There’s something to be said for the euphoric feeling one gets when spinning wheels, stuck wheels, gain traction. And a stuck vehicle gets unstuck. For Rick Bass, his experience of getting his cousin’s truck out of a muddy pit proved almost cathartic. In his story, he relives that bitingly cold and wet night at the lease where he spent hours in the present, shoveling mud, and heartwarming moments in the past, thinking of the times when he was a young boy out in the wilderness with his mother who had recently passed away. Sometime during the night, with his cousin Randy and nephew by his side, Bass saw the light in the depths of the dark sludge. Here’s the story behind the story.
What were your first thoughts when you saw Randy’s truck stuck in the mud?
Well, he’s done it again. In the essay, I neglect to mention that we’ve all gotten trucks stuck in various places, over the years.
Did you ever think about giving up on trying to get the truck out?
Absolutely! It wasn’t my truck! After a few hours it was very easy to imagine the truck residing there forever.
Your mind began to wonder from that time in the present to your childhood and mother. Did you try to stop these thoughts at all? Did you understand what was happening?
It was as if I was working with two brains. There was the physical task at hand, and then there was the emotional reality. Some things were the same—trucks getting stuck—and others, quite different now. It wasn’t so much like daydreaming, or something to tell yourself to stop thinking, as instead more of a remembering, and a presence.
When you think now about that experience, digging the truck out of the deep hole, what feelings come to mind?
Nothing but the expected: how cold it was and how deep the mud was. The sleet and rain, the dark.
Why did you decide to write about it?
I was proud and amazed that we were able to extricate it, with bare hands!
Was it difficult to write a piece that was set in one scene?
No—if anything, easier. There is a beginning, middle, and end—a set of boundaries.
How did you stay so positive in this stressful situation? And why didn’t you give up?
I was at a place I love, with family I don’t get to see all the time; I didn’t have anywhere else to be at any certain time. Giving up would have been unsatisfying.
What did you learn about yourself through the ordeal?
That I was more capable of patience than I might have realized.
Through your writing?
That sometimes with a lot of effort you can change the very small things. But a lot can’t be changed.
What suggestions would you give to someone who found themselves in a similar situation?
Carry a saw and shovel in your truck. Take your time. Break the chore down into small pieces, small goals. Don’t set a deadline but don’t quit.
What do you want people to take away from this story?
That when you share a love for a particular landscape with someone, it is one way for the relationship to continue, even after that person is gone, as long as the landscape is still there.