The Long Way Around

July 26, 2006

My first two years at Silver Bay, I found that if I left the car parked for a week, it didn’t want to start when it was time to go home. So in the years since, I have taken the car out mid-week to give it some exercise and fill it up with gas in Ticonderoga. There is an antique store on the way; it is an outing for both of us.

So, last week at Silver Bay, I drove up Route 9 to Ticonderoga, got gas, and on the return journey, stopped at the antique store. But it was closed. I looked at the CLOSED sign for a moment, got back into the car, and headed onward, anticipating a swim at the stroke of 10 a.m. when Bay Beach opened.

But there was a change. A tree had fallen all the way across the road. And its trunk was compressing six power lines into one, like a giant guitar pick about to rip one heck of a power chord.

I couldn’t see anyone under the tree, and that was good. I wasn’t under the tree, and that was good, too, although my main concern was how I was going to get back to Silver Bay with the road closed. A young family — father and mother, two boys — from a cottage down a nearby lane had just come up to see what the noise was about, and they were checking out the tree and the wires. I asked the father how I might get around the roadblock. He put his hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes for a few seconds, then pointed to a large blue car that had just pulled up behind mine. He said, “Follow her, she lives here.”

“She” was a small, old woman at the wheel of a large blue car. She could just barely see over the steering wheel, had an oxygen tube in her nose and short, straight hair that was the color of ash, too tired to turn all the way white. She was already turning her car around, so I jogged back to my car and did a quick three-point turn. “I can do this,” I heard myself say, or maybe it was just the Zoloft talking.

A mile back down Rt. 9, we turned left up something called Old Hague Road and drove into the wooded hills over Lake George. My guide motored a consistent 20 miles per hour over the posted limit and there were lots of limits for her to exceed. “Curve 25 MPH” translated freely into “Wahoo 45 MPH” and she was picking up the pace at every turn. I was not totally “down” with this, but if I lost her, I was lost — a powerful incentive to keep up. In the space of one minute, a confusing trio of signs flew by: “Now leaving Warren County,” “Welcome to Essex County,” and then “Welcome to Warren County.” We passed homes, crossed bridges, went up rises and down dips.

About five minutes into this, I recalled the man putting his hand on my shoulder and suddenly realized what he meant by that warm gesture. Something like, “Farewell, and good luck.” Then I saw a stop sign and, for the very first time, the blue car’s brake lights. She pulled over in a cloud of dust, rolled down her window and as I pulled alongside, flashed a big smile and shouted, “Did you ever think we were going to get here?!”

I raised my hands in surrender, words having failed me. “You go down there,” she pointed, “I gotta go up here!” And with that she made a smooth hairpin turn and thundered away, leaving me to coast slowly downhill into Hague and back onto Route 9. A few minutes later, I was happy to slip into the jade green waters of Lake George and look into the blue sky, offering up a prayer of thanks for guardian angels.

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