Last evening Eldest and I cycled six miles to the neighboring town to pick up the 3 lbs. of heirloom tomatoes accidentally left out of my box at the organic co-op.
In that sentence are several of the things that make this place I live the place for me.
It was a beautiful evening.
I love how biking recreates historic distances. When my grandparents were young and newly married and needed to go to market for more than they grew or raised themselves, for more than they could find in the creaky-wooden-floored, jingly-bell-on-a-spring-over-the-door General Store in their tiny town, they used to drive buckboard and horses from their town through a neighboring town into the market town early in the morning, come back at night. They used to tell me this and I would wonder at how far things were in the olden days.
Now when we visit the same house they lived in and need to shop, the General Store is gone. The stores are still in the same market town, but now it’s just a zip-zip straight shot on the new highway over the hills by car. A route we often end up back-and-forthing several times a day.
When I ride that distance by bike though, I plan my trip better — because I’ll only do it once. I take the old road and remember my grandparents’ stories as the view curves around desert stretches and green irrigated fields and each town reveals itself for a long distance, snuggled into its carefully tended trees, beneath the blue mountains ringing around on every side.
The hills here in my town are greener and here towns are marked out by the clearing of trees instead of their carefully planted, conscientiously watered sprouting up. But I felt the same magic time-travel last evening, biking my way through the history of these two riverside towns – along the basalt cliffs above the port that was once the focus of town, through the forest that has been logged and regrown, past old farms and pastures of peaceful white-spotted cows.
By bike, each town is sufficiently separated to be its own place. On a bike, the distances between towns becomes more than the blip-blip blur it is in the car — towns become more than refueling nodes connected by a traffic stream. Towns become part of a larger landscape, part of the forest, part of the shore. That’s one thing I love about riding a bike.
It was Eldest’s first ride since her crash, her doctor having proclaimed her broken bone sufficiently “sticky” to hold itself together now and safe to resume her usual activities. Behind me she kept exclaiming, It feels so good to be back on a bike. Oh, it’s so beautiful.
I myself had felt the familiar surprise at the pleasure the wind brings brushing over my arms and legs. I was thinking as we rode home how glad, how good it is to have my life made up of beads of time like this one, how when I get old and sick in bed I hope I can relive these rides.
But I can never remember how it feels to ride when I’m not riding. A day or two later and I’ve forgotten exactly what it’s like – I remember I liked it, I remember it took some effort. I have to get back on the bike and then I’m always sweetly surprised at the excitement that is strength glowing in the muscles of my legs as the road angles upward, the shiver of pleasure passing from sun into shadow into sun, the full and sweet peace of meadow air filling my lungs.
Traveling quiet enough to hear the last song of the birds, the click and whir of insects. Traveling slow enough to fill the dark cerebral cavities with the glow of light through leaves, the brave brightness bouncing from a field of dry grasses.
And when we get home, local-grown heirloom tomatoes that grew round and ripe, full of spicy tang, in that same bird and insect song, soaking up that same light.