I am not home. Fortunately, I am holed up in a motel in Aberdeen, Cape Breton. There is a motivational poster above my head that says, “Destiny.” I don’t quite know how to interpret that.
I was caught by a storm. It’s not that I didn’t know a storm was coming; it’s that it wasn’t supposed to be snow. I had amassed lots of information, made a careful decision, and set out on what was supposed to be an uneventful trip. Saint John to Sydney. Seven easy hours, eight if I wanted a meal.
About 5 hours in, somewhere around the halfway mark, I called home. “Fire up the internet. Is it doing this all the way?” My husband checked, said that I should be able to stop for a couple of hours and get far enough behind it to let the snowplows do their work. I hung up and set off in search of food. Two minutes later he called me back. “No,” he said. “I was looking at the wrong radar station. You’re at the leading edge of a storm that goes all the way back to Quebec.”
I promised to be sensible, and not to risk my life on anything as foolish as trying to get home to save $100. Promised to get off the roads before it became too awful. Got back into the car in Antigonish, the edge of where Canada starts to get Really Rural. The roads were iffy in Antigonish, but it was only 40 km to the causeway, and the highway was still bare. Well, the grooves were bare. It wasn’t all that bad for Winter Driving in Canada. “I’ve had worse,” I thought (with that Monty Python accent.)
After about 40 minutes, I had made it from Antigonish (A) to Port Hastings (B). The Canso Causeway was bare because the wind was blowing so hard all the snow was still airborne and flying down the strait. I was pretty sure I should stay there, but I decided to go up the hill out of town and turn around if it was too bad. This. Was. A. Mistake. It was too bad to keep driving, but it was so much too bad that I couldn’t pull off the road, and all the sideroads and driveways were impassable. I couldn’t turn around, and I couldn’t stop in the middle of the highway, so onward it was.
Somewhere in the middle of this journey, I started pondering how dire it would have to get before I would stop my car and knock on a stranger’s door. Let’s see. Definitely if I crashed. Stuck in a snowbank? Check. But then I started to think about the fact that I was reluctant to inconvenience anybody even though I believed my life might actually be in danger. It was not that I was going to die in a crash; I wasn’t going fast enough to do significant damage. It was that if I did manage to get stuck in a snowbank, there was no way to guarantee that I would be able to get somewhere safe. I found myself replaying my high school English curriculum in my head, the prairie woman who died between her car and her house, and that Alden Nowlan poem that ends with “this is a country/where a man can die/simply by being/caught outside.” (Canadian January Night) It amazes me how much space high school English still occupies in my life over 20 years later.
There were still other cars on the road, but when I finally got to Whycocomagh, (C) I tried to turn a corner and nearly hit the stop sign on the other side of a four lane highway. None of the restaurants were open. The motel in town was on top of a hill that I couldn’t get up. I knew there was one more motel around the next corner, and I found myself praying. It sounds a little odd when I pray, because it usually starts with, “If there’s anybody listening…”
“Please, God, let the Aberdeen motel be open.”
As it happens, the owners of the Aberdeen motel have been here a while, and they know a night when they need to open up for wayward stragglers. So here I am, tucked into a warm bed with a “Destiny” poster over my head, under 150 km from home. It is warm, I am dry, and I have an internet connection and cable TV. And I have no idea what sense to make of it all. Sounds a lot like life. Still.