It was a miserable winter day in northern Michigan. The pavement was wet but not icy because it wasn't quite cold enough to freeze. I was driving a two-lane blacktop winding through the sandhill country. White-tailed deer country, too, with pine, oak, birch and aspen; no good for farming, fairly isolated and particularly lonely-looking through the mist and fog and rain. I was driving to Saginaw to meet a photographer. We had a hurry-up assignment.
There was a car in the ditch ahead of me, and I wondered how any idiot could go off the road on a straight stretch of non-slippery, two-lane blacktop. I touched the brakes and nearly lost control. The pavement ahead was shining. It was glare ice. As I slid past, I noticed that the driver of the ditched car was a woman wearing a white stocking cap. She sat behind the wheel, staring into the woods. Exhaust still blew out of the car's tail pipe.
I coasted to a stop and saw what had happened. There was a creek bottom off to the side. Cold air collects in creek bottoms. The temperature change had created a highway of glare ice for a half mile. I looked at a curve ahead as the road wound out of the hollow and went up over the hill. I wouldn't have made that curve, I thought. No way.
All right. I would go back and pull that idiot out of the ditch. Without her, it would have been me. And my priceless 10-year-old, four-wheel-drive pickup truck. Down in that creek bottom, no less. Of course I would pull her out. The dream of every 4x4 owner is to find a damsel in distress in such a lonely spot. Then came the sound of another vehicle.
I knew the approaching car was in trouble as it broke over the hill with the creek-bottom curve just below. I remember thinking how curious it was to see a car coming sideways down a hill, taking up both lanes of the road. For so long a time. And then it spun around facing the opposite way, sliding toward the shoulder. I remember thinking, I hope he doesn't flip, just before the car hit the soft shoulder and somersaulted into an unbelievably high, graceful, silent arc that ended with two heavy crashes out of my sight below the road bank. For a couple of seconds I sat stunned by the amount of daylight I had seen between the car and the ground.
Farewell, damsel in distress. I put the truck in gear and drove slowly ahead. It was only 200 yards away. I thought, I hope I like whoever is in there. When I got out of the truck I heard moaning from the creek bottom. As I slid down the hill I cursed myself for not having taken a first-aid course somewhere. What do you know, you dumb clod?
The first thing I saw of Kevin Ellison was his hip boots, both of them, sticking out from under a bundle of clothes. No, that bundle was Kevin. I knelt down. No blood. Eyes open. A little shock, maybe. Head in the snow. Hip boots.
His car was 20 feet away.
"Is there anyone else in the car?" I asked.
"No," was the slightly dazed reply.