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 Bill Bernbeck
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Walkabout Journal

Heading Home

You never know how payback will come.

 The road was clear and dry when I left home. I was on my way to Cortland to conduct another week of the Electrician Apprentice program. I had been making the trip every other week through the winter. The drive was a little more than 100 miles, and I preferred to travel it by local roads to take in the scenery around the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York. I gave myself plenty of time to drive slow and just observe.

I headed out of the village of Skaneateles on route 41 for the final leg over the hill to Cortland. Where the weather in the village was calm and clear, it changed dramatically as I made my way up the hill. A local overcast gradually started sprinkling enough to wet the road pavement. Snow flurries appeared over the next mile. Farther on, the wind kicked up, and the ground was turning white. Before long, snow was accumulating on the road. My vehicle made the only tracks.

 The conditions worsened at the top of the hill. There were now drifts of wind-driven snow piling across the road. The visibility was not a whiteout, but it was not too far from being that. The hilltop ran along a high, exposed ridge for about ten miles. My speed was down to a crawl. I hoped things would change once I got off the high ground.

 There was a car trapped in a snowdrift. It was just off the road, somewhat safely out of the way, but stuck in far enough that it was not moving. A lone person was behind the wheel. The blizzard conditions were miserable. I stopped to see if assistance was needed. It was.

 The driver was a young woman, perhaps a late 20-something in age. She seemed more irritated than concerned with her plight. Her car had hopelessly spun into the soft and icy snow at the road shoulder. She realized she needed help, and we both returned to my vehicle to see what could be done.

 My cell phone had no service in that area. Our two vehicles had been the only traffic along the road all the while. She lived about five miles back from where we were. Could I give her a ride back to her house? I stifled a moan as I turned the car around and proceeded back into the storm. The drive back to her house was just as nerve wracking as it had been in the opposite direction.

 With my passenger safely home, I returned into the blizzard to face those last miles again. The weather noticeably abated a few miles beyond her stranded car. Thank God, I was on my way out of it.

 Then serendipity intervened. Through the waning storm, I saw some horses in a nearby field. They had been in a distant pasture, walking into the wind to make their way back to the barn. Their coloring was just discernable against the solid void background. Sensing a photogenic scene, I stopped again, parked on the near road shoulder, and scrambled over and through the snowdrifts for a position to capture a good image of their ordeal.

 My only camera was a Kodak DC290. A good camera, but it had a resolution of only two megapixels, and the shutter delay was always frustrating. Nonetheless, I made a series of exposures hoping that I could catch the horses in a position that showed their gallant struggle against the elements. “Heading Home” is the result.

Heading Home by Bill Bernbeck

Back in my warm car, I contemplated the events.  I had done a good deed in helping the stranded girl, even though it had been inconvenient to turn back into the storm. However, if I had not helped her, if I had continued down the road, I would have missed the opportunity to capture Heading Home. I have since thought of that picture as my payback, my reward for a good deed.

Maybe, just maybe, what goes around does come around.

Bill Bernbeck
January 2010

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All images and writings Copyright Bill Bernbeck


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