Rain, and Change

The rains have come and gone, and now all that’s left is the aftermath. What have we lost?
In many ways, after this summer of 2013, we will never be the same. From wildfires to floods, nothing gold can stay, as Frost said so well.

When my wife and I first moved to Denver, in 1997, we had no idea how that Mother Nature had such power, such fury. Growing up in Buffalo, I’d survived lots and lots of snow, but there’s something eerie about the power of nature in the summer. But there’s also something impressive about the frontier spirit here in Colorado, how people wait out the storm, and then they get back to work. There’s no quit out here.

Our first August here, a tremendous storm overtook downtown Denver, and from our second-floor downtown loft, we watched as Arapahoe Street turned from roadway into swirling, rushing river, filled with hail and junk. We thought the city would be decimated. We thought it was the end times. We were supposed to teach a writing workshop that night, and decided that he had to cancel. We called all the students to let them know. However, one guy, a crusty local, laughed at us, saying, it’ll be sunny and the roads’ll be clear in a couple hours. Ah, you easterners, he chuckled.

He was right. The banks of hail melted. The water disappeared. The sun blazed in a blue sky. By 5:30 PM, it was as if nothing had happened.

The rain of this past week might be gone soon, but the destruction will be with us for a long, long time. And I hope that everyone is safe, and that they recover quickly and with little grief. I also hope that my favorite biking trails—and the roads to get there—are still reasonably intact. Though I’m fairly certain that the trails I knew will never be the same. I guess that’s one of the uncanny things about biking for many years—the trials you know so well are dynamic, everchanging. Some sections get easier, some get more difficult. (Cue the riding-as-metaphor-for-life music….)

Here’s a poem I wrote back in 1997, after that first shocking storm.

WHEN IT DISOBEYS

it brings a storm that discovers
a man-made river-bed in concrete
and asphalt, leaves women and men
clinging to rooftop chimneys,
their cold hands trembling in its midst, then
it brings the hail—white, killing,
obnoxious white when there
should be more rain—first pea
then quarter then softball
sized, full of hubris,
stony pellets coursing
through streets, a swirling
river of rain and downed trees and things
it has dismantled. Will it not
avoid stinging the innocent faces,
the defeated shoulders—
will it not give up the mindless idea
that it can last in August?
It is relentless, abiding by precepts
which are not laws
but ideas of laws, things
children copy down in school:
Planets in their ellipses,
the moon’s granite face
waning and waxing,
cosmic dust on a calm night—
meteors burning the night,
seen for a second, then gone,
like the faraway shouts
and moans when the sky
clears and a rainbow comes.

# # #

Here’s a pic I took on Monday, riding the Hog Back, about 15 minutes before the front edge of the storm rolled in.

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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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Olympian

There are many exciting elements to this summer’s Olympics, but for me the one thing that stands above all others is sprinter Oscar Pistorius.

I know there’s been some controversy and the conversation continues as to whether his cheetah blades give him an unfair advantage. I don’t understand how anyone can think that, though I am not a biomechanics expert. As my wife said while watched one of his races, “If you’re running against him and think he’s got an advantage, then you should train harder and run faster.”

Truth is, the guy can fly, and I found his qualifying run in the semifinals of the 400 meter run incredibly inspiring.

Watching him race, I know that any complaints I might have–about pretty much anything–are not worthy.

That’s what makes the Olympics unique to the global human experience–getting to see athletes push themselves to new heights, to see them strive to overcome whatever obstacles lay before them, to watch them seize their innate potential for greatness, and to manifest it, if they can.

This sounds like a trite and overdone commercial for some product, but a question lingers in my mind as I ponder all this: how can I be great today?