This morning, the weather is clear. It’s time to go.
Everything mom does is slow. Maybe not slow-slow, but slower than my pace and it’s frustrating me. Why can’t I be patient? Why do I see in each moment an opportunity to show her what she could be doing better? I am on her vacation and I am traveling at her speed. I feel out of control. There has never been a car with so much steering from the backseat. “Maybe you’d like to drive?” Mom says, and I agree but we don’t switch right away. We are going the same place, we are going there together, and when we get there, we will still be together. Breathe. Two minutes later, a car slides down a hill into our lane and smashes into us.
This is actually the third “car accident” we’ve been in since arriving here three days ago and each one has been more severe than the last. The second run-in was my fault. I had a low-speed smooshing with a snow bank in the parking lot of our motel in Paradise that actually managed to deflate the tire and pull the wheel out of line. The nearest auto service station was 60 miles away in Sault St. Marie and the cost to tow it all that way would have been absurd, the time obnoxious, and the direction all wrong. Instead of fussing with all that, the innkeeper (believe me, the term applies) called her middle-aged son who, with bare hands in sub-zero weather, removed the tire, took it back to his shop, used his generator-powered compressor to refill the tire, inspected it, patched it, and then put it back on. All this, within 45 minutes and free of charge. It was something to behold.
This accident is somewhat worse. It’s not serious but it’s not nothing. Mom exchanges insurance information with the other driver.
I think about money and what it costs to live up here. It costs more to get from place to place because things are farther apart. It costs more once you get there because the gas and the food and the products have to travel farther to get there too. Utilities cost more because there’s more cold to counteract. People need more big-ticket items like snow-blowers and snow-tires and snow-boots. And those are all just the basic expenses. In places with weather this severe, the extreme stuff happens more often too. Pipes burst, appliances give out, cars run into stuff. It must be expensive just to live. Money creates a nice cushion between the inevitable problems and total catastrophe but people here are not wealthy, not by any means. So, when the world asks a question that the wallet can’t answer, they find another way. The result is a beautiful blend of acceptance and self-sufficiency. In this case, that approach means living with some scratches on the car, but also knowing how to fix them yourself. I want that for myself. It’s not that I want to constantly work and fight for basic comforts, but I want to be able to satisfy them if I need to.
In light of the horrible road conditions, mom decides it’s best that she continues to drive. I understand, but I still need to deal with my own frustration about the lack of control that I’m feeling. When the weather limits me, I might not like it, but I accept it. When people limit me, though, I have a much harder time. It’s not that they are exerting themselves on me intentionally, just that they have different ways of doing things. I know it’s their right to do things their own way, but I tend to take it personally, like their way is being done to me. If someone is physically slower, the faster person will technically never get their way. I either need to slow down or learn to enjoy the wait at the end.
I can no more change my mom than I can stop this snowstorm, but it seems I am determined to try.
I think about acceptance. I know that a person can always find a problem if they want to. Dad gets upset when the dishwasher needs to be emptied, and he gets upset when the dishwasher needs to be filled. Doesn’t he realize that life is being lived in the kitchen and the cycle never ends? It’s like getting mad at the lungs for needing more air and mad again for needing to get rid of the air. In and out, there’s always something that needs to be done, there’s always something “wrong” if you see it that way. I think I have been living that way, and I don’t want to. I don’t want to be in conflict with life or to be mad at reality. I will be trapped forever if I do. Breathe.
The drive is gorgeous. The sky is clear and crisp and the storm has blasted snow on the trees in ways I’ve never seen. It looks like a badly done winter scene in a Hollywood movie with a director who’s never left LA and yells to the set designer: “More snow! It doesn’t look real enough! Make it look realer than real!” Mom sees it beautifully; she says the storm has birch-ified every tree.
We are taking an alternate route back to Paradise because of the road closures, but this means we will pass by the Eben Junction Ice Caves (as recommended by creepy sauna guy). Like everything here, the caves are difficult to get to, and it will be a longer walk than grandma can manage so it would just be me making the trip.
Weighing my options in the parking lot, I ask a couple returning from the path if it’s worth the walk and they say “Honestly, no.” By their assessment, the walk is too far and result not that impressive. Well, shit. I decided to go anyway. I’m here. I’ve never seen ice caves.
Now mom and grandma will have to wait for me. I am humbled.
I leave them behind and start running down the trail. I relish the chance to go my own pace. I’m thankful to be in the woods again.
The caves are gorgeous. They are closer to frozen waterfalls than caves but that doesn’t diminish their beauty. I think back about the negative review in the parking lot and something in my brain clicks– those grumpy people were snowmobilers, they are used to rushing past the scenery, not taking it in slowly.I don’t want to be like them. I make myself a promise to walk on the way back and enjoy this place.
Back in the car, we listen to James Taylor. I marvel at the simple beauty of the songs. “I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end, but I always thought that I’d see you again.” I choke up in an instant. The slow-dropping words hit me in a way I haven’t experienced before, though I’ve heard them many times. This time, these words seem to teach me that, one day, my mom will die. My own mother will die. Of course I have always known that she, like everyone, will age and then die, of course. I have known this intellectually for years, have thought about it, worried about it– it’s a fact. But in this moment, I feel like Nick Adams suddenly understanding death for the very first time. I envision myself at mom’s funeral, utterly wrecked and alone. From the back seat, I clutch her hand and feel my eyes well up with sadness for that time and gratitude for this one. Finally, finally, I’m not in a rush at all. I’m so glad to be here on this sunny day with her.
Don’t freeze up now, the adventure isn’t over!
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