Dusk on a Snowy Night

I remember a late winter afternoon when I experienced a strange sense of being lost that I had not experienced before, nor have I since. I was seventeen, it was during my high school year in Pittsburgh, and I was visiting with my aunt, Katherine Waddell, her husband, Herb, and their two young daughters, Ruth and Dolores. Herb, a shipper at a Pittsburgh furniture warehouse, had visions of being a prosperous chicken farmer. So he had bought this small country place near Prospect, PA, some fifty miles north of Pittsburgh, where he raised something like fifty or a hundred white chickens. He spent the weekends and Wednesday night there, and stayed in Pittsburgh the other nights.

On several occasions I met him at his warehouse Friday night and drove up to Prospect with him for a weekend. We would drive back to Pittsburgh early Monday morning. On this particular weekend the ground was covered with several inches of snow. On Sunday afternoon I decided to take a hike through the fields and woods of that hilly countryside. Their big collie dog accompanied me.

I am sure I must have enjoyed walking through those unfamiliar woods. But it was an overcast day, it was late afternoon, and I was suddenly aware the light was fading. Also I had unaccountably lost my companion. I stepped up my pace through that particular patch of woods. It was getting dark in the woods, but I expected to come out at the top of a hill and look down on Herb and Katherine’s place and the warm and welcoming sight of lighted windows. Instead, as I emerged from the woods I beheld a broad scene utterly strange to me. I recognized nothing. There was the eerie, unreal light of dusk when the ground is covered with snow and the sky is shrouded in a thick overcast. Two or three houses in the distance had lighted windows; the only relief from the encompassing grayness. Night was falling fast. I felt utterly lost. I wondered if I would have to make my way to one of those houses and ask the way. But would they know the Waddells, recent newcomers to the area?

I chose to walk to a hill on my right. When I reached the top, I could look down and see Herb and Katherine’s cozy little house with its warm and welcoming light from the windows. Why I had that panicky feeling I don’t know. I was never really lost, of course. Even if I had to ask at a stranger’s house, I would certainly be back with my uncle and aunt that evening. But the feeling was so intense and tenacious that to this day it comes back to me when I am in the country amid woods and fields, there is snow on the ground, and the overcast sky gives the dusk a darkness and pervading grayness. It takes me back to that lonely moment on a winter twilight at the top of a strange hill.