The jeep crawled slowly up the snow covered rutted trail that lead up to a cabin in a clearing in the woods. I had my old CJ7 in low automatic, and high 4 wheel drive, and every once in a while I wondered if I should have chosen to use low in the 4 wheel drive, and selected drive in the transmission. But, the ground leveled out and the throaty sound of the engine began to get louder as the rpm increased. So I moved the gear selector into second, and the engine became quieter. This road was normally passable in the summer with an ordinary passenger car, but I had left it a bit late to make my trek in. So, after the fall rains had turned the ground to muck, and the fresh snow on the soft ground had hidden the road from sight, I had been forced to pick and choose my trail.
The clearing opened up right ahead of me. The snow-covered pines of the high sierra’s surrounded the clearing. The cabin was also clad in a coat of fresh fallen snow, but from here on I could have driven it blindfolded. I had come up here every summer of my life from the time I was a baby. Last summer was the first summer I had missed, although not from choice. My wife had suffered all through the summer, cancer finally taking her on to a more peaceful state on an Indian summer day in the fall. We were now supposed to be on a 3 month cruise around the world to celebrate my retirement, but I had no desire to go alone. So here I was at the family cabin, feeling like an old man, although I was only just 65 in August. This cabin had been my grandparents, and my parents, and now it was mine, to pass on to our daughter, and our son. Probably one of them would buy out the other’s share, as I had done with my 2 sisters once their families had grown tired of the trek from the city on busy weekends.
I drove my jeep up to the door of the cabin, and carried a few things inside after I had unlocked the door. The darned snow had frosted up my glasses, so I removed them, and found something to clean them with. What a nuisance it was getting old. Until I turned 42 I had perfect eyesight. Then it was just a weak pair of reading glasses so I could see up close. Soon the reading glasses were no longer weak, and by now at 65 I was wearing +5D for distance, with another +3D in my trifocals. I hated it. I was helpless without my glasses. I couldn’t see anything at a distance, and I sure as heck couldn’t see up close.
With my glasses cleaned, I went back to the jeep, and carried the rest of my provisions in to the cabin. There was lots of firewood cut and stacked, so I lit a fire in the fireplace, and hoped that I would be able to heat the cabin to a comfortable temperature for the winter. There is a diesel generator for electricity, and some electric heaters, but my supply of fuel for the generator was restricted to a 200-gallon tank, so I wanted to burn wood as long as I possibly could. With the help of my son I had put more insulation in the cabin a number of years ago, and while no one had stayed over the winter since then, I hoped that I could keep myself warm.
I opened the door to the garage, and put my jeep inside. Even with this jeep I knew I would not be going anywhere until after the snows had melted in the spring. I know I had spent way too much of my money on the restoration of the old CJ. I had raised it 6 inches, replaced the tires with really good big traction tires, and had painted it a nice bright red. The winch I had installed on the front was rated at 6,000 lbs capacity, and I had some blocks and pulleys that would, if used correctly, multiply this capacity about 10 times. I had nothing else I wanted to spend my money on though, so now I had a very serviceable jeep.
The cabin was starting to warm up. I heated some beans, and had my supper. Then I washed up, and crawled into bed, after banking the fire. I slept fitfully, and as daybreak came poking through my curtains I thought I heard a knocking at my door. I quickly threw on some clothing, and went to the door.
There stood a young lady. She was reasonably tall, and she was swathed in heavy clothing from head to toe.
“Oh, thank goodness someone is here. My husband and I were in an accident. Our jeep rolled over, and we were both thrown out, but he hit his head on a rock, and was still unconscious when I left him to go for help. Can you come to help us?” she asked.
I invited her inside for a coffee, and while the water boiled on the freshly stoked fire I found out that she and her husband had been traveling along the Forest Services road that runs above my property when the jeep slid off the road and rolled late yesterday afternoon. It had taken her most of the night to find her way to my cabin, by following the smoke from my fire. After a quick coffee, I went out and backed my jeep out of the garage. Fortunately the snow had stopped during the night. We drove up to the road, and without too much trouble we found her jeep. Her husband Fred, had passed away during the night, and her grief was inconsolable. I had a pretty good gut feeling that this was exactly what she had told me it was – an unfortunate accident. But my years on the police force had left me pretty cynical, so I took out my camera, and snapped pictures from every possible position. By running my cable to a snatch block that I chained to a rock, through another pulley on the other jeep, and back to my own jeep I figured I had enough winching power to upright the jeep. I was correct in my thinking. The jeep came back over on its wheels. Then I dragged it back onto the road, and tried to start the engine. I was shocked when it fired up after a few tries. It didn’t even seem to be badly damaged.
