The Far (April) Field

Spring has come! Time to reawaken! Time to get back on the trail!

I have to admit: it’s been too long. During these last cold months I’ve pretty much forgotten about trail riding. If I’ve been on a bike at all, it’s been on the road, commuting from the bus station to work. Or in the basement, on the stationary trainer. Which is exceptionally, infinitely boring, I’ve decided.

But April is just about here! Time for spring. Thank criminy.

April always carries me back to poet Theodore Roethke. His poem “The Far Field” isn’t technically a poem about spring—it’s about death, mostly, and the infinite. But it’s lovely and inspiring, deep-breathed and light. It’s also a poem of belief, where the speaker sets out, in a natural landscape, to express some very deep thoughts.

A few of my favorite sections:

I learned not to fear infinity,
The far field, the windy cliffs of forever,
The dying of time in the white light of tomorrow,
The wheel turning away from itself,
The sprawl of the wave,
The on-coming water….

I have come to a still, but not a deep center,
A point outside the glittering current;
My eyes stare at the bottom of a river,
At the irregular stones, iridescent sandgrains,
My mind moves in more than one place,
In a country half-land, half-water….

All finite things reveal infinitude:
The mountain with its singular bright shade
Like the blue shine on freshly frozen snow,
The after-light upon ice-burdened pines;
Odor of basswood on a mountain-slope,
A scent beloved of bees;
Silence of water above a sunken tree :
The pure serene of memory in one man, —
A ripple widening from a single stone
Winding around the waters of the world.

Soon, I’m going to be up on that mountain, not fearing anything.

Except maybe a brisk, quick endo.

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March, Spring, and Risking Your Heart

I’m getting excited about spring. I’m getting excited about daylight savings time.

I’m getting excited about riding again.

But there’s that nagging, curmudgeonly voice in my head, that lazy and insecure blabbermouth, that not-interested shade of me that is tired of fiddling with all the gear, with driving to the trailhead, with the pain and exertion that riding entails.

To that voice, I will respond with a gorgeous quote:

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up.”
–Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum

When I was young–in my early teens–I often pondered this very idea. Wondering why everything seemed to happen to me, much of it overwhelming. And I remember realizing that, somehow, the cosmos had decided that experience would be part of the story of my life–whether I’d chosen that as something to strive for or not. (Everyone probably feels this way at some point.)

Things were going to happen to me. These experiences were going to break me, time and time again. And they have. In this, I am probably like everyone else.

Riding is just a small way in which I get to practice this process of collecting experience, getting swallowed up and broken. And I suppose that’s why I’m addicted to it.

It hasn’t been easy, but over the years I have embraced this goal: to get broken. Over and over. On the bike, I get lots of practice.

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Rambling Existential Questions, Inspired by a Bike Show and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

eliotI really want to go to the North American Handmade Bike Show here in Denver this weekend, but then again, I’m not in the market for a new, handmade bike made of bamboo, ash, titanium, vibranium, or compressed coffee grounds. Plus, it’s $20 bucks just to get in! (That bothers me. I wish it didn’t. Here’s a clip from the Denver Post.)

Just thinking about such decisions–should I or shouldn’t I?–sometimes gets me into an existential funk. I often overthink things, and suddenly the decision is not about going to a bike show, for example, but about the kind of person I am. Am I a good American? (Buy! buy! buy!) What do I believe in? (Art and commerce, or hanging out at home doing nothing?) Do I believe in heaven and hell? (You die and you’re pretty much dead. Or: you go to heaven and float on clouds and eat all 70 virginal Reece’s Peanut Butter Cups each day, etc.)

Maybe there will be beautiful art at the show. Which makes me think of T.S. Eliot, of course.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

Right! maybe it’ll be like that. So why not dare to eat that peach?

Maybe I should allow myself to approach, as Eliot said in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,”an overwhelming question…”

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?” / Let us go and make our visit.

Okay! Heck, I might swing by, just to see the beauties and the beasts.

Speaking of beastly, seems like fat bikes are now all the rage–ever since I wrote about them in an earlier blog post. (To wit, another Post article.) Even so….

I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my trousers rolled….

Yes, I do wear my trousers rolled, because I’ve been commuting via bike to the park-n-ride bus station and nobody likes to get their trousers caught in a chainring. Anything to avoid the long drive to and from Denver each day for work. Anything to avoid contributing the climate change, which has me suddenly very freaked out.

And how should I presume?

Well, after all the recent apocalyptic weather here in Colorado and elsewhere, I just can’t abide driving 24 miles to work, and then 24 miles back home again, every freaking day. So the bus it is, even though it’s almost $4 each way. (I grow old, I grow…. cheapskate-ish.)

I presume that’ll make a tiny bit of difference. Then again…

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

See, how I endlessly question myself? Just go to the bike show, just ride to and from the bus station. Stop thinking all the time!
Sure, I am no prophet. So why not go, you and I, while the evening is spread out against the sky, for a nice, easy ride, then?

Maybe. As soon as the snow melts. As soon as this happens [month changed by me]:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October [March] night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

 

 

 

Surviving the Cold

Finally it seems as if winter is here, and while I’m a bit bummed about the frigid air outside and the brutally dry air inside, I’m a bit relieved. After all, this summer seemed, well, apocalyptic in its heat, and in the fires that raged all over the state.

Riding can still be had–snow is still lacking–but it’d be a pretty damn cold outing. (Just thinking of this makes my feet twinge with imaginary frostbite.)

This also makes me recall a great poem by Mark Strand. Like many of Strand’s poems, there’s a dreamlike quality that lightens the poem, even though its eventual resting place can be seen as something a bit grim. (After all, what is colder than the eternal, sepulchral bed?)

Lines for Winter
for Ros Krauss

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

These lines remind me of the famous dictum of Rilke–“You must change your life”–and yet what Strand argues for is not change, but a determined forging ahead. Perhaps Strand is actually echoing Frost’s line, “I have miles to go before I sleep.” But there is something of Rilke here, I think, in the command of “tell yourself… that you love what you are” even if what you are is fluid, protean, ever-changing.

Strand’s movement is metaphorical in the same way that biking is metaphorical, too–sometimes you just can’t turn back, and the only way out of the woods is forward. The tune your bones play is the exertion of keeping on (to borrow Bob Dylan’s phrase).

And there it is again. The lesson I keep uncovering over and over: endure!

Now for some images of a recent awesome–and cold–ride.

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Downtown Denver, from the top of Green Mountain.

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My riding buddy Ed, after climbing to the top.

Postcards From November

I wish postcards were still a part of our written culture. There’s something whimsical and nostalgic about them, something poetic in their paucity of words and dependence on images, and the fact that they are both private and public in their message.

(An aside: I remember, a long time ago, buying a postcard that had a pretty generic beach image, along with some pre-printed handwriting that read: “So are you still having those erotic dreams about your mailman?” I found this especially funny because my dad was mail carrier–for 35 years–before he retired.)

Well, here’s my attempt at some e-postcards.I hope you find the images beautiful and memorable (as I do), and maybe even a little nostalgic, as the sun sets on 2012.

Oh, and just for fun, here are a few postcard/epistolary poems: