Changeling: (from folklore) A changeling is a creature found in folklore and folk religion. A changeling child was believed to be a fairy child that had been left in place of a human child stolen by the fairies.
Every now and then Life delivers a shock that frightens a soul out of its wits. (We’ve all been affected by the world in a ‘changeling’ fit, but, after managing to escape most of these freakish situations by luck or skill, something good often happens: affected souls tend to reassess what’s really important, and moan less about life’s littler frustrations.)
One of those shocks befell us Friday morning.
Joe and I were driving our GMC van through Grayling. The vehicle was crammed with birds, our beloved Bryn-dog, and lots of miscellaneous animal food and cages, et cetera. We merged onto a two lane highway, M-72, toward Kalkaska. (Destination: Traverse City.)
The sun shone: the sky was a lovely, vivid blue, decorated with multiple fluffy white clouds. Substantial winds, with intermittent 35 mph gusts, scoured the winter-worn earth. The van had occasionally been nudged toward the freeway’s outer edge during particularly violent ‘exhales’ on the freeway, but Joe had handled it well and kept his speed well down. Other wary cars had followed suit.
The view on this road was fine.
Then, just past Grayling’s town limits the capricious wind began to add fluffy snow to its roaring gusts. Insubstantial flakes blew sideways from northwest to southeast, mimicking a billowing gossamer veil. Fatter ones sparkled in the mid-morning sun.
It was a pretty sight.
Then, with shocking suddenness, the big white semi we were following simply- disappeared. Those ‘pretties’ had morphed instantly into blizzard-thick, swirling, intense Snow, - totally erasing the world and that huge vehicle- except for two tiny red light dots either side of its huge back end.
The scene was indescribably eerie, and Terrifying. There were no landmarks. Only unblemished White. Everywhere.
Joe and I gasped in unison. The ground, bare and brown just one minute ago, had switched to white. It was impossible to tell where the road was, impossible to stop, or turn back. We had one chance: crawl closer to the truck, which was probably about 50 feet away, we thought.
We drove a bit faster...
It was still invisible.
We came closer to where it had to be.
Too close, surely... There! The tiny red dots showed the truck’s width. We ‘locked on’ to this infinitely small mooring, fearful that if we lost this red glow-beacon again we’d have no clue where the world was, or wasn’t. There were NO reference points anywhere. Not one.
The intense disorientation made me dizzy with horror and fear. This was a dire situation. One wrong move and we would be seriously injured. Hit from behind by panicked drivers Bryn could fly into the front windscreen. The birds would be flung around their cage: the trauma would surely kill them.(Notice all I did was worry about my animals)----
We carried on. Time crawled. Fifty awful minutes passed. We prayed that the man ahead could see something....
If things weren’t already terrifying enough, an unmistakable brbrbrbrbrbrrrr noise made us jump. Road bump-markers were sounding a broken up (too much snow covering their rough protrusions) teeth-gritting warning: we had wandered well into the opposite lane! My God! That obnoxious noise had saved us! Joe carefully edged back. And just in time. Cars materialized out of nowhere, going the other way, weaving, as we’d done, but not as completely blinded, as the wind-driven snow was angled more toward their backs.
The white truck lumbered along at about 25 miles per hour, but then it, too, wandered, this time toward the right side of the road, clearly lost. The road bumps growled and grumped; both our vehicles delicately made the correction; a one-second lull in the wind showed a huge, gaping, disappointed car-eating ditch. The truck’s driver, clearly unnerved, slowed even more, but continued to maneuver through the fiercely blowing snow.
There really was no other choice.
With no visual cues at all, we continued to trust the semi driver.
On and on we drove, too frightened to speak to each other. Our eyes remained glued to those tiny red dots.
Just when we thought things couldn’t possibly get worse, they did.
The windshield began to rapidly ice over. The wipers scraped unevenly over developing ice: they’d soon be rendered useless. Desperately, Joe leaned over the steering wheel toward a three-inch hole in the front window that he could still look through.
“Do you have any openings?”
“Yes,” I said, voice shaking, “but only a thin rectangle, very high up.”
“OK. Shout if I seem to be wandering. I’ve lost the little red lights again.”
We carried on, correcting when the road bumps sounded off. Then about five minutes later, just as the entire windscreen was about to ice up completely, the truck partially materialized- just the top of it, where snow had created a shadow. Joe pointed to our salvation- those bright red dots in a ocean of white!
But now we desperately needed to scrape off the ice.
Yet, stopping would be so dangerous! Cars, driving nearly blind behind us, would pile into our back end: chaos would reign.
Here’s what happened next.
I am still awed.
As quickly as it takes to snap your fingers, the snowstorm vanished. The sun shone. The clouds were pretty puffs. The instantaneous change, from blindness to perfect visual clarity (from the side windows), rendered us speechless.
At that very moment, our overburdened wipers groaned and stopped, overcome. Never mind: The car’s heaters and the sun quickly melted the windscreen’s ice. The world was white now: the sky was blue again. Thick, snow-covered forests lined the road. I looked behind the seats to our important passengers. Bryn was sound asleep; the birds were chirping important birdie stuff. Our charges were completely unaware that a fearsome Winter Changeling had attempted to switch us all from life to The Other side....
It was, by far, the worst protracted lake effect winter driving experience of our lives.