nearby Eugene, digging people’s cars out of the snow. Just for fun. Just to help out.

I had cause to think of all this the other night in Camp Sherman. My passenger and I were headed to the Community Hall for the annual Black Butte School Winter Performance in the darkness of evening. It was a beautiful night, sparkling and cold, surrounded by picturesque trees in snow.

There wasn’t anywhere to park — at least for a perpetually barely-on-time or okay-sometimes-a-bit-late reporter from Sisters like yours truly, one largely uninitiated in the secret ways of Camp Sherman.

I was a little flustered by the time I took a left up Tamarack Lane. I’d noticed a couple cars parked up there, but found no parking spot for us. Driving up the dark lane, trees towering overhead, snow piling around us, I saw no plowed turnouts or roads.

Helpfully, my passenger began to harangue me for my increasingly (how shall we say it?) “disregulated” grumbling as I drove. In my flustery-blustery state, I snarled, “Fine! I’m turning around!”

This was, as they say, a poor choice. How else to explain my Toyota Sequoia half hanging onto Tamarack Lane, with its spinning front wheels unable to find a grip, rear end cowering in the ditch?

Or the not-ditch. With all that snow, it was hard to tell where, exactly, I’d attempted to turn around. Random forest, I guess.

I checked for cell phone access. There it was! Too bad I recently found out the hard way that our emergency roadside service, through our auto insurance? Suuuuuucks. I wouldn’t care to start any lawsuits, but the insurance company’s name might rhyme with Bait Harm.

Then what? Right, put some gravel under those tires and try again! Oh. The bucket of gravel I cleverly remembered ought to be put in the Toyota, the one I texted my husband about, even wrote by hand on a list? Somehow never made it into the vehicle.

My vehicle is usually stocked with snacks, first aid kit, water, rope, emergency blanket (a.k.a. overpriced skim of tin foil stuffed into a little plastic container, stamped with an official-looking Red Cross logo), shovel (crummy old Army folding shovel that pretty much stays half-folded even when you’re using it), wind-up radio, battery-compressor-thing, and an old pair of half-cut-up red sneakers (never know when I might need those). Because we’d taken a different car on a road trip, not all the stuff made it back into the Toyota.

So that’s me, your friendly local prepper, stuck in a ditch with a half-broken mini-shovel and handful of wimpy hemp cord for company. Oh yeah, the sneakers, too. I probably should’ve stuck them under tires for traction.

Maybe if we ever got home, me limping into the house in half-cut-up red kicks, we’d find a faded list from September on the fridge. In dim lettering, there would be the words “gravel for Toyota,” scrawled alongside “Sign up four months early for a snow tire changeover because things sure have gotten wackadoodle-busy over at Les Schwab.”

It was tempting to ditch the vehicle where it lay flopped in the snow like a beached white whale. Just walk away, go see the show, and hope for help afterward. I knew my texts to locals weren’t getting any more traction than my front tires. Everyone in Camp Sherman would be watching the show.

Abandoning the vehicle was a no-go. Because of the halfway-on-the-road factor, we blocked in Gary, this nice guy from Ponderosa Heating & Cooling. He’d been hoping to get back to Sisters before the falling snow got any thicker. But now he was stuck. He kindly helped with the traction attempts.

The flusterment-escalation of our drive had ceased the moment we flailed into the snow-ditch-forest. Now my passenger grabbed our dubious shovel and Gary grabbed his real one. Much scooping of snow and digging for soil ensued.

The party really got going when a mom and her four-year-old had to stop their car, trying to get through to their house, up the mysterious dark snowy road. The mom was patient about the situation, though bedtime loomed and everyone was getting cold.

But alas, all the scoops and digs were for nothing. The Toyota wouldn’t budge.

I shoved a couple innocent-looking fir boughs into the traction mix. We even tried the spiky rubber mats that protect the Toyota’s pale carpet. No dice. Gary kindly gave his flashlight to the woman so she could carry her falling-asleep kiddo into the snowy darkness beyond. (Spoiler alert: they made it home safe and sound.)

When the show ended, and the people of Camp Sherman wandered into cell service areas, Mark Foster saw my text. Though we’ve only met a couple times, he extended the same help my dad would. Drove his truck up the lane, towed backward while I gunned forward, and on the very first try, the Toyota leaped merrily onto the snowy pavement.

To Mark and Gary, I want to say: Thank you. Thanks for your understanding, friendliness, and hands-on help. Thanks to my dad, for showing me how it’s done. Thanks to my mom, too, who taught me to bake oatmeal cookies and deploy them in a gratitude-oriented manner in appropriate situations. Hope everyone got their deliveries.

Merry Christmas to all — and blessed Solstice, and Happy Hanukkah, and wonderful Kwanzaa, and blissful New Year — and to all a good night.


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