At the Willmar Supper a couple of weeks back, Richard asked me if I've been biking lately. He hadn't seen me go by his place on the 604 like he used to. I told him no, I'd been pretty busy. Not that I haven't been biking at all, but it's been mostly here in town, running errands. Even then, I often walk, especially since the snow and ice arrived. It's gone again, though, except for some lingering frozen puddles. Yesterday I met my former Grade 3 teacher on the street, and she remarked on my carriage - the trailer I was towing behind my bike. It always surprises me when people ask me about it, as if it's something new. Some assume that I am looking after small children. Indeed it was originally designed for hauling tots, but I have used it for years as a general cargo hauler, mostly for groceries.
It's not true that everybody knows everything about everyone else in this little town. They may all know about the four vehicles we had simultaneously licensed, after we got my dear old Nissan 4x4 running again and before we sold the little Ranger to Garth's niece; but they don't all know about my bike trailer.
Four vehicles? Yes - well, three now. I think the third was a mistake. We bought a '77 Ford Custom 500 so that we could haul 5 kids at a time when carpooling to events in Carlyle, and license it cheaply (as of next year) as an antique. That way we can still keep the tiny Geo Metro as Garth's daily driver, and the Nissan in case of snowstorms or large hauling. It seemed like a good idea as the school year was beginning and we were anxious to do our part in the carpool, but the way things have worked out, we haven't been driving that many kids at a time, so the blue whale (as the Ford is nicknamed) has been staying parked. Beached, I guess you could say.
I thought my bike was pretty much parked for the season, too, but when I saw that ice melting away this week, and then saw the forecast of a sunny warm day for Thursday (today), I made up my mind to get one more ride.
The day dawned cloudy, and showers had crept into the forecast, but I was undeterred. While the kids got ready for school, I mended my headband so I wouldn't have to choose between my helmet and my toque. I layered long underwear and a couple of sweaters under loose pants and a breathable raincoat/windbreaker (a luxurious gift from my mom). As the kids went out the door, I reminded them that they might be on their own for lunch. I tidied the kitchen a little, filled my water bottle, and stepped out into the light chill of a south breeze.
I rode south into that breeze, feeling it sap the warmth from my fingers and wondering if I should have chosen a different pair of gloves. Mitts, maybe? I remembered the images of wind-driven snow in the movie James and I watched last night, "March of the Penguins." Amazing, to see those tiny chicks poking their heads out from the shelter atop their parents' claws. How do any of them survive?
On the downhill slope of the ridge south of the airport, I geared up and raced a couple of trucks, but they blew past at double my speed. By the time I slowed down, I could feel my own warmth laughing back at the chill of the breeze, and my fingers were fine.
Somewhere along the way, I found myself wondering about this cold land of ours, and what it means to my perspective. Surely looming energy shortages must look a little different when you live in a warm place. It must be a little easier to just retreat to a farm and prepare to ride out the crisis, when you and most of those around you can reasonably expect to pull through. Here, I imagined, there will be an accelerated exodus, as some try to go back to the land and realize that this land was never very friendly. Perhaps there will be a deepening divide between those involved in pumping the last of the oil, and those just trying to survive.
It seems to me that there is a north-south split in the blogging circle I frequent. The southern U.S. bloggers are living close to the land, making dire predictions about humanity's future, and expecting to carry on through those grim times relatively unscathed. The northern bloggers are a bit behind in terms of acquiring land or building warm homes, but they are also much less inclined to discuss the coming darkness, and much more invested in the task of choosing to hope, to rejoice in this present moment. To light one candle, and to try to pass that light along to another. Is this just wishful thinking and willful blindness to the truth? I don't think so. A good tree bears good fruit, and in my life, hope yields hard work and harvest.
There is the matter of my children, too. At times I have thought that it was a mistake to have children in these times, though I did not really understand the times back then. If it weren't for the children, I could retreat so much more easily, or be a wandering prophet, working for my supper and talking to anyone who would listen. I wouldn't have to compromise so much, to give the children some of what I had, and some of what their peers have, just in case my reading of the times is all wrong. But more importantly, I wouldn't have so much riding on my hope that things will turn out better than they seem.
So maybe it is a good thing I had the children. That sounds terrible - as if I barely appreciate them. I love my children, and I marvel at their wisdom and goodwill, but I ache when they talk darkly about the future. Should I have sheltered them from my own fears, letting them believe that the future is bright? Should I have fled to a farm when they were very young, making that lifestyle the norm for them, so they would have nothing of modern society to long for or to miss? But today I think, no, this is where I am, and the Spirit is still breathing me, still stirring me to something more, and perhaps there is a blessing in this connectedness, this longing for a brighter, gentler future for humanity.
It takes far longer to write this than it did for the thoughts to flit across my mind. All the worries came and went, falling behind me or floating off across the textured fields, and I breathed the bracing air and waved at passing neighbours and friends, carried along by two narrow wheels and a rolling wave of joy. I stopped by the creek to admire the patterned ice and wonder about the old house on Adrian's, whether it really is compressed earth block construction, and whether it could be renovated with an extension on the south with lots of windows, and a strawbale blanket around the north, to use all that earth block as thermal mass. It could be beautiful, I thought.
Of course, it's beautiful now.
I rode up Perry's Hill in third gear. I'm in better shape than I realized.
I rode to the South Arcola Corner, turned, and came back with the breeze helping me along. I flew down Perry's Hill, enjoyed the creek again, stopped to talk to some horses, and then Murray stopped to talk to me. He told me about Shirley's appaloosa, that was just as curious as the one coming along the fence behind me.
I was home well before lunch time, and happy.