I am about halfway home, but this section of the highway seems to go on and on. You know what I mean; it's the point in the trip when it feels like the next town you're headed for picks itself up and moves further on down the road. Yes, I have already been driving for 6 hours and the whole trip would take over 13 hours but this was the last time. In fact, the trailer was only half-full; over the last year I had moved all but a few items to "My Retreat" as I refereed to my new home.
I am over fifty but in good shape.
Six months after my wife of 28 years died, I started planning this move. I have worked the last two summers building my home, which is just over the Colorado border in northern New Mexico. It took me three months just to locate the property. It's 300 acres adjacent to a national forest and consists of an L-shaped box canyon with about 150 acres in the bottom.
Before building my house, I bought a used D8 dozer and cut a road down into the canyon. Later I used the Cat to increase the size of the pond at one end of the canyon and to push sand and gravel down onto the top of my house from the canyon rim. Even if I use the Cat to clear my driveway out to the county road, which is a gravel road, it is another mile to the nearest neighbor's driveway. The county road is only cleared after everything else in the area has been cleared. In fact, during Christmas break last year I missed a week of school because I was caught in a snowstorm and couldn't get out.
The house itself is in the corner of the "L" and faces the southeast and only has one wall of the house exposed to the weather. Except for the garage area, a glassed-in porch runs the length of the house. The house consists of three bedrooms with a large great-room, good size study, and large kitchen. Heat is supplied by a wood-burning stove on the porch, which is ducted into the rest of the house. It took me a while to figure out the right amount of wood needed to heat the house. In fact, it is very easy to over heat the house and cooling it down then becomes a problem.
The rest of the house runs on electricity. I installed a rather large wind turbine to supply the electricity I need. The turbine cost me as much as the house but I have no worries about power outages. I placed the turbine and tower on the ridge about 200 yards from the house above the canyon and the power cable is buried. The way the valley and the box canyon is situated; the hills naturally funnel the wind up or down the valley and over the ridge on the north end of my property. I have had only one day I know of when it did not produce enough electricity to supply all my needs.
I was going to make this move in the spring after school let out for the year, but halfway through the fall semester I decided that my heart was not really in teaching and I needed to move on. I turned in my resignation and now on the 22nd of December I was making the final trip. I started to see snow flurries about five hours into the trip and it started sticking pretty well right away. When I was three hours from home, there was already two inches on the ground and it was snowing harder. The only good thing was that there was only a small breeze so visibility, although restricted, was not impossible. I still had to slow down to about 45 MPH, which was going to add an hour to the trip.
As I drove through the last town nearest "My Retreat" I stopped for coffee and fuel. I talked to Dale, the owner of the service station, and he said, "It has been snowing since mid morning and they had just post a winter travel advisory for southern Colorado and northern New Mexico." He added, "I am going to close down early tonight."
I told him that as soon as I finished the next 20 miles I was going to hibernate until the roads were cleared. He laughed and said that was a very good idea and not to push it. He had already been out twice this evening to pull people out of the ditch. I filled my coffee mug and paid for the gas and coffee.
I went out and started the truck. As I pulled onto the state road, I noticed the trailer slid to the side so I kept my speed down. This stretch of the road is definitely not straight and I did not want to be pulled off the road backward by the trailer. About three-quarters of an hour later I was about two-mile from the turn off to the county road that led past my property when I saw a small car stopped halfway on the shoulder with its hazard lights blinking.
I pulled to about 50 feet behind the car then turned on the headache rack lights bathing the car in bright light. As I climbed down I pulled on my parka and slipping my pistol into the right hand coat pocket. In this weather, a person just might be desperate enough to try something stupid and I wanted to be prepared.
I approached the car slowly. No one was opening the door or windows. I thought that maybe the car had been abandoned when I noticed a head leaning back against the seat. I thumped the rear of the car hard and the head jerked around. I could tell then, that it was female and I felt a little more at ease but still approached the car by moving up the side taking quick glances around and into the car.
Once I reached the door I had to pull it open the woman was sitting curled up holding her knees. She had on a medium weight jacket and jeans, no hat or gloves. I asked her why she was sitting there and she said that she had been here for couple of hours. She was lost and had run out of gas or at least the car would not start. Did I have any?
I told her the truck was diesel and that while I had some at the house once I got to it I doubted that I would be able to get out again in this weather. She then wanted to know about a phone. I explained I had one but it was in need of a charge. Then I mentioned the nearest gas station had already closed for the night, beside which even if we got gas for her car I doubted that she would be able get too far in this snowstorm. With this news, she started to cry.
