In a famous passage in William Wordsworth’s autobiographical poem “The Prelude,” he is on a walking tour in the Alps. He imagines the moment when he will come to the highest point in the walk and begin the downward trek into Italy. Looking forward he has grand plans and expectations for the moment. But at some point he realizes that he has already passed the summit and has been heading down for some time.
For some reason, this moment in the poem popped into my head as I thought about my experience the weekend before Christmas driving in the snow toward California. It may seem a stretch, but who can second guess the free association of the mind (I think I was driving back to Seattle when this came to me).
I spent the Saturday before Christmas looking for chains that would fit my car. With all of the snow in Seattle of the previous few days, finding chains was not an easy task. I was not the only person in Seattle to decide that buying chains was a good idea. After several stores and many hours, I finally found a pair that would fit my car.
Sunday morning was a horror. Snow everywhere and still falling. Forecasts for more snow and freezing rain all along the I-5 corridor into California. But Bevin and I set off in the morning for Sacramento. I finally decided that I would be better off cutting to the coast (I love to drive the coast but I do think there was basic sense in my decision).
We did fine until Aberdeen. But the drive between Aberdeen and Astoria was some of the worst snow driving I’ve encountered. First I took a wrong turn that added 40-50 miles extra to the drive. And then I headed up into the coastal mountains. Hardly anyone on the roads. Nothing plowed, just tracks of previous cars and those filling fast. For nearly three hours plus I drove at about 20 miles an hour, encountered one highway that had been closed and had to retrace my tracks.
I kept wondering when I should stop and put on the chains. No signs that said do it now or you can drive no further. Encountered no one else putting on chains--or using chains. (Actually few other vehicles and most, in retrospect, were pickups.) So I kept wondering and thinking about the chains and finally I was on the road along the coast, leading across the bridge and into a very snowy Astoria.
I’m relieved we made it. And left remembering that it’s hard to tell when the moment is passing, when it’s downhill from here for better or worse.