It's December of 1975.  Finals, papers, and Christmas are behind me. A foot of old snow carpets most places not disturbed, but several feet, some of it fresh according to the weather reports, deck the mountains of New Hampshire.

As always, the moment he heard my keys jingle, my beloved long haired Shepherd, Dan (long ”a” as in the Danish), came running to me from where he had been whining from a window at some squirrels having fun harassing him. He looked at me with those endearing eyes, flowing long tail wagging big time, knowing an adventure was at hand. I went down on my knees, let him lick-kiss my entire face, lips firmly clenched (seen too many bacteria-rich petri dishes at school), but had to say, ”Sweetie, you can't come. There's going to be five others in the car.”

Of course, he didn't exactly understand English, or the Danish I had used to train him for all sorts of tasks, like searching for lost children, or stand guard, and much more. But Dan knew from the tone of my voice and body language that he'd have to stay with others who weren't home at the time. I just hugged and hugged his beautiful hairy body, which still smelled of that shampoo from the other day, as he lightly whined.

Together with my girlfriend, Janice, and two other couples, tightly packed, one of the pairs having fun on top of the other, believe it or not, we headed in my 3-cylinder, two stroke Saab – skis on the rack above – for a cabin on a small mountain overlooking Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire. The car -- though only pulled by a 46 horsepower, oil-injected engine that whined, according to Janice's dad, like his wife's sewing machine -- was perfectly designed to efficiently and safely trek up and down perilous, snow-decked mountain roads.

And it was quite an adventure, with skiing, après ski, and best of all, 35 mm photographing and super 8 filming of nature together with Janice, a special-ed student, and George, a best friend studying physical geography. We had also taken our snowshoes along.

By a blazing fireplace, we partied a lot towards the approaching 1976, the bicentennial year of the founding of a united dream of freedom. We had good green stuff with Dutch beer, and sought privacy to make love, played poker, lots of intense conversations about the state of the world, what private citizen Tricky Dickie was up to, the latest MASH episode, a slowly reuniting Vietnam in contrast to emerging news of horrors in Cambodia. A lot of strangers came and went from nearby, some becoming friends.

The ride home was a different story. The temperature had climbed well abve freezing, it drizzled, and the roads were slushy brown, making it tough for the windshield wipers to do their job. We were all exhausted, with a very bitchy backseat meant for 2, maybe 3 but now packed with four. Even Joan Baez, not even Bob Dylan or the Moody Blues from my Blaupunkt cassette system soothed the mood.

About 20 miles from the Massachusetts border, with my head and neck aching from concentrating on the road being massaged by Janice, sitting on the bucket seat next to me, I heard a dreaded sound from the motor. George said, ”That doesn't sound too good.”

”No, it doesn't,” I replied, trying to ignore what my brain was telling me about that noise, which just got louder and louder with each passing mile. Until suddenly, with one final metallic bang, the engine totally seized. The ball-bearing suspended crankshaft and steel body of the engine had merged into one.

I managed to roll the car into the four inches of slush in the driveway of a farm. Everyone, except Janice and my best friend, were beyond bitchy, as the farmer and his wife came out to us. With the hood up, and me looking depressed down at that unique, triple-carburated engine, the wife invited the girls into the house and out of the rain, for coffee and to call home. The farmer gawked at the little thing that had transported so many to his property, and shook his head, grinning from ear to ear, as I tried to explain how amazing this car, designed a bit like the cross section of an airplane wing, built by folk who sometimes believed in the trolls by their Troll Mountain factory, truly was.

We all settled down in the farmer's living room, enjoying coffee with freshly made cream from their Jersey cows, talking about this and that, but definitely avoiding politics, waiting for the parents of two of the girls to come and take us back to campus. Of course, I was now the cause of everyone's discontent, which stunk. But Janice stood up for me, and that little car with no more horses, each time anyone said anything cross to me.

