Thursday, March 4, 2010
Woods, Wind and Wheels
As a child in the West I could never figure out why we got out of school in June when it was still chill on some mornings, rainy on others and then had to go back the first part of September, when the air was a fine golden wine that invited laughter and the shedding of pants and shirts as we got into trouble as only the innocent can, down at the creek.
But like kids do, we'd take in every last second, swimming, jumping from a rope swing into clear waters, ripping through the woods seeking things we thought was ours alone to discover. An old scrape of an antler, the footprint of a stealth fox, the glimmer of red the only sign that she had passed.
It was a rare day in summer where we'd stay indoors. There were some video games but for the average middle class family, a pricey toy few had. My toys were beloved but I wanted a new bike. I desperately wanted a 10 speed, when all the cool kids were getting $100 Schwinn's. My folks, law enforcement, my mom retired to be a full time Mom, weren't wealthy, the small bit of land we had providing food for us but that was about it. A $100 bike was out of the question. I was crushed, praying as some people do, as if God was some cosmic bellboy, for a shiny yellow Schwinn. It was not to be, and knowing how hard my parents worked, I tried not to let my disappointment show.
Then, that hot Indiana Summer day, Dad got up early. He normally rises before the sun, but this day he was up REALLY early. When he came home he bustled something covered with a tarp into the garage and told us, kindly, to stay out. We figured it was woodworking stuff, a hobby he loved and that was that. We headed out into the fields, the kids from the "hill" where the big houses were, on their new bikes, me on a dilapidated embarrassment of a little girls bike, complete with the hated basket. I wanted a big bike, a cool bike. I was almost 10 for Pete's sake. But my parents knew better than to give us everything we wanted, when we asked for it, so we'd not grow up into that sense of entitlement that can only lead to disaster.
But, cool bike, or not, I loved to ride, and we'd race the wind, freedom in the musical rhythem of foot and spoke and pavement. You can't help but be drawn in by the composition of the rhythm of leg and wheel, taking freedom from the movement, knowing that the effort you put into it is what you get back, in freedom and speed.
The streets attested to the power of this drive, kids racing up and down, with war cries and laughter. Seeking out friends, seeking out adventures. Esecially if it took us out into the woods that surrounded our little mountain town.
The bike got us to this place, but it was always ours. Clear blue streams gurgling with trout, flotillas of the first yellow leaves rushing on, gathering in clusters against the rocks. Peninsulas of Aspen, trails of discovery. A hawk dives from the sky. The forest was his home, but it was ours to claim.
We'd drink from a clear mountain stream if we got thirsty and ripped more than one pair of knees out of a pair of jeans, which our mothers would patch, not replace. Our Mom's were all at home doing what Mom's secretly did in the day. My own, having been a Sheriff in the next big county, was high up on the Cool Chart, as was my Dad, but we never felt tethered by them, only protected. They trusted us to wander in by dinner, and to come home if anyone accidentally lost a limb. They seemed to understand that we needed to burn off the energy of youth and growth. They knew who we were with, and likely where we would be, but allowed us to work through the precursors of teen hormones, exploring, building a raft, not cooped up inside. They grew up with this generation of play, as would we.
Our toy soldiers, clashed and died while we, as general or spy, ran between the thick green trees, until twilight rolled over us in clean, warm waves. Then, with only the impending darkness and an empty belly we were called home. We'd gather our wounded to us, the GI Joe that lost his arm in a tragic lumberjack accident, the precision plastic firearm that only dribbled water now. Craig with his skinned knee and redheaded Roger with his sunburn, retreating back to our bikes.
School was almost upon us, and every last bit of adventure was squeezed from the day before we arrived back home. We crept into the pantry, grabbing a Hostess Snowball from the cupboard, then rushing out to see what Dad was doing, cheeks stuffed with chocolate and marshmallow like wild eyed squirrels. There was my Dad. Not angry that we were dirty, with torn pants, and having a snack before Mom's home made supper, but smiling. Beaming actually. And there behind him was a 10 speed. Not a Schwinn. But a Huffy, repaired and freshly painted in my favorite color, with new tape on the handlebars.
Dad had gotten up at o'dark hundred to drive to the big city, where their police department was auctioning off lost or stolen bikes to raise money for the community. Got up when some folks were going to bed, and waited in the cold for hours to bid on this bike, which he got for $15, then repaired, painted and cleaned up. It wasn't new, but it gleamed with promise, the handlebars shone with invitation and it was fast. Lord, it was fast.
My bike now is mostly a four wheel drive truck. I have one at work as well, to get to places people never want to go. The woods are still my second home, be it play or sometimes work, quiet bluffs and valleys that hide their dead. I may still come home dirty, with clothes that have to be thrown out in a bag or burned. Dinner, a quick stop at the store, just enough for the needs of a small household. It s a frantic life some days, but being a grown up doesn't mean we have to grow up. With my goodies from the store I head on north towards home. On the way, I take a side trip through a park and wildlife refuge, I roll down the window, feeling the cold air on my face as if riding my beloved bike. Then, from the woods as the light seeps from the sky, a form off in the distance. I slow, and then stop in wonder. A large whitetail,, rushes from the trees, antlers held high, splashing over dappled current, then disappearing without sound. His size and form leaving goosebumps on my skin, as if the departure of his presence blew hot and cold on me.
As I sat and watched him rush away, I wondered where that old bike of mine ended up. Probably handed down to a niece or nephew, I really can't recall. But I can remember the look on my Dad's face when he wheeled it over to me, and the feeling in me when I rode it for the first time, flying down our rural road, a fighter pilot of wheels and gears.
I should probably get some chores done, but instead I think I'll go out to the garage. There is a bike there, the mountain variety, that's been harnessed too long. The sun is out, the roads are dry. I'm not too old for adventure, and my wheels await.