Over the Edge

Photo graph of road curving through treesAs I rounded the bend, there it was. Off the road caught by a tree, a white car was hanging onto the slope. If it were not for the brush on this precipitous drop into the ravine that carried the creek, the car would have rolled and rolled. coming to rest at the bottom of the canyon. The driver ahead of me had stopped and was looking down to see if anyone was inside.

But the event had happened earlier and there was a bright green sheriff’s notice on the window on the driver’s side, a window that was almost horizontal as you looked down into it. Arrangements were, no doubt, being made. The car was empty.

The other driver and I exchanged speculations, told of other events we had seen, and continued on our way reminding ourselves to be careful.

About a decade ago I saw a car off the road at about the same spot. A green car hung suspended on the asphalt curb that marked the edge of the road. All four wheels were off the ground, the front wheels dangling down the slope with the weight of the engine lifting the rear wheels off the pavement. How had anyone managed to leave the road at such an angle, I wondered?

The car was gone by evening.

The next night I returned home late. As I rounded that bend at close to midnight, I found a towing service and sheriff’s car parked on the road. I waited as the mangled remains of that same green car were hoisted out of the canyon. The driver had not survived this second trip over the edge, and that had been her intent all along.

For almost three decades I have traveled this road every day, five miles up through twists and turns that in some places have narrowed to a single lane where the hillside has crumbled or slid into the canyon below. If it’s winter with a storm pounding the mountain, the house I arrive at beyond the end of the road is sometimes without power–occasionally for days at a time. Our well has run dry; fires have threatened; there are rattlesnakes, coyotes, and evidence of mountain lions, and there is no corner store to run to if we are out of milk. Why do I live here? There are many who think I am crazy.

And maybe I am. When someone new moves to the mountain, we all wait and see how long they will last. There are really only two possibilities: less than two years or forever–on this mountain or another.

But a move to a mountain is only one way we humans put ourselves to the test. There are others as well. Some do it through work, some through athletic endeavors, some through art, music, dance, knowledge. How far can we go? What is beyond the bend? Is it a road we want to continue to travel the rest of our lives? Is there a place to turn back?

And always there is the fear–or allure–that when going around a bend a little too fast, we just might go over the edge.


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