A few days later, with another friend, we drove up in his rusty VW bus to remove the engine for a rebuild. His holey bus wasn't outfitted to tow anything, much less have people in it, since you could see rushing pavement through the rust holes in the floorboard. Removing the engine turned into an easy task, and the farmer sure had a lot of fun watching us do it on a beautiful sunny day, with all the slush now melted away. Engine and transmission on top of the latest, right-wing Manchester Union newspaper, well-secured to the less holey floor in back of the van, we headed back to another friend, who had a home-made car shop in a basement. His wife and I had shared in many of the same biology courses, and he worked as an engineer for the US Army, Corps of Engineers naturally. He had taught me so much about engines, welding and such, and was happy to assist in the rebuild.
Saab engine

Now we needed to get the Saab back. Chyp, a poet, philosophy major, and half Pennacook native, who'd once taken me on a healing, 2-day mushroom trip, had a small truck for his part time business, and together with his girlfriend, he was more than happy to go on this crazy journey of fetching a Saab with no horses. We were just going to use a thick rope, and with me in the Saab, I'd steer and deal with braking. The sun had long set by the time we got to the farmer's house. And he had so much fun watching me yet again, tackle the oddest, dumbest car he'd ever seen in his life, which were pretty much his exact words.

The Saab's battery was fully charged, and so, blinkers and headlights on, we began the 40 or so mile scary journey to the shop. Up and down hills, we were pretty good at synchronizing our braking and managing the cars coming from behind, and the occasionally intense snapping of the rope. Going up one big hill, the rope simply gave up the ghost, snapping one last time, and I watched in shock, madly tweeting the horn, flashing the headlights and fog-lights on and off to no avail, as the truck in front of me simply continued on off over the hill and out of sight, dragging the thick broken rope behind it.

Unfortunately, he and his girlfriend had taken some green stuff with them, and were now high as a kite. I only occasionally partook, and mostly socially, in that much less harmful than alcohol substance, and was stone cold sober, and pissed, mostly at myself.

About ten minutes later, having shut off most lights and even Emerson, Lake and Palmer's great rendition of Pictures at an Exhibition, to save on the battery, a New Hampshire state trooper car pulled up behind me. Now I thought things were going to get really dicey, especially if my friends in the truck returned in their stoned condition.

But he turned out to be one of the coolest cops I had ever met, and after getting over the initial shock of a stranded car with no horses under the hood, he had me sit in his warm car to wait for my friends with the truck to notice that they'd lost me. That took about 15 minutes more, during which time he grew very interested in my description of the 46 horsepower engine, the Troll Hill (Trollhättan) municipality in Sweden were they were made, and both my grandma and the HC Andersen mermaid in Copenhagen, which I told him was really small compared to the forced perspective found in many magazine photographs. But he was most curious about the acid rain I was studying to help mitigate, and its impact on the fall foliage.

I'll never know if that trooper suspected how stoned my friends were. To me, it was obvious. But he took pity on starving students doing good in the world, and helped us break the law a bit in allowing us to reattach the frayed but still good rope to my car. And that, my friends, was how I began the 2nd semester of my 3rd year of studying how humankind was on a self-created precipice of a mass extinction crisis, the Bald Eagle's slow return from DDT near-extinction, acid rain... and the ever more emerging research about a possible global warming crisis in the coming two centuries. That one has come upon us a whole lot faster.

Bent Lorentzen

Bent Lorentzen

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  • NOTE TO THE READER: To protect confidentiality and privacy, I have changed some people's names

    ADDENDUMS AND ERRORS: In the sentence that includes "... the Troll Hill (Trollhättan) municipality in Sweden were they were made..." Please note that the 1st "were" is missing an "h". It should be "... the Troll Hill (Trollhättan) municipality in Sweden where they were made..."

    And the following contains an important thought I would have included in the body of the article:

    But I am finished with buying cars.

    As soon as I legally could, they represented, were in fact, FREEDOM from something very very bad that had been going on unabated for some 18 years. I've driven more miles across more continents than anyone I personally know, also by motorcycle.

    Back in Denmark now, I don't need one. I rent one when necessary, take the bike, or use public transportation when my back can manage that, which isn't so often anymore. My moral compass simply sees my purchase of a car as a huge foot on top of our future generations...

    And the "green stuff" I mention a couple of times in the biographical article above is of course cannabis. I had dared not try it until my good friend, "George", suggested I take a hit from a joint "to loosen up", as he put it, while driving that same Saab towards a beach summer house in Maine, by Cadillac Mountain, for Spring Break where I met some other students, most of whom I didn't know, the year before. I never got into it in any heavy way, but in insightfully looking over my life after 68 years of it, cannabis at that time was the most helpful agent in helping me manage an unbelievably intense social anxiety, now scientifically better understood as one of many symptoms to C- (complex)-PTSD, due to that "...very very bad that had been going on unabated for some 18 years" prior to gaining emancipation as an 18 year old.