Thursday, July 29, 2010

My Saturday Adventure

With a group from church, went here, saw this:

Photo taken with my cell phone, 'cause I forgot my real camera. And I lived to tell the tale, although in spite of wearing my venerable and beloved Vasque Sundowner boots, I ended up with a blister. Shoulda worn liner socks. Live and learn.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day-to-day Peril

I had two nemeses on the bike commute from my last house: on the way out, there was a long and seriously steep hill that I just--barely--made--it--up every time. Brutal. And on the way back, at the *bottom* of that hill (which was rather a blast coming down, I gotta say) there was a narrow bridge and the bike lane suddenly disappeared until you got to the other side. Cars were supposed to yield to bikes, but rarely did. I'd try to wait a sec for a gap (and keep in mind that I was usually going over twenty miles an hour at that point, and it wasn't a long bridge, so it wasn't like they had to slow down for long), but inevitably someone would come up behind me going twice the speed limit and decide halfway across the thirty-foot span of the bridge that they really, really, really had to get by me before the other side, even if there *was* on-coming traffic. Had some pretty dicey narrow-misses on that thing. *shudder*

As traffic got heavier and new developments and the road construction to go with them sprang up along the route, that commute became impractical, if not dangerous, to do on the bike, and I reluctantly gave it up.

But now--now I live right on the bike path. Not only that, but essentially my house and my work are at the top and bottom of a big square, with the roads skirting the perimeter while the bike path goes straight up the middle. So the bike route is a shorter distance, and not toooo much of a time difference. It was one of the perks that drew me to my little rental house to begin with.

My new nemeses are much milder. First, there's a six hundred foot section of trail that remains unpaved. It's a pretty little track that winds through a bank of trees and up a slight slope to rejoin the paved trail. It looks idyllic, but it's as though someone set out to give us paved-path wimps a full taste of off-roadin' in those six hundred feet. Deep sand? Check. Sticky mud? Check. Loose gravel, sticks and pinecones, washboarding? Check, check, check. My road bike is more of a touring model than a race bike, or I'd probably have to dismount, maybe even carry it. As it is, it just makes for an interesting time.

And then there's a joyful part where there's a gap in the trail and you have to get across a busy four-lane road. Either you walk the bike a lonnnnng way out of the way (no crosswalks anywhere nearby), or you do as most do: wait for a hole in the traffic, dash for the median, wait for another hole, dash to the other side. It's like a real-life version of Frogger, though at least the median stays put instead of floating downstream.

I have a healthy fear of curbs, having both lost control of a bike as I was wheeling it off one and *seriously* crashed hard trying to get onto one, so I pick up my bike (me in my bike shorts and ginormous white budget helmet) and run with it instead, one side to the middle, the middle to the other side. I'm sure I look like a total goober. Maybe it brings some happiness into some peoples' days, though. "At least I'm not *that* much of a dork..."

On the whole, I prefer the rough trail. Fall-down-go-boom isn't as bad as getting squished.

And I was never very good at Frogger.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Indiana, 1987

Inspired by the same image as was the depressing poem below...after a bit of time mentally shut up in the box...

The smell of rain on hot concrete takes me back to 1987, the summer before I turned eleven. The house in which I grew up underwent major renovation that summer: the kitchen moved downstairs into what had been the garage, the old kitchen became a much needed additional bedroom, new carpeting went in, new electrical wiring. And so, the six of us kids and Mom went to stay with her parents in Richmond, Indiana for the bulk of the summer.

It was a whole 'nother world, so far as we were concerned. Our house in Vermont was far back on a dirt road off another dirt road, no other houses in sight unless you stood at just the right spot and peered at just the right angle through the trees, in which case you might catch a glimpse of one single other house further down the road. With all the dirt roads 'round about, so far as I knew, all cars had a permanent layer of dirt. So did kids, unless they were cleaned up for church, and even that wasn't a given. We had no sidewalks, no flower beds--no lawn, for that matter. Just woods and trees and streams and barbed wire fences.

Grandma and Pop lived in your typical suburban neighborhood: a quiet street where everyone knew everyone, and many of the neighbors had lived in the same houses since they were raising their own kids back in the forties and fifties and sixties. Each house had a little short front lawn and flower beds, a big back yard, and almost nothing to the side. I was fascinated by this last. I remember standing spread-eagled between their house and the next, trying to touch both houses at once. I almost could.

