I was looking for the sun and they said if I climbed high enough-it still hung in the sky. Besides, it was the season for rhododendrons, so I went to find them. I toiled up to lofty Hendricks Park, my 12 speed touring bike and me. Of course, I didn’t ride it, having grown up on a bike with no speed/shifts and brakes on the pedals, but it was my shiny companion, and light to push up the forever twisting, constantly climbing hill-up-up through the heavy mist over Eugene that smelled of wood fire smudge, remembering that like the cherry crowning a banana split—there would be at the top— the rhododedrons in bloom in their cloud garden.
In my usual absent minded way, I was thinking up a poem to mark the ascent.
Black, grey dingy down
Soggy grey and dirty brown.
Right—well, all at once the bike (named Silver for the Lone Ranger’s horse) and I broke out into the light. It was a fanfare moment! Coming from the Lake Superior Country of Northern Wisconsin, I was used to cold, but the wet never ending dismals that stabbed frigid fingers to the bone—now that was depressing. I had set aside memories of blizzards and ice, choosing instead to remember that snow shown blinding-bright by day, and that a snow-scape, wrapped in its white pristine coat, was pure magic under the winter moon.
Sun starved, driven mad by the dreary drabs, I had gone looking, and there was the sun— all along hiding high above Willamette’s valley floor. I must come here more often, I thought, and immediately my poem changed seasons!
Purple pink, violet blue
Dripping wet with heaven’s dew!
Hendricks Park! A labyrinth of every color imaginable, every size conceivable, every texture possible, in the world of Rhododendrons and all sparkling, set off like gemstones by deep luxuriant green. And people were strolling around beaming in the sun, walking their yapping dogs, children laughed and rolled in the grass in front of the picnic area where hotdogs sizzled for a family barbecue, joyful life erupted all around while smoky gloomy Eugene glowered beneath its leaden shield far below us. We partook of the abundant banquet of beauty, traversed the manicured paths, discovered bright little song birds making nests, heard the water gurgling in the fountains, and skin, long shaded and pale, warmed and shone. Me and my bike—we decided it was well worth the climb. And finally, satiated with immersion in Pacific Northwest springtime , I swung up like “The High Planes Drifter” and rode down into the curtain of grim, the wet gloaming, the sea of melancholy that gripped the city still hibernating in the valley of no sun.
Only the road was wet and slippery and the bike sprung free of restraint, picked up speed and raced around the bends. It was not like riding my horses who had minds of their own and sense enough to try to keep body and soul together, this bike was possessed by some suicidal demon. It was not clunky and stiff like the bikes of my youth-it was sleek and swift and like wildfire, out of control. I saw the hedge coming but didn’t know how to turn without falling, or brake without skidding and so I did neither one. I didn’t get to see the bad accident-it just sort of began and didn’t seem to end-just over and through, upside down and inside out with tearing branches and clothes and lots of blood and bruises and a clean cut through an impenetrable bush. I picked myself up, pulled spirea branches out of my sleeves, thorns out of my fingers and looked for my bike, visions of it dented and destroyed strobing in my brain. But I found it impaled on an oak branch with a wheel still spinning, freed Silver, picked up the speedometer flung haplessly into a bed of daffodils, and limped surreptitiously off down the driveway toward reality.
I’m not a bird, I cannot fly
But I still dream, and I still try
And being bold and being brash
I sometimes fail and often crash
Yes, too much joy and too much speed
Makes me hurt and makes me bleed
But what a way to hope and live
What a way to sing and give
With passion, color, zest and dance
Beat strong my heart-Take on the chance
With luck to travel one more time
Into the realm of the sublime
This is an excerpt from the novel I am currently writing. Download The Way Back: ISBN 9781483520735 soon to be in all e-book formats in all e-book stores. It is the story of a veteran of World War I working his way home. http://bit.ly/SoldiersJourney