The spring snowdrift sprawling across a forest road sings a siren song, a charming melody that lures many an incautious traveler to a bad end.
Not the same sort of end that befalls sailors said to be snared by the sweet sounds, of course.
Given the minor risk of drowning on a forest road, those of us enticed by these icy obstacles can be waylaid year after year, escaping each time with perhaps a sore back and a handful of blisters.
Sailors attracted by the sirens, thus to fetch their ships against a rocky, keel-crunching shore, presumably hear the song only that one time.
I do not own any type of watercraft.
And well that I don’t.
I can get into trouble quite easily enough operating exclusively on land.
And often as not, snow is involved.
The insidious thing about the drifts that linger this time of year on mountain roads is that, like any well-conceived ambush, they induce in their unwitting victims a sense not just of security but of confidence.
There is often a progressive nature to drifts.
The first few you encounter might barely intrude on the road. You can either steer around them or, if the patch is particularly puny, plunge straight through, causing perhaps a brief and gentle tug on the steering wheel.
It is no coincidence that episodes which end with a rig mired to its axles so often begin with the driver saying something along the lines of “well, that wasn’t so bad.”
As you drive farther — farther from many things, including, often as not, cell service, potable water and food sources that don’t require butchering — the drifts tend to get bigger.
Eventually you reach one that, owing either to its length or the lay of the land, or both, you can’t see past to the bare road on the other side.
If indeed there is bare road on the other side.
But it’s not always just snow that conspires against the unwary.
Sometimes the most dangerous drift is the one that, however imposing, also has tire tracks slashing across its slushy surface.
This is the point at which the spousal debate is likely to commence.
If I’m driving, as I usually am on these excursions, I will argue that if somebody made it through — as the tracks clearly prove — then surely we can too. Otherwise why do we own a four-wheel drive with a respectable crawl ratio, aftermarket shocks and 33-inch off-road tires with lugs deeper than a Belgian waffle iron?
(This is what mothers everywhere know as the “if your friend jumped off the bridge I suppose you would have to jump too?” fallacy.)
My wife, Lisa, will counter by suggesting that, even if I’m right about this drift being navigable, the odds are that the next drift will be even deeper and longer. And it probably lies just around the corner, where the road runs across a north-facing slope. And further, as anyone who considers himself competent to operate a motor vehicle ought to know, the sun, which has a certain predictable effect on snow, shines much more weakly on north slopes.
No argument infuriates me more than one based on irresistible logic and irrefutable scientific principles.
Worse still, Lisa doesn’t even point out another potentially vital piece of information, one that nags at my mind like a treble hook lodged in a hat — the possibility that the vehicle which left the tracks is a heavily modified truck with tires taller than our 9-year-old son, Max.
Like the defense attorney representing a murder defendant whose guilt has been established by high-definition video, dozens of fingerprints left in the victim’s blood, and a DNA match, I can offer as rebuttal what is, in effect, a confession.
At least we have a shovel, I meekly remind her.
Which is to say, of course you’re right that we almost certainly would get stuck, but at least I could dig us out.
Or at least before we seriously consider sampling the flavor of pine needles.
Typically Lisa’s wisdom will prevail. Later I will recognize how silly it was even to have considered taking the risk. And the compulsion I felt while I sat behind the wheel, plotting my course through the snow, will seem almost like a hallucination, as though I had been afflicted by a brief but intense fever.
We’ve driven a lot of miles in the mountains this spring as we escape quarantine and measure our distance to other people not in feet but in miles.
We encountered quite a lot of snowdrifts, and we had a couple of conversations similar to the one described above.
But we haven’t been stuck.
And I might even have made some progress in conquering my weakness when exposed to the siren song of the snowdrift.
On Mother’s Day we drove up into the Wolf Creek country west of Pilcher Creek Reservoir. After our hike on a series of old roads I suggested we make a loop by way of Wolf Creek and its north fork.
We drove for 3 or 4 miles. The road was mainly clear but for a few drifts, all with parallel tire tracks through them. We blasted through the longest of these, the Toyota wallowing in a way that made Max cackle and his older sister, Olivia, giggle. Even Lisa smiled. Although it’s possible I mistook a grimace for a grin.
As we rounded a ridge line I noticed that a drift, though it extended about halfway across the road, was pristine except a smattering of tamarack twigs and lichen strewn on the surface.
No tires had been this way.
A few hundred feet farther the road ran straight, and the span was solid white from cutbank to the downslope.
“Well, that’s that,” I said as I braked and yanked the shift lever into reverse.
I heard a soft sound, almost musical. But I didn’t feel drawn forward, to see how far we would have to go to get out of the snow.
My window was down, in deference to the balmy temperature. And I was only hearing the May wind, whispering through the pine boughs.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.