I carried Fred over to his jeep, and placed him in the passenger seat. I asked Lynn if she would drive her jeep and follow me back to my cabin, but she seemed to be in shock, and didn’t want to drive in the car with her dead husband. So, finally I drove their jeep, and Lynn followed me in mine. Back at the cabin I had another problem. I didn’t want to leave my jeep outside for the winter, but I certainly couldn’t leave Fred sitting in their jeep outside for the duration. With all the wild animals around I might as well have left him up on the hillside, as his bones would be picked clean in short order. So, I set to work clearing out a place for my jeep in the other garage. I had to tow my late Uncle Charlie’s 1942 army jeep outside, and while I hated leaving it out over the winter, there was no choice. So I moved it to the side of the building and I covered it with a tarp. Then I put Fred, still sitting upright in the passenger side of his jeep, in my garage. There were 2 suitcases in their jeep, and I carried hers into the cabin. I showed Lynn the spare bedroom, and left her there alone, sobbing quietly.
When Lynn came out a couple of hours later she was insistent that we go back down to civilization, and take Fred’s body to wherever it was going to have to go. I argued with her that this was now impossible, since the snow that had so fortunately let up for our rescue mission had begun again with a vengeance. She wasn’t happy about this, but she finally realized that she was going to have to settle in for a long winters nap. I wasn’t thrilled about it either. Living with a strange woman in my house wasn’t what I had bargained for, and I wasn’t certain that my supplies would last us both all winter.
Lynn wasn’t bad company once she got over the initial shock of becoming a widow. She was a very attractive lady, and I certainly had some serious thoughts about a possible romance. However, it was a little hard for me to make any romantic types of overtures with the body of her dead husband frozen solid in my garage. After all, until he was declared dead officially, she wasn’t technically really a widow. But, we did enjoy each other’s company. It didn’t take long before she realized that our food supply was going to have to be stretched, and she turned out to be darned good about getting the last drop out of everything. She wasn’t as young as I had originally thought either. Fred had been 57, and Lynn had just retired from teaching the previous summer at age 55. Both Lynn and I had a damper placed on our retirement plans by the death of a spouse that we had loved dearly, and we spent a lot of that winter talking to each other of the life that we had spent with our respective partners.
We had been at the cabin together for about 6 weeks when I first began to notice Lynn squinting at things in the distance. I asked her if she wore glasses, but she told me that her eyesight had always been perfect. Then I noticed something strange as well. I was no longer wearing my distance glasses. And when I was reading, I found that I was using the upper portion of my lenses for reading. I wondered what was going on.
When I was younger, much younger, like in my early teens, the old Indian who ran the general store in the town had been the caretaker for the cabins. One winter Chief Nocawassee had spent the entire winter here at the cabin, and ever since that winter the chief, his wife his son and his daughter had worn very strong glasses. At least, that was the story that everyone was told. Personally I thought that the Chief and his family just had poor eyesight. And, then, a few winters later, the chief had been trapped up here at the cabin by a freak early snowfall, and he had been unable to get out for at least 3 months. Supposedly his eyesight had gotten a whole lot worse after this second winter.
On my way up I had dropped by to see the chief, who was now 95, and in failing health. His glasses looked so weird I couldn’t stop myself from staring at them. He wore black plastic frames, and the lenses were very thick. The front of the lens was deeply dished out in a little circle, and the back of the lens was done the same way, although it was a smaller circle. His eyesight was very poor. He had to hold everything almost right up to the lenses of his glasses to see. As kids we had changed his name to Chief Nocansee from Nocawassee.
I had been friendly with Tony his son, and had even dated Ellen, his daughter for a couple of summers. They both wore thick glasses, but they could see fairly well with glasses. And they both told me the same story. After the winter at the cabin, their eyesight had gone all funny and then they had to wear glasses.
Other than the Chief, my Uncle Charlie had been the only person I knew to have stayed at the cabin over the winter. But, I hadn’t ever thought that Uncle Charlie might have had a problem. His body was found in the early spring on the road into the cabin, out near the highway. It appeared that he had lost his way in a snowstorm, and had stumbled and fallen. He had frozen to death before anyone discovered him. Charlie was already fairly nearsighted, so if his eyesight had gotten even worse, maybe he couldn’t have seen where he was going, or where he was. This would explain why he hadn’t driven out. When my dad had tried to start Charlie’s jeep that spring it had fired right up, so his death had been a big mystery to our family.
Another week went by, and I noticed Lynn bringing her book closer and closer to her nose when she was reading. There had been no further mention about her not being able to see in the distance, but really, since everything outside the cabin was pure white, I couldn’t ask her if she could see an object outside. While I was pondering this, I realized that I was reading without glasses myself.
