The Freeze

Buckwheat Bob Harrison


We spent that night in Walt and Cilla’s cabin, a dome shake house that had holes in the walls. Having holes in the walls seemed to be getting a little repetitious. But by staying close to the tin stove until bedtime we kept reasonably warm. When we awoke in the morning, I volunteered to start the fire. The stove was about five feet from our pad on the floor, so I got up, naked, and started getting the paper and kindling together. I would do this any morning, all winter long, even if there was ice on the floor. It was kind of macho fun seeing people freak out watching the lunatic. However, this time there was obviously something wrong. The cold was terrible. Halfway through the job I shouted, “Jesus Christ!” and jumped back under the covers. I must have been an icicle. I guess I got even with Mara and her skirt that morning. I would get warmed up a little then jump out of bed and work some more on the fire. I finally got it going, on about the fourth trip out from under the covers. When I finally warmed up a bit, I got dressed and stepped into my gumboots. I almost fell on my nose when I took the first step. My boots were frozen solid to the floor.

We made a breakfast on almost the last of my giant pancakes, and started on down the road. Only twelve miles to Selma, and civilization. The traveling was slow that morning, obviously. I had to wait for Mara quite a bit, and encourage her to keep going. I forgot to relate that along with the other problems with that road, it did a lot of up and down. It starts at river level, and then goes up about seven hundred feet then back down to river level. It does this several times. Just how many I could have told you that day.

We finally stopped to rest at the last big turn before descending from the mountains into a long, lush valley several miles short of Selma and Highway 199. We sat down on a couple of rocks and finished the last of the pancakes. I struggled up, but Mara was about at the end of the line. She said she couldn’t go any farther. I got to play John Wayne. I shouted at her, “Get up and start moving or I’ll kick your ass up through your mouth every step from here to Selma. I mean right now.” I always wanted to say that to somebody. It worked, she struggled up and we slipped and slid for about a mile more. We stopped and looked down into the valley and saw a fox bounding along in the snow, a magical moment. Miraculously, a man and his wife stopped and let us ride into Selma in the back of their pickup. By now, even in the horrible cold, riding in the back of a pickup was luxury.

When we finally reached the Selma store, we jumped out of the truck. Actually, we didn’t jump. We stepped very carefully to the pavement. If we had jumped just then I think we would have shattered into a million pieces. We thanked the good Samaritans sincerely and trudged into the store’s coffee shop and ordered coffee. Hot. We looked at the clock and it indicated that it was 3:45 in the afternoon. As we were savoring our coffee someone walked into the store and said that it had just gotten up to fourteen degrees above zero. Startled, I queried further and they told us that it had gotten down to negative sixteen degrees the night before. Then I understood why we had such a miserable time.

We now had a good news bad news situation. True, we had escaped the jaws of discomfort in the dreaded canyon and made it to Selma, Oregon. Selma, however, would never be mistaken for Los Angeles, for example, when it comes to settlements. The commercial district consisted of the store we were in (which fortunately had a lunch counter), a post office, a Laundromat, and a Chevron gas station. Home for us was still about twenty miles away, only ten of which were on the main drag, Highway 199. So now it was about an hour before dark, and we certainly didn’t want to try to hitch after dark. Among other things this was redneck country, and Takilma was far off the main track. Our situation was still precarious. We walked out to Highway 199 and stuck out our thumbs. Luck seemed to be with us and we got a couple of quick rides. We reached the Funky Egg, our original starting point, before dark, just about forty-eight hours from the time we had left.

The party and wall-to-wall people were still going on when we arrived, and we discovered that the kids were still off visiting and wouldn’t be back until the next day. We were just about beat, but we felt much better after several hours of heat and various intoxicants provided at the party in the Other (the other house at the Funky Egg). There were two houses, Robert’s home, the Nebulous of Andromeda, and the Other, which was home for everyone else. Mara and I woke up refreshed the next morning. When the temperature finally got up to zero degrees, everyone went outside and we had a small ceremony. After leaving a message for the kids that we would be home, Mara and I walked and hitched to Black Michael’s mining claim the next morning, about four or five miles, and couldn’t make it any farther. We walked through his door and caved in. Michael didn’t do things by halves. He had the Franklin stove cranked up max and it was like an oven in there. Several of the Godzilla Wrecking Company, Michael’s extended gypsy family and performing company, were in the room, as well as three or four of the Gunslingers, .357 magnum pistols and all. Everyone, it seems, had been driven indoors by the weather.

Michael smiled and waved us in. We told him about our journey, and he started pouring water pans that had been boiling on his stove into his oversized tin bathtub. He told us to strip off while he got the water together. To get us started, he poured us each a mug of peyote tea he had brewing on the ubiquitous stove. We complied with his order to drink up. As we sipped the brew and luxuriated in the streaming tub, finally getting the freeze out of our bones, it seemed well worth the misery to have this kind of comfort and hospitality at the end of the trip. I wish I could elaborate on what happened next but I can’t remember. Well, you gotta play hurt. Later that afternoon we walked the road about a mile to our cold, cold house.

The weather finally broke and it started raining, but it took several days for our cabin to become unfrozen. As I said before, our dysfunctional wood stove was inadequate to deal with sub-zero temperatures, and the propane stove fittings had frozen and had gas leaks. We couldn’t use it at all. The most discouraging sight, however, was the sink full of dirty dishes in the frozen dirty water we had left behind at the time of our flight. The whole mess was frozen solid and we had to look at it until it finally got warm enough to melt the ice in the sink. Gross.