Is this not a true Autumn day? Just the
still melancholy that I love - that makes
life and nature harmonize. The birds are
consulting about their migrations, the trees
are putting on the hectic or pallid hues of decay,
and begin to strew the ground, that one's very
footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth
and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect
anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious Autumn!
It would be easy to talk myself out of riding today. There is a prediction for rain all day long. The radar shows spots of red both above and below where I want to go today. Friends are tied up and I will be riding alone left to my own devices if the weather becomes intolerable. I just had my wheel worked on and I will not trust it until I have some miles on it. There is a ride scheduled for tomorrow that is a club ride and I have a century on the schedule for Wednesday and next Saturday and I could just ride then. There is housework that needs doing. All these arguments run through my head as I fight with myself on whether to grab my bike and head out the door. But the sun shows signs of shining, shyly peeking through pink and purple tinged clouds. It holds promise just as the day does. The weather is warm and if it rains I will not be cold. I have not ridden all week due to work and other appointments. And I have a "restless spirit" today. I know I will regret wasting this day if I stay home, and so I head out, camera in tow, everything vulnerable to water wrapped in plastic baggies.
I think of how many of my friends cannot understand the delight in riding a century on one's own. How do I explain the freedom that this type of ride brings? I can ride at my own pace, fast or slow, and I can pause when I want. I can take any road I fancy. I can stop at store stops or ride on if I am not hungry. I can think of problems and blessings in my life and my contemplations are not often interrupted by a need to think of others. I can sing or quote poetry or stop and do a little dance. I can splash in a creek I pass if I am hot and nobody will sigh or look askance. In other words, it is a selfish day. Everyone needs selfish day every now and then, particularly if they are a caregiver. It is a day to renew my spirit.
All around me, both people and animals seem to be preparing for winter. I pass farmers harvesting their crops, once green corn and soy beans now a dull brown, tractors droning heavily in the autumn air. The husky sounds of chain saws fill the air and pick up trucks are filled with wood needing to be stacked nearby to heat homes and cuddle loved ones. I remember the pride in splitting my first log, the smell of wood smoke snaking through the air, the chilliness of the morning when the stove had gone out, and the warmth once it was refilled. I remember the rustling sounds of my husband in the mornings filling the stove, gently covering me, kissing my forehead, ensuring that I would not chill when I got out of bed, and I treasure once again that feeling of not just being loved, but being tenderly cherished by a man whose past wounds made it difficult for him to be tender or to cherish anyone or anything. I remember the smell of our mingled scents as I snuggled deeply into the bed that was our nest, content and happy. I think of how life can harden or change people as they move to protect that soft inner core. And I am glad that I chose to ride.
I pass ducks with babies and then come upon a totem pole that someone is creating. "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." (Picasso) comes to mind, and I think that perhaps this is also true of a bicycle ride. I round a corner and come upon a deer lazily crossing the road and note how quickly he shifts modes from meandering to intense evasive action. I warn him it is hunting season both with words and thoughts.
The first hints of autumn color the scenery, not yet the blaring farewell of late October but restless whisperings of the fanfare to come. Leaves fall and swirl in places and in others remain firmly in place, refusing to yield to the inevitable fall from grace. The first geese of the fall fly overhead, raucously calling to each other as they navigate the sky to find a resting place for the coming cold. And the sun reluctantly yields to the clouds, the rain starts to fall, gentle but persistent, never quite demanding enough to require my full attention though I do turn on a taillight.
I stop at an old graveyard near a log cabin that has drawn my interest before but where I have not stopped. Someone has lovingly mended tomb stones. Some still stand, some have been placed leaning against trees and I suspect that nobody was sure where they belonged. I wonder if any of them lived in the log cabin nearby. I wonder what their lives were like. I speak to them telling them that I hope they were well loved, that their lives were not too hard, that they were remembered with tenderness and love by those left behind. That they were missed and mourned, but not to the point where life for their living loved ones ceased to bring happiness, disappearing into the grave with them. Because this is what I hope for myself when my time comes: to be remembered with love but also with the idea that my life was well spent. To be remembered with the feeling that I did not live life as a spectator, but as a participant. That I rode my bike long and I rode my bike well because it was something that I loved doing as it shows me that world. That I loved often and I loved well and that I was well loved. But not to take those left behind to the grave with me, but rather to have been an example in some small way. If I can do this, it doesn't get much better than that.