71: Snow Angel

71: Snow Angel

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel

Snow Angel

For every mountain there is a miracle.

~Robert H. Schuller

I shivered, despite the car heater blasting warm air at me. It wasn’t the cold that made that icy feeling go up my spine — I was terrified. The weather on this Central Oregon highway had turned. It wasn’t just the dropping temperature, and the snow and sleet coming down. No, this was something altogether different — and much worse. I reached to pull down the car’s visor and peered in the mirror at the landscape behind us. I saw nothing but an unbroken wall of white.

It all started with a winter weekend getaway to the big city — Portland, Oregon. But as we packed our luggage to head back home over the Cascade Mountains, the TV news soured our joyful mood. The weatherman warned of a large winter storm looming. Pileups had already begun on the heavily travelled highway cresting Mt. Hood. What would have been our first choice was no longer an option.

My husband, a retired Teamster, sat at the small motel table, a map spread before him as he plotted our course. Safety trumped speed. Sipping his coffee, he turned to me, deep lines etched on his forehead. My stomach tightened as his index finger traced out the route he’d chosen. The wide open grasslands.

“We’ll go the long way around. I’ll circle us past Mt. Hood and alongside the Columbia River. Then we’ll drive south from The Dalles. We’ll do better in the lower elevation, and avoid all the collisions we’d see up by the summit.”

“If you’re sure. I trust your judgment.”

“The usual way home is too dangerous. Black ice forms on shady curves and the pass is full of them. I don’t want to pull somebody out of the creek again. Could be our turn this time.”

“You’re right.” Too many times we’d watched helplessly as motorists spun out of control. The vehicles veered across the yellow lines or off the road completely, as wild and erratic as a pinball. “Even if it takes longer, it’ll be worth it.” I wished I could believe the reassuring words we were saying to each other.

We piled the bags into the car and it was time to go — no sense in stalling.

Moving with the traffic along the river-hugging interstate, I reached for my husband’s hand and gave it a quick squeeze. “This isn’t so bad.” I breathed a sigh of relief.

Minutes later, my husband flicked the turn signal as we left I-84. No more safety in numbers.

The two-lane highway we’d drive, like most in our state, had neither guardrails nor streetlamps. A sprinkling of tiny communities would provide the only break in an otherwise lonely ride.

Snow fell steadily now, creating a sensation of traveling through space as each flake flashed star-like past the windshield. One or two other vehicles joined our slow procession through the vast empty fields, the landscape already resembling marshmallow frosting. As we descended several hundred feet into the narrow gorge created by the Deschutes River, we noticed the other drivers turn off.

We continued, bridging the river at the tiny hamlet of Maupin. Tracing switchbacks up the winding roadway, we reached the crest. I bit my lip. What greeted us was a barren wasteland, devoid of any signs of life. No charming farmhouses dotted the hillsides; no oncoming traffic reassured us that the route ahead was passable.

The wind gusted now, hard and fast, its wails sounding through our station wagon like a runaway train. For a short distance, snow fencing bordered the asphalt. But it was soon rendered useless by the blizzard’s heightening fury. And then even the posts disappeared.

In an instant, visibility dropped to but a few yards. We couldn’t distinguish the lanes from open land. We were trapped, moving blindly in a full-blown whiteout.

My heart raced and I glanced at my husband.

Both hands white-knuckling the steering wheel, he stared dead ahead. He wouldn’t let on — he always protected me, even from my own fears — but I knew. We were in trouble.

“Should we slow down?” I spoke the words quietly, hesitant to pierce his concentration.

“We’re only going fifteen miles per hour as it is. Any slower, and a car approaching from behind won’t have time to brake before hitting us.”

“Maybe we should pull over and wait this out.” My voice shook.

“No, honey, we can’t stop. There’s nothing out here. We don’t know how long this is going to keep up, and we’d freeze. But I can’t see the road anymore.” He tore his gaze from the blanket of white for a fraction of a second. “I don’t know what to do. If we can just make it to the junction, there’ll be other travelers. We won’t be alone.”

I stared at the ice forming along the edges of the windshield, as a wall of snow seemed to swallow our car.

“God help us.” I heard desperation in my spouse’s words, and saw tears welling in his eyes.

“Yes, please, send help,” I echoed his plea.

David gasped. “Heidi, do you see…? Can it be?”

I squinted, straining to where he pointed. And there they were. I blinked, wanting to believe my eyes, but afraid I might be seeing things.

Just in front of us, not twenty yards ahead, a set of taillights shone, bright as beacons. We were safe! We’d follow these folks!

We sped up, opting to get as close as possible. Slowing as we approached a hairpin turn, we worried we might lose them. We rounded the corner in time to see the brake lights. The vehicle had stopped, waiting for us to catch up. As we neared, they moved forward to lead the way. Perpetually just out of reach, we tagged along like puppies on a leash. At last, we came within sight of the junction. Nothing but a half mile of unbroken asphalt with no driveways, no intersections and no obstructions.

David heaved a deep breath. “We made it. If not for them…” He tipped his head toward the heroes that had delivered us — but they were gone. They’d vanished into the landscape without a trace.

“Where’d the car go?” His brow furrowed as he scanned the area. “I don’t get it. It was right in front of us a second ago. What happened?”

“You saw the car? What kind was it?” I’d never been able to focus on more than the super-bright lights.

My husband’s lips pursed. “I didn’t actually see one. Just those beams that showed up out of nowhere and left without an exit.” He let loose a nervous laugh. “Do you think? Nah — never mind.”

I reached out my hand to touch his shoulder. “I don’t just think it, I’m certain. God sent someone to watch over us.” My heart warmed, suddenly aware that would always be the case. All because when we were blinded and didn’t know which way to go, a snow angel guided us home.

~Heidi Gaul

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