It took me a couple minutes to get her calmed down and she agreed to allow me to push her car the rest of the way off the road. I went and climbed into the truck and set it in four-wheel drive for the first time that day. Four-wheel drive does not help with stopping but I wanted the extra traction in pushing her off on to the shoulder of the road and pulling the trailer back onto the road when I was done.
I had to get out and remind her to pull at least two feet off the road so that she wouldn't be hit by the snowplow when it came through. She said that she was worried about getting out again. I told her I could pull her out but if the plow didn't see her not only would she end up in the ditch but her car would also most likely be quite banged up. This convinced her, and I pushed her over and within a couple minutes the front door of the cab was even with her door.
She opened the door and asked if she could bring a couple items with her and I said that would be fine; did she need help? She said "no." then handed me a fairly heavy brief case followed by a knapsack, which felt extremely light. I put both on the rear bench of the cab.
I was able to see her as she climbed in. She appeared to have some Oriental blood gauging by the facial features. She was rather slender but had to be between 5'5" or 5'7" because she did not have much trouble climbing into the truck. Once she was in I took off my parka and climbed back in. I was going to put it on the rear bench when she asked me if she could use it to warm up.
While she was tucking the parka around her, she asked what was in the pocket and I said my pistol; would she like me to remove it. She turned pale, and nodded her head not saying anything. I took the pistol, put it back in its holster, and placed it back in the side of the door panel.
She then asked me why I had a gun and I said that not all people were as pretty and well mannered as she was and it was normally used for protection from snake and other varmints. I left the headache rack lights on and about five minutes later pulled off onto the gravel county road. Three miles later, I pulled into my driveway and came to a stop so I could open the gate. I do not keep a lock on the gate since the neighbor checks on the cattle once a week. I popped out of the cab, pushed open the gate, pulled the truck forward and then re-shut the gate. By the time, I got back into the car I was shaking with cold and was gently scolded for not taking my parka.
At a crawl, it seemed to take forever to travel the half-mile to the top of the canyon. I knew what effect starting down would have. I had build a small coffer dam to keep water from running down my driveway so as you climbed up it the road just disappears under you and it looks like you are going to fall into a void. The first time I did it at night it spooked me too. I was right; I heard and audible gasp come from my passenger and I could not help but chuckle a little. I was informed, that it was not funny to scare someone half to death, but she had a smile on her face for the first time since I found her.
As I approached the garage, I used the remote control to open both of the doors and I pulled in until the front of the trailer was just out of the snow under the eaves. I disconnected the trailer. I then pulled the truck forward before backing the truck into the other side of the garage and parking it. I used the winch on the trailer to pull the trailer the rest of way into the garage. Once that was done, I shut the garage doors and connected the truck oil heater in so it would be easy to start.
When we entered the house, I headed for the kitchen, which is at the other end and the only thing I think I screwed up on when I designed the house. I put water on to heat, then went to the porch and started the fire in the wood stove. I told her that it would take about 15 minutes for the place to warm up and she looked at me as if I was crazy. I just smiled and pointed out where the bathroom was and to take a pick of one of the two spare bedrooms.
When she returned I was putting the second large log in the firebox; next I started the blowers. The porch was already fairly warm and soon the rest of the house would be. I returned to the kitchen and asked her if she would prefer coffee (instant), tea, or hot chocolate. She asked what I was having and I said tonight I felt like having hot chocolate; she said good, that was what she would have too.
Once the hot chocolate was prepared, I led the way into the great-room. I told her I was Bruce Watts and was a retired schoolteacher. She asked me what I taught and where and I simply sat there until she blushed and said her name was Gail Garcia. I looked at her in surprise; she said that her father had met her mother while in Thailand and after the navy discharged him, he had arranged for her passage to the US where they were married.
I then asked her where she was going and that turned on the tears again. The four-year relationship with her boyfriend was deteriorating further since his last DWI ticket and he had become more abusive. I asked for the reason behind that and she said he was a truck driver and the company had fired him even though he had never been drunk or drank during company time. I told her that it was more than likely an insurance thing dealing with liability issues.
I asked her where she was going and she said that she lived in Raton and was driving home to Chama when she made a wrong turn in the snow somewhere. Gail then changed the subject and asked me about the house. I gave her a quick tour and then asked her if she had eaten dinner. She looked at me and said that she had not eaten since breakfast and anything would be good.
I told her I had some frozen stew in the freezer and all I had to do was thaw it and add some potato and make some biscuits, which would take about 30 minutes at the most. She asked what she could do to help and I asked if she would like to peel the potatoes or make the biscuits. She said she could make the biscuits if I liked and I told her I had some biscuit mix in the pantry.