A few years ago I had found a spare pair of Uncle Charlie’s glasses. I had no idea what his prescription was, but I went to the cupboard drawer, and took them out. I asked Lynn to try them on. She protested, and told me that she didn’t need glasses. But, I insisted and once she put them on her eyes lit up as soon as she realized that she could see clearly again. But, while she was happy to be able to see again, she was very upset that her eyes had gotten so nearsighted. Now when she took off the glasses, I could see her squint to see across the room. So, from then on Lynn wore Charlie’s old glasses.
I was having a hard time figuring out what was going on. I knew that being in a confined space, with no visual stimulation could cause nearsightedness. Uncle Charlie had perfect eyesight when he joined the navy just after Pearl Harbor. After 3 years in a submarine, he, and a number of his shipmates had returned home with a fair amount of myopia. Could being cooped up in this cabin, with the snow blowing around us all the time have caused the same conditions that the submariners went through? That was the only possible thing I could think of.
Another month passed by quickly. By the end of that month Lynn was having a lot of trouble seeing much even with Charlie’s glasses. She was very upset at the further deterioration of her eyesight. But, what was worse for her, while I hated to do it, I had to take them from her in order for me to be able to see anything. Even for me, with Charlie’s glasses on things were still very blurry in the distance. And Lynn hated not being able to see.
“Tommy, we have to get out of here. I really need to get a pair of glasses.” Lynn said.
“We are stuck for at least another month Lynn. It isn’t safe to try to leave yet.” I replied.
“I’m going to go crazy if I can’t see for a whole month. Where did you put Fred’s suitcase. I want to try his glasses.” Lynn told me.
I went to the shed to get Fred’s suitcase from the jeep. When I came back in, Lynn wasted no time searching for Fred’s glasses. She found 2 pairs, a pair of sunglasses, and a pair of clear lensed ones. I took off Charlie’s glasses, and tried Fred’s on. There was something funny about them. My vision just wasn’t right. I put Charlie’s glasses back on, and held Fred’s up to the light. Picking a square box to focus on through the lens, I rotated the right lens. The supposedly square box became a very elongated rectangle as I rotated the lens. The same thing happened with the left lens.
“Fred has way too much astigmatism. There is no way we can use his glasses.” I told her.
“Darn, there has got to be something we can do.” Lynn said.
I looked at the 2 pairs of glasses. The sunglasses were round wire frames. I took an optical screwdriver out, loosened the lenses, and rotated them 90 degrees. Then I placed the clear-lensed glasses on Lynn’s nose, and I put the sunglasses on over them. She had to slide the both pairs of glasses down her nose a bit, but soon she said that she could see.
As the next month slipped by Lynn pushed the 2 pairs of glasses further up her nose. Finally, by the time the snow had melted, she was wearing both pairs of glasses pressed right up tight to her nose. I had found Fred’s prescription in his wallet. It read –7.50D x – 5.00D x 180 for the right eye, and –7.25D x –5.25D x 180 for the left eye. The best that I could come up with was that putting both –7.50D lenses together gave her –15.00D, and putting the astigmatism offset gave her another –5D for a rough total of –20D. And, if I remembered correctly, that is around the same prescription that the Chief’s daughter Ellen had, after she had spent the winter here.
We had to get out of here and get Fred’s body to the authorities before the days warmed up too much. It was still cold enough at night, and Lynn and I had packed the jeep all around Fred’s body with snow, to prevent him from defrosting during the day.
By now Charlie’s glasses were next to useless to me, so Lynn had to drive the jeep into town as soon as we could safely get out. When we got back to the general store, Ellen gave Lynn an old pair of her glasses, and Lynn was able to see fairly well again. I wasn’t as lucky, as Tony’s old glasses were too strong for me to wear. So, I had to try to see as best as I could while wearing Uncle Charlie’s old glasses.
It was fortunate that I had been a police officer, and that I had taken all those pictures, because the cops definitely were a bit suspicious. But, a careful examination of the pictures, and the jeep, as well as an autopsy on Fred’s body gave them enough evidence to show them that we were telling the truth.
Fred had expressed a desire to be cremated, so we chose a local funeral parlor to perform this task. Lynn and I felt that we should get back to the city, and have proper eye examinations before we held a memorial service. It was strange, but after spending the winter together, once Fred was officially declared dead, Lynn and I just naturally gravitated into becoming a couple.
Once we got to a doctor Lynn was found to require glasses that were –21D for both lenses, and I am now wearing trifocals again, but with a prescription of –16D and a +3D add. Chief Nocansee had passed away over the winter, and Lynn and I were invited back up there for his memorial service. Tony told me after the service that his father’s prescription was –42D, and that he and Ellen had identical –21D prescriptions. So, it looked as though a winter in the cabin created –21D of myopia. Unfortunately the cabin burned down last summer, so we will never be able to find out how this happened. But, I quite enjoy being with Lynn, watching her as she wanders around our house, naked except for her –21D myodiscs.