Snow Angel

I love this story from the book Angel Letters by Sophy Burnham. It was submitted by William N. Lindemann of Tahoma, California. Do I believe it? Absolutely. I’ve heard far too many such stories to doubt that such angelic interventions can happen.

Beside me throughout my life, I have always felt a guiding presence. When I am walking in the wild, as I have done since childhood, this presence guides me. I have humorously referred to it as General Direction.

I was raised in the outdoors. I spent ten years in scouting. I wandered the woods alone all my life, often preferring the company of animals to humans. I hunted and fished, paddled and back-packed, wherever I felt a need or desire to go. So it was not unusual one cold February morning for me to go for a walk outside. I bundled up in a down parka, boots, hat, and mittens and set out into the thin, sub-zero day.

As I left our low-rent student apartment, I mentioned I was off, and no one asked where. I walked down to the shore of a nearby lake, about a mile from home. This lake is nearly twenty-five miles in circumference, nine miles long, and about five miles wide. From where I stood overlooking the bumpy hillocks of ice and snow, I estimated it would take me four hours to reach the middle and return.

The lake had been frozen for two months, and the ice was quite thick. People skied, played and fished on it daily. Indeed, that day I could see colorful figures off in the distance. I created a line-of-sight target for myself and stomped off into the snow. It was tiring work, and not having been prepared for such a large undertaking, I didn’t bring water with me. My thirst increased and I started to eat the snow.

As I reached the turning point, the sky began to cloud over. The cloud cover was unusually low and ominously dark; heavy storm clouds filled the air with large, beautiful, entrancing flakes. The temperature dropped, the wind picked up, and I could no longer see anyone on the ice.

Soon I found it difficult to see ahead, and I had to shield my eyes from the stinging snow. I could barely even see my hand in front of my face. I had to lean heavily into the wind. I have no idea how long I walked on this way. I began to feel cold and drew my hood down tight over my hat. I withdrew my arms from the sleeves up into the chest space. I knew the dangers of hypothermia well.

Stumbling on in the blizzard, I started to fall. At first I figured I needed my arms to balance. Then I realized I could see nothing but white; I had become snow-blind and was confused. When I fell, sometimes I could not stand again. I couldn’t differentiate up and down. Better to stay down and crawl, I thought. Occasionally deep, thunderous groans rolled from beneath the surface of the ice. I began calling out for help, only to hear my voice fall dead in the storm before me.

What if I had been going in circles? I stretched out on the frozen lake, reaching forward, digging in my hands, pulling my knees up and arching my back, inching forward, wormlike. “Please, dear God, help me find my way.” Depression began to take hold. I stopped prone in the snow, tears freezing on my cheeks.

Then loud and clear, as if directly before me, came the grand, sonorous foghorn of the rescue station only blocks from my house. “Be careful,” said a voice, “the breakwater is open and deep.” I moved on again, snail-like, across the bumpy whiteness. After a short while I heard the lapping of gentle waves, closer and closer. “Be careful, stay to the right, climb the concrete wall when you reach it.” I heard these things and knew them at the same time; they were sensible, logical, and, most of all reassuring, like trusted counsel.

Soon the waves were very close, and I removed my glove to feel for wetness near the edge of the ice. My hands were numb, but not without sensation. I found the edge and began moving around to the right, still on my belly, toward the retaining wall. It was beginning to get dark, and, looking up, I faintly saw the light of the rescue station. I felt my way up through the deeply drifting snow to the door. The next thing I felt was being half pulled and half carried inside. A man with dark hair and a beard was there with hot coffee brewing.

After asking me what I was doing, he said he thought he had seen me or someone out on the lake coming in this direction. Thinking the foghorn might help, he set it off. “Good timing,” I responded. When I asked him why he was there in the middle of winter, he said he was finishing some research. When I finished my coffee, I decided to go. We said goodbye, and I walked home.

At home I discovered I had been gone for over seven hours and everyone was worried about me. I told them the whole story. My roommate, Dana, said there was no way the rescue station would have been open. The taste of coffee was still in my mouth. They thought it was a good story, but given my appearance and physical condition they knew there was some truth in it.

The next day, after the storm, in the light of day, I walked back to the rescue building. It was locked up tight, and its concrete-bunker design looked imposing. The door was nearly buried in the drift, which showed no signs of anyone having traveled there. I dug through the drift to the door and read a sign: CLOSED FOR WINTER, with inclusive dates from fall to spring. I called the county sheriff’s department and was told no one had access during the winter and no one had been there the day before. I called the university and was surprised to hear the same story. To this day I have no earthly explanation for my rescue, but this experience cemented my belief in a Higher Power and the guardians that watch over us.


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