When I led her into the pantry, she said, "My God! You have a small store in here!" I told her that I had stocked up during Thanksgiving Break and in the winter, I didn't plan on getting out much. I planned to drive down to Albuquerque once every six months to stock up on food by the case. I then showed her the root cellar, which she had never seen the likes of before. I explained that this was the only room in the house, which did not have heat nor was it water proof; it was more like a natural cave and stayed cool year round. I kept potato, onion and garlic just to mention a few items in here. I also asked her to pick out a bottle of red wine from the back of the cellar.
I nuked the stew in the microwave to thaw it then moved it to the counter to wait until the potatoes were cooked. I would then add the cooked potatoes to the stew and completed the warming process on the stove. Gail was in the process of loading the cookie sheets with the biscuit dough when I looked up. She was smiling; I asked her what was up and she said that this was the perfect kitchen that she had not had to ask where anything was. I told her I was happy that she liked the design; that I was rather proud of it myself.
She asked if I had designed the kitchen. I replied that I had designed the whole house and the only thing I found wrong with the design was the fact that the kitchen was so far from the garage. She asked why that was a problem and I told her because when I bought food it had to be packed the length of the house before it could be stored. I went on to say I did not just buy a couple items I usually bought a lot, which meant I had a lot of moving to do when I returned from shopping. Gail said that if that was the only problem I should get a rolling cart and a hand truck; that would help eliminate that problem. I laughed and said I already had and they were stored in the utility room.
Once I combined the potatoes and stew I set it on the stove to heat slowly. Then I took plates and bowls out of the cupboard. Gail who had found the silverware was getting it out. I asked her to provide me with a soupspoon for my stew since it was more like a very thick soup.
Once the stew was ready, I carried it onto the porch. I turned on the outside lights, which allowed me to look down the canyon both ways normally. The view tonight was restricted to the white wonderland just a hundred feet or so in front of the house. The tracks I had made coming in were already filling in and you would have to know where to look for them the by morning. Gail looked at me and said it did not look like we were getting out tomorrow. I laughed and said that although I could plow the driveway up to the road it would be a while before the road crew would have the county road cleared. More than likely it would be at least two days if not a week before we could leave if it kept snowing like this all night. Beside other than Dale, the man who owned the gas station, no one knew I was back in the area.
After we finished our stew, I said I was going to clean up the kitchen and go to bed; was there anything she needed. She turned a little red and said that all she had was the clothes on her back and a few toiletry items in the knapsack. I asked her what she would need tonight and she said a T-shirt would be nice. I told her I could give her that but I used sweatshirts with the sleeves cut off at the elbow because it got chilly at night when the fire died down. After we cleaned up the kitchen, I gave her the sweatshirt and retired for the night.
About 4:30 AM, I heard my name called from my bedroom door. I asked Gail what was the matter; she said that she was freezing and I muttered something about being sorry for forgetting that the beds were set up for summer usage. I folded back the feather down comforter on my bed and slid to the left side, telling her to climb in; I was not getting up for at least two more hours if not three.
Gail got this look on her face and was about to say something when I said "look you are safe with me and I am not getting up now because then I would be up for the day so to get in or go back to the other bed." She climbed in and lay as stiff as a board so I rolled over and attempted to go back to sleep. It was disconcerting to hear someone else breathing and know they were not relaxing on the other side of the bed. I was just about to say something and get up when she moved over and lay up against my back.
Damn! Was she cold! I nearly jumped out of bed; in fact I jerked away for a moment then realized I would fall out of bed if I kept going. I heard Gail start giggling so I rolled over and poked her in the ribs and she burst into laughter. I then gathered her into my arms and said "Sssh!" and we settle down to go to sleep. Gail laid stiff again for few minutes then turned on her side so that we were spooning and slowly she relaxed and we fell back to sleep.
We slept in to about 8 AM waking up in our original spoon position. I need to use the little room and as I got up Gail blushed and I told her there was no need for her to be embarrassed. Gail said, "I guess its good you are an old man!" I turned and started for the bed when she jumped out the other side and scooted out the bedroom door giggling. I sighed; it had been over three-years since my wife died and Gail was having an effect on me.
I went to the bathroom, then to the porch to scrape out the firebox and start the new fire for the day. Just as I finished Gail came in wearing her jeans and my sweatshirt that came well below her waist. I asked her what she wanted for breakfast and she said nothing except a cup of coffee. I told her I needed to eat and I didn't get to cook for someone very often so would she like an omelet this morning.
As we ate breakfast, I asked her why she was out on the road and I learned a little about her life with her boyfriend. She had been married once before and her husband had died in a car accident about four and half years ago. I asked her if getting together with her present boyfriend had been the result of that and she said that most likely it had something to do with it but that she had tried to make it work.
