Saturday, March 15, 2008

Just Over the Horizon

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The bluebirds must have been feeling pretty cocky. The pair sat atop nesting boxes in the middle of the big hayfield near the top of Moose Hill Street. They had their pick of over a dozen boxes and were hawking down into the stubble to pick up morsels I could not see. As I pushed my bicycle along the edge of the field heading for home, I imagined that they were dreaming of a happy and productive season as they perched in the bright spring sunshine. They selected just the right home, and thought of the limitless supply of insects that would soon be hopping around in the fresh grass. The small flock of robins that probed for earthworms in the soft soil along the edges of rainwater puddles presented no threat. They paid no attention to the loving pair of doves flying overhead. Could it be that they didn’t know what was approaching just over the horizon? At that very moment, millions of tree swallows were winging their way north like squadrons of dive-bombers, and soon dozens would descend on this field to swoop and squabble over nesting sites. Bluebird heaven would be transformed into a world of constant vigilance and stress.

I ride my bicycle because I can, not because I have to. Of course there were times when simply jumping in the car to run an errand was not an option. Simply traveling to work or to secure the things needed to survive was a chore, if not an ordeal. But in this age of wealth and luxury, biking and walking are things some of us do because we think them fun or good for us. Most adults who ride bicycles today, do so solely for recreation, exercise or sport. I suspect most of us, upon seeing a grownup riding a bike simply to get from point A to point B, wonder what’s wrong with them. Homeless? DUI? Broke? Unstable? I sometimes wonder if people seeing me returning from Moose Hill with my tattered clothing and backpack hanging from my shoulders as I struggle up Depot Street to the center of town might think perhaps I have a few loose screws, too. Surely, no middle-class, middle-aged American would ride a bicycle because they have no other choice. Well, the day may be coming when bicycling looks like the best choice of all.

One of my regular business chores involves a five-mile round-trip commute. Most days, I’m carrying tools, bundles or supplies, so I drive. I’m trying to arrange things so once or twice a week I can make the trip on foot or by bicycle. Sunday was one of those days.

I rode the touring bike to do my work and then took the long, scenic route home. This involved mostly climbing through the cool, very windy air to get to, and then over, Moose Hill. This was no race; I was just enjoying the feeling of the wind and sun on my face and the pulsing of blood through my body. I passed the Audubon visitor’s center where groups of young families were gathering to go see the maple sugaring demonstration. I coasted down the south side of Moose Hill and pedaled over to our local farm stand where I bought a muffin and had my vacuum bottle filled with fresh coffee. I packed these in my bag and headed back to the woods. I had a few things on my mind and wanted to sit and think for a few minutes.

I found the abandoned and barely noticeable old trail that leads to The Mikveh. This is the old stone-lined springhole I stumbled on early last winter when I was thinking about my recently-deceased high school buddy, Martin. (See “Living Waters,” December 17, 2006.) I guess returning to this spot was my way of acknowledging the 20-year anniversary of the tragic passing of another high school friend, Marcie. No new insights rose out of the crystal depths of that pool; only that even the most gifted, kind, talented and beautiful of us can stumble upon unimaginable misfortune. For the rest of us, life goes on and we should try to be better people in the time we have left.

Just beyond The Mikveh a bedrock outcrop rises above the surrounding forest and this is enhanced by a couple of granite boulders stacked on top in a way that makes me think of an alter. In the event I need to offer up any sacrifices, I’ll know just where to go. On this day, the only thing I was offering up was coffee and a muffin. I put on my fleece hat and jacket and put my little foam pad on the outcrop so I could sit in the warming sun and lean against the alter to get a little protection from the wind.

I shuffled through my thoughts and tried to pick one to focus on. My thinking sometimes gets stuck on a theme and recently that theme has been the grim prospects for our future as prophesized by James Howard Kunstler (See sidebar), with thanks to Eleutheros at “How Many Miles from Babylon” (Sidebar) for pointing me in that direction. I was even lucky enough to score Kunstler’s new novel, World Made By Hand, at the library and read it in a few short days. Kunstler has been preaching for years that, in a nutshell, the age of cheap oil and cheap credit that has made the unsustainable expansion of the suburban way of life possible is just about over. Recent events on the nightly news make it hard to dismiss his claims. He marvels at our collective ability to suspend belief about the impending collapse of business as usual and at our willingness to think that technology and casinos will save us.

The prospect of life without fossil fuels can lead to endless daydreams. Will we plan a wise and orderly transition to conservation and renewable sources of energy, or will we descend into chaos as we squabble over the last few drops of petroleum. In the future, after the oil fields have gone dry, perhaps every one of us will have fantasies about what we could have done with the gasoline burned at just one NASCAR race. Just the night before, I was listening to a friend describe his one- to two-hour (each way!) daily automobile commute to a new job. Maybe he is among those who think we will soon discover more oil and more hours in a lifetime buried under distant blood-soaked desert sands.

It was time to go, so I packed up and headed for the trail. I paused one more time at the springhole just in case there was new wisdom to be found there, but I saw only the same old bewildered face staring back at me from the smooth surface. I was worried about the troubles that may lie just over the horizon but I was also optimistic about the approach of Spring so I pedaled back up Moose Hill to see what was new in the big meadow.

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5 Comments:

At 8:21 PM, Blogger LauraHinNJ said...

I love your writing Mojoman - and the way your mind wanders on your bikerides around Moose Hill.

I think if more people did their thinking from the back of a bike - or rode a bike instead of driving as you say - we'd all be in a much better state of living.

 
At 5:58 PM, Blogger Crayons said...

Oh, I was just going to write my response, but I see that Laura already wrote it.

When people complain about $4/gallon gasoline, I say the opposite. Let's push it up to $12/gallon. That will force people to walk, ride bikes, and even work closer to home! We will start to function again as a string of small communities.

 
At 10:55 PM, Blogger nina said...

I'm with Crayons--right now it's too easy to make bad choices.
We see the cost in dollars, when it is far more.
Unless we are forced into change, we will always take the path of least resistance. It's our nature--but nothing to be proud of.

 
At 1:03 PM, Blogger Texas Travelers said...

Bring back the bikes. Walking 2 blocks to the grocery store is OK too. Just don't buy too many groceries. Troy

 
At 8:13 AM, Blogger Larry said...

I haven't ridden a bike since I was a kid.-Never felt comfortable on the seats.I plan to purchase one some time this year though if I can find an alternative seat.Birding by bike-sounds pretty good to me.-As you know,at least I'm carpooling now.

 

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