By LEON YOUNGBLOOD
I stepped out the front door onto the porch, carefully, for the ice-storm arrived during the night and was still doing its work. Everything had a frozen crystal coating. It was gloriously beautiful; it was miserably cold, for my thin southern blood. I had fortified myself with coffee and a hearty breakfast, and I had on four bales of winter clothing, for I intended to take a walk and enjoy myself no matter how miserable I felt. The first part for this venture, however, was simply to make it safely off the porch. Each step was precarious, but I made it. I stepped onto a grassy portion of the ground, the ice crunching under my boots, and I felt a sense of security I had not known for several minutes.
“Don’t you want your camera?” my wife asked, having suddenly appeared at the doorway.
“What?” I asked.
“Your camera. Didn’t you want to take your camera?”
“Well, uh, yes I did, in fact. Would you, uh, mind bringing it to me?”
There was the old, all too familiar chuckle and she said, “Yes, I would mind! There’s no way I’m stepping out on this icy porch! I’ve got hot tea, cinnamon rolls, a warm place by the fire and that’s where I will be if you need me. You’d better not need me for anything less than a broken leg, though. You will have to wait ‘til the spring thaw as it is.”
She did not mean that, of course. The Ouachita weather is as fickle as a politician who won the election, and it could be 70 degrees in a few days. I was sure she would come looking for me sooner. She was sincere enough about the icy porch, though. Taking pictures was one of the reasons for this winter expedition in the first place, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to expedite back across the porch until I had to. As I weighed my options, she asked, “Do you want me to toss it to you?”
“The woman’s a genius!” I thought to myself. Aloud, I said, “Yes, please. Good idea.”
These sorts of things always work better in theory than actual practice. I removed my heavy gloves in preparation for the toss, and I would have caught it, too, if my arms had been two feet longer. It landed on the icy ground.
“I’m sorry! Did it hurt it?”
“No, not at all. You can’t hurt thick ice with a lightweight camera like this one.”
“No, no, did it hurt the camera?”
The camera was fine. I relayed this information and got, “Good! I would hate for it to be damaged, as much as it cost.” I envisioned myself dying from exposure after some disastrous mishap. “Did it hurt the camera?” would be the first question my wife would ask the coroner. With this comforting thought, I began my little hike. Having been inspired by the works of various friends, I wanted to try my hand at photography, and today’s weather provided special opportunities.
I walked a few hundred feet, becoming comfortable with the cold, the peace and quiet. The wilderness was bathed in soft light diffused by the clouds. Everything was in shades of gray, except the ice would shine and sparkle, and familiar scenes I had noticed dozens of times before were made mysterious and compelling by the misty, freezing drizzle and fog. I felt privileged, for I knew, even people who visited the mountains frequently probably never had seen the Ouachitas dressed like this! The highways were iced over, some roads were doubtless closed. They could not get here under conditions like these. I took a dozen or so photographs, but I realized, words and pictures are useless; you’d have to have been there.
The spiritual quality of the experience soon yielded to physical weakness. Simply put, all too soon I was cold, wet and tired. For a brief time, though, I was somehow a better person. The improvement lasted as long as it took me to get back to the cabin, across the treacherous porch and into the den where two fresh, hot cinnamon rolls were sitting on the table by my wife’s chair. I et ‘em. She was brewing tea, and thought they would be there when she finished. Words are inadequate to describe what happened next. You would have to have been there—but be thankful you weren’t.