I then asked her if she needed to call work or somebody. She stated she worked at home but would like to call her parents and let them know she was safe. I handed her my cell phone and went into the kitchen to clean up the breakfast dishes. Ten minutes later Gail entered and I could tell she was pissed. Her whole posture and demeanor had changed. Without preamble, she declared that her ex-boyfriend was one rotten SOB and that if she could get to him right now she would kill him.
After five minutes of calming her down, I found out her ex-boyfriend, had just called her folks, and asked to speak to her. When they had told him that she was not there, he had replied good maybe she was dead, which had upset her parents. I told her we needed to call the local Sheriff's Department and let them know about her car and that she was with me. They could notify the police in Raton in case a missing person report was on file.
While I talked to the Deputy Sheriff Mike Thomas, I mentioned that the boyfriend had kicked Gail out without letting her get any clothing or anything else for that matter. I also stated that she had run out of gas when the tank still indicated that it was half-full and before now she had no trouble with her fuel gauge. Mike said he would have the car towed and checked. Would she be willing to file charges if it was determined that the car had been tampered with otherwise the Sheriff's Department could do nothing. I told him that if it was determined that her car had been tampered with, I would try to convince her to file charges.
I asked if he would check and see if the boyfriend had filed a missing person report, with the Raton Police. Mike said he would check and suggest they allow him to file the report and not inform him of her being with me. I thanked him and told him I looked forward to buying him coffee again and he chuckled and said that would be great.
When I got off the phone, Gail asked me why I would think she would press charges and I replied for several reasons: 1. Prior physical abuse. 2. Kicking her out without any of her personal property. 3. As a truck driver, he was well aware of the weather conditions. 4. Knowing the weather conditions, to allow you to drive without snow tires or chains was criminal. 5. Why did he wait until this morning to call your folks and why make that statement to them? 6. Lastly, why did the fuel gauge or the car decide to have a problem now?
Gail stood there like a rabbit caught by the headlights of an oncoming car before turning and running down the hall to the bedroom she had spent most of the night in. I waited ten minutes, before following her down the hall. Before I reached the bedroom, I could hear her still crying. I went in and sat down on the bed then started to rub her back gently. I felt her finch but then lay still crying while I continued rubbing her back. It took her another five minutes or so to get the crying out of her system.
Once she had settle down we had a long conversation and Gail promised that if there was any proof at all that the car had been tampered with she would file on her ex-boyfriend. Then she asked, "I know you may not want to get involve but would you please help me obtain my personal property from the apartment?"
I told her, "I would be happy to help her but first we needed to determine where she was moving to, when she wanted to do this, and how to contain or avoid her ex."
Gail thought for a minute then said, "Hey we are stuck here for a while so maybe he will have a job and be on the road when we get to Raton. If that does not work I can swear out a warrant for his arrest then later change my mind about prosecuting him but in-between he will spend a day at least in jail and we can move my stuff then."
"I like the latter idea because it will make a public record of his behavior and go a long ways towards preventing him from making more trouble for you in the future." Then I changed the subject and said, "Sometime today we will have to empty the trailer and the truck. Would she like to do that before lunch?"
She seemed to want to change the topic now so replied, "Let's get after it."
As I mentioned before most of my stuff was already here I had been living in a furnished efficiency apartment. So all I had to pack up was some cloths, books, small set of pots, pans, and dishes, and of course my computers. The rest of the items were from my classroom and consisted of more books, a few pictures and a few pieces of hardware that had a little sentimental value.
After we were dressed, I led her to the utility room to get the hand truck and cart. When Gail saw the computer sitting in the corner she asked why it was sitting there and not in the study. I told her that was the house server and tracked the power requirements shutting of lights and non-essential items as required by either use or availability of power.
Gail asked for more details and I told her that it was like the house lighting, which had sensor built in and if it detected you walking into an area of the house it would turn on the lights for you. This worked in all rooms except the bedrooms. The bedrooms were controlled by a switch or the clapping of your hands so you could do it once you were in bed. Other than that when the wind generator fell below a certain output level the computer limits the amount of power being required. Say that the power was to drop now it would monitor the room temperature to ensure it stayed above 50 degrees and would turn off the freezer and/or refrigerator while the blowers for the heating ducts are on. In a more critical time, it may reduce all use to a single item but switch it around to keep everything running at different times so nothing would be lost! The day that we lost power down to 20% capacity showed that this system is reliable and power to the computer itself is a series of car batteries, which will supply enough power to keep the computer running for one week without any outside source. Then I added, incidentally, I do have a small diesel generator, which I can use in an emergency.
From there we went out and unloaded the trailer. The pot, pans, and dishes went to the kitchen. Books to the study and clothes to my bedroom or the utility room, if they required washing. The trailer was empty and most items stored in their proper place by lunchtime.