Yesterday I had arranged for UPS to pick up a Very Important Document at our house. But when I went to put it on the porch, I saw that the slate steps were again covered in a thin layer of ice. No matter how much we scrape, salt, or sand, in certain atmospheric conditions that layer just keeps forming.
Not wanting the UPS man to die on our steps, I found a white box from the liquor store, wrote "UPS" on it in big black letters, put the Very Important Document inside and set it on the driveway, right in front of the deadly steps and held down by a thick and heavy wooden plank.
It was the quintessential "raw" Vermont day. The wind blew and the clouds hovered. The fields and woods were covered with several feet of snow, the top of which had melted and frozen and melted and frozen so that a thick layer of ice covered every inch. No birds chirped, no peepers peeped--only the occasional crow flew over the desolation.
You never know when the UPS man will make it up our hill, so late in the afternoon I looked out and saw that the liquor box was gone, and the plank was lying in the middle of the driveway. Why, I wondered, had the UPS man not taken the Very Important Document and left the box behind so I could use it for my packing? And why had he just dumped the plank in the middle of the driveway? "I guess he was in a bad mood, after a day of tromping up and down ice-covered walks" I said to my husband. But still, we wondered, why hadn't we heard the truck? Why hadn't the dogs barked?
And then the UPS truck drove up. My husband and I looked at each other in horror, pulled on our coats and ran outside, with that mincing, seasonally-appropriate don't-break-your-wrist-on-the-ice gait. "The wind blew away our Very Important Document!" we wailed at the UPS man. "It was in a white box from the liquor store!"
We fully expected him to curl his lip in contempt, turn around and disappear down the drive. Instead, shouting something about wind direction, he leaped off the truck and took off towards the east. My husband went north, and I tottered west.
The field was an unbroken sheet of whiteness. Nothing had ventured on it for months, and the only signs of life were some elaborate mole tunnels under the ice that looked a lot like a DC Metro map. With every step I crashed through the ice and sank above my knees in snow. To take the next step, I had to raise my leg from the hip, crash through the crust, and look for a white liquor box in that desert of white...
At one point I started to lose my balance, put out a hand to steady myself, and the ice cut my skin like a knife--or at least it felt like a knife. And it was then that I heard a faraway whistle. I looked east and saw the UPS man, a reassuring brown against the whiteness, waving the liquor box with the Very Important Document inside.
Next thing I knew, he was bumping his truck down our rutted driveway and grinning from ear to ear. Stuck in the ice in the middle of the field, I waved and blew him a kiss.