I remember watching Pop mow the lawn: following him into his shed, which smelled like gasoline and freshly cut grass and oil and warm tarpaper, to pull out the mower. I remember the lightning storms that rolled through frequently, the smell of ozone, thunder that rattled the dishes, rain pelting down on the street, making the air steamy and heavy with the smell of wet concrete--a new smell, very different from the earthy, leafy smell of rain back home.

I remember Grandma's incredible garden, with neat weedless rows. In the hot, humid Midwestern summer weather, vegetables grew like nothing back home. They're considerably better now about bringing fresh produce into Vermont than they were in my childhood, but oh, were those Indiana vegetables a revelation! I remember the taste of tomatoes fresh off the vine, still warm with sunshine, thick sliced with a little sprinkling of salt, and sweet corn that was actually so sweet I wasn't sure if I liked it. I remember fresh cucumber salad--fresh pickles, Grandma called it--with sliced onions that bit you back, and a cider vinegar and sugar dressing. I remember radishes, baby carrots, green beans. Grandma was fascinated by the way we kids consumed vegetables. I don't think she understood just how different they were from what we were used to--better than candy.

Everything was so clean and shiny in town! Clean cars, clean sidewalks, clean streets, tidy little gardens with dark soil all contained. I liked it and I didn't. I liked being able to ride Grandma's big red balloon tire Schwinn up and down the street and to the cul-de-sac one street over without any ruts or deep sand or mud. I liked that we could walk to a store for popsicles, or run through the wet grass barefoot without fear. But at times I felt, as I probably always will, a restless uneasiness at not having unpaved, uncharted wilderness to wander in, away from sights and sounds of people, following tracks not made by human beings. We visited my uncle's land in Ohio late in the summer--we were promised woods, and my heart beat fast as we pulled in by his house at the end of the long drive and spilled out of the car onto wobbly legs. I ran out behind the house find that there were roads all through the woods that could be navigated by golf car, with signs pointing to outbuildings and the house. Like a park, I thought, and was disappointed and quietly polite the rest of the day. I missed my woods--real woods, unfettered trees and big rocks where you could sit and think. I've felt the same way wherever I've gone: the New England forests have a hold on me that nothing else can ever quite replace.

I suppose we all felt it, one way or another. I remember one day when my littlest brother at the time, Bill, disappeared for some long minutes. He's legally blind and had a tendency to wander at that age, because he couldn't see where he was. He'd set off in a direction and just keep going until someone intercepted him. It wasn't such a big deal back home: you knew if you called long enough and searched hard enough or looked for footprints, you'd figure out where he was. He wasn't very fast. But in town? We were frantic. We searched the house top to bottom, we called, we checked with neighbors...we found him, crammed under one of Grandma's hedge bushes, happily paddling around in the muddy soil beneath. You can take the boy out of the country....

It was a good summer, but it was even better to go home at the end of it. Dad met us halfway, driving down in our huge brown Ford station wagon. He'd stayed behind for work, camping out wherever he could in the midst of the destruction and construction, taking care of my beloved Manx-mix cat, Cinders. I'd hardly realized how much I'd missed Dad until we saw him at the hotel, tired from his drive, a little constrained in the presence of Pop and one of my uncles. Suddenly overwhelmed, I hugged him with a sort of desperation. His cheek was pressed to mine. He smelled like him, and like home.


It is too much:
colors, sounds, dizzy spinning and colliding
details on details.
In a single breath,
in one tiny picture corner
touching surface only I see I hear I smell
splashing water drops
on windblown grass
motorcycle growl layered
on new black pavement, yellow-dashed,
smells of tar and hot rain
and over, bird songs hover.

But in the next instant,
more and more and more,
and there are words for all--
words and words and words
daggers cutting into my brain and out
spilling and slicing
filling and dicing
I hurt, I bleed, I drown.

Put me in a box:
not black,
not white,
put me in a beige box--
not square!
Put me in a silent, beige, not-square box
filled with nothing to notice
until all sights
until all sounds
until all words drain out
and I am left: