You are skating, involuntarily, in your car, into the other lane of traffic. There is a truck coming toward you and your brakes aren’t engaging. You swing your car back toward the correct lane, sliding instead over it and off the road completely, heading into a field of standing corn. You find yourself gratefully thinking “corn is soft” as your car slides downward, then finally stops. You and your car are ok. The truck has passed by ok, too. But now you are stuck in a ditch. And you can’t find your phone. And you’re low on gas.
It’s cold, the snow is falling thick and heavy. A truck pulls up on the road. It’s the driver you almost ran into, who has come back to check on you. As he’s approaching you, his friend drives by, sees the situation and stops, too. Now there are two men you don’t know knee deep in snow; one pushing, one steering, to get your car out of the ditch. It looks promising, but the ditch is too steep. Your car is back down where it was and the men are saying, “Sorry,” they can’t do more.
Dean, the truck driver, lends you his flip phone. He’s already calling the local towing place. He knows the guy, Randy. You know him, too: He changes your oil and repairs your car, he’s one part of a three-part “father, son and son’s fiancé” team who are each a perfect blend of kind, hardworking and funny. (Randy would tell you he’s the funniest of the three.) You’re relieved to learn Randy is already pulling other people out of ditches, and he’ll be by soon enough to help you.
You give goodbyes and thanks to Dean and his friend. Now all you need do is wait. Another car stops and it’s a friend of a friend, heading home because the snow is getting worse. She can’t help you, but you both sit there with windows rolled down, flakes floating in, chatting. Then she too departs. You find your phone and with it the solace of a friend in Europe who texts cheery thoughts while you wait. Next, Kevin, who drives the plow-grit-salt truck, stops alongside you. You laugh and tell him he’s 30 minutes too late and this is his fault — he laughs back, telling you he’s been out plowing since 3 a.m. and already swiped this road once, so it’s you that’s late! Shortly after Kevin leaves, Randy arrives, with hooks, chains and a winch that winds you back up onto the road again. Full of chuckles and smiles he gives you a big fatherly hug and sends you off on your way.
As you gingerly drive away, you marvel at how a simple ditch has gifted you with an expanded definition of “community:” one that’s crafted from connections, loosely held or tightly wound, woven by people who may be strangers to one another, yet who all share one thing — they are living their lives leaving an imprint beyond themselves and their own immediate needs.
Etienne White lives where the land meets the sky on a farm in Iowa County where she raises grass-fed, Old English Babydoll sheep, as well as pastured chickens, a happy farm dog, a wily barn cat and her two spirited children. She works at the intersection of marketing and sustainability, leading efforts to create mass consumer behavior change, for the greater good of both people and planet.