There's a scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia.... Lawrence of Arabia was a movie from the 1960s about the desert war in Saudi Arabia during WWI. Great movie. Lots of scenes of broiling sun and parched throats. The joke at the time was that there was always a long line at the theater's water fountain.
Ennaways, there’s a scene where the Bedouin warriors are awaiting a message from the Front. "Where's Ali?" they wonder. "Wait! What's that?" They scan the horizon. A tiny back dot appears in the middle of the shimmering heat waves. For minutes (it seems) the dot doesn't get any bigger. Then..., yes, yes, it's Ali, riding full tilt on his camel. "Victory!" he shouts, waving his rifle over his head.
That's how I felt on Friday as I stood on a piece of high ground in a desolate part of Marshall County in northwestern Minnesota. Behind me was my car, stuck in a snowbank. On the far side of the car was my trusty friend Steve shoveling away. He reported that the right wheel was still several inches above the ground.
The snowbank the county snowplow had pushed up along the road had stopped me from going full bore into the ditch. But this bank had also lifted up and encased my front end in an encasement of snow. You think of snow as soft and fluffy. Steve rightly described our snow as concrete-like. In theory we could eventually have shoveled the car out, but I was looking for an easier escape.
It had been minus twenty-two that morning, but we decided to go ahead with our monthly bottle run to Thief River Falls, or Tough Rubber Balls as Steve calls it. The City of Roseau Recycling Facility does not accept glass, so being good friends of the earth, Steve and I collect all our glass bottles and jars and deliver them to the recycling bins by Hugo's Supermarket in TRF.
We usually run a couple of other errands including the purchase of filled bottles to replace those that have gone empty on us. Our last stop is always at Johnny's Café, a friendly lunch counter where they know our names and even save a potato dumpling in the freezer for my monthly visit.
So I picked up Steve at 8:30 am. It's amazing how many bottles a person accumulates in a month. When it's my turn to drive, I have to remove all kinds of gear from my trunk and back seat to make room for the glass. On our way to the city, we avoid the state highways. The county gravel roads are much more interesting. Most of northwestern Minnesota was bulldozed flat by the retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago, but here and there the glacier paused and dumped piles of gravel. Steve has discovered these hills and we traverse the roads that cross them.
Near our half way mark the road passes through a beautiful scrub oak forest. There was once an Early Warning Alert Tower along this stretch so the road was made extra wide for military vehicles. The gravel road was covered with hard packed snow and was as smooth as a skating rink. As I came around a wide curve and into a slight downslope I realized my speed was inappropriate for the conditions. The car responded neither to brakes nor steering wheel and, scrunch, we were stopped. The bottles made a little tune as they readjusted themselves. Not a one broke.
The temperature had warmed to minus ten, and mercifully there was no wind. It was bright and sunny as we took turns with the shovel, an aluminum job originally meant for moving grain. We were just north of the intersection with County Road 48, another wide gravel road. But traffic was light this morning. I knew that any vehicle coming along would likely have four wheel drive. If that vehicle ever did come along. This imaginary vehicle would see us and stop to offer help. I would get out my tow strap and five minutes later we'd be on our way.
I was contemplating calling a wrecker though this would not be cheap based on the remoteness of our location. It was then I had my Lawrence moment. The land fell off to the east and I could see for several miles. There were no shimmering heat waves, but on the horizon a black dot appeared. It was a vehicle, but I could not tell what kind. It was too small for a pickup, but the wrong shape for a car.
There was a farmstead about a mile to the east of where I stood and the vehicle slowed there. Son of a biscuit! But then he pulled away and came our way. Hooray! It's the mailman! But what's he driving. As he got closer I could see he had a Jeep Wrangler. We're saved! When he rolled down his window, Steve recognized him from that place they both used to work.
"Need a little pull?" Dan asked. His Jeep had right hand steering. Very convenient for the delivery of mail in rural areas. I wrapped my tow strap around my rear axle and Steve hooked the other end to Dan's hitch. It didn't take much to pop me out. When Steve unhooked the strap, Dan did a celebratory 360 on the icy road. I believe he was waving a rifle over his head. I know I was ululating.
"There he is! We're not gonna die."