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Angel in a White Pickup

By Bailey Herrington

The pandemic cocoon we call home squeezed in. Most days we coped with cooped. Counted blessings. No friend or family member stricken with covid19. A warm house. A real bed. Three meals every day. Family and friends only a Zoom away. But today the walls crept closer.

“Let’s get out of Dodge,” Karen said. I agreed. Even butterflies break free from their casings. A mental health day spent driving back roads in southern New Mexico beckoned. Social distancing of sixty miles, not six feet, along Apache Gap Road, County Road A013. The gravel, dirt and rock road stretched before us, One hundred miles of blue sky, shrub-covered desert rangeland, deep arroyos, blue-shadow mountains – and Microwave towers. After several miles we turned onto Aleman’s Shortcut, on our way to the eastern side of Caballo Lake.

Who was Aleman, and what destination did he want to shortcut? We hoped to find out. Our only companions along the road were a soaring Red-tailed Hawk, flitting finches, and six bulls who expressed curiosity at our passing.

Beneath an impressively high wooden arch-sign we entered Apache Gap Ranch. Private Property. No Trespassing. After some miles we drove up to a cluster of structures: house, barn, stables, corral, and a random grouping of ranch equipment and trucks. Two men eyed our arrival. Thankfully, no one was playing a banjo on the porch.

One of the men advised us we had missed a turn, and gave us directions. Soon we were on a rough, rocky track heading toward Caballo Mountain. Our gazetteer map confirmed we were on the right road, but as the road became narrower and boulder-strewn, doubt jumped into our minds.

Abruptly the road steepened and skinny-ed. Even in low-low four-wheel drive the SUV couldn’t move through the deep, slippery gravel. The right side tires churned inches from a smooth-sided rock a car-wrecking six feet above a trench.

Backing down through a mile of the boulder field would be treacherous over the unstable gravel and rocky rubble. But it seemed to be our only choice. Karen got out to guide my course. A small miscalculation while steering or braking would at best strand us, miles from anywhere, at worst injure us and totally wreck the car. After a close call we realized descending in reverse was impossible. We decided to attempt to turn the car around. There was no room for error. I could only move the SUV a foot for each turn of the steering wheel. Foot crushing the brake pedal, I inched the car backward, then forward. I watched Karen’s hand signaling the remaining safe distance.

We heard an engine. Around a bend thirty or so yards above us a white pickup truck appeared, almost capsizing as the driver wheeled over boulders. He stopped his high-clearance truck among the boulders. I explained our map had indicated this road would take us over the mountain.

“Yeah,” he said, “I followed the same wrong map the first day on my job out here. I check the Microwave towers. This road dead ends at the tower at the summit.” I said I needed to turn our car around. He suggested here afforded the best chance to do so. “Want me to stick around to make sure you’re OK?” “That would be great.” He waited some yards farther down. The turn around took nerve and time but succeeded. The guy waved, and drove on. We never saw him again.

“He was our angel,” said Karen.

Without a doubt. Angels show up when needed most. Like all angels, he didn’t turn our SUV around for us. He made a suggestion. He didn’t criticize us for being there (“What were you thinking?”). His attitude said “I know you can do this.” At that instant I knew I could, too. # # #

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