Driving and Biking in the Big City

Staying young on the bike ride of life

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Beautiful nature photo by John Hensley.

I lived most of my adult life in sequences of three to five years in one place or another until I settled with my young children more than a decade ago. Ironically, and after leaving my roots as soon as possible, I eventually made my lifelong home just a couple of hours away from my original hometown. Being so close to my childhood memory of the same geography and climate has kept me young at heart, especially in the spring with the smell of new life in the air.

I go for a bike ride like I did this evening and, in the first few deep breaths I take, I’m transported by the sights and smells to an exact same bike ride I took at age 9, 12 or even 18 years old — when I bought my first 10-speed and put it together in the shade of the two-story garage in my mom’s backyard, reading the instructions step by step and saving the $20 or so that Sears would have charged me to put it together. It was my first bike named Streak, in this case because it was silver.

I now live in Energy City and many people will tell you the smell of nature is crowded out by refineries, cars, gasoline and just the entanglement of a  metropolitan area that smothers out the natural scents. I’d have to agree that it was pretty fetid and sour, but that was  “back in the day” when I covered my first refinery explosion before I’d finished college and was sent to the emergency room with burned lungs. With today’s more enlightened laws for clean air and water, I only occasionally can tell that I’m living in such a polluted community with its huge carbon footprint.

On today’s bike ride, I smell honeysuckle, wisteria, gladioli and something that, even when I was a kid, I thought smelled just like grape Kool-Aid or an icy grape snow cone from the public pool at our park by the Neches River. I now suspect that smell is the grape-scented Texas mountain laurel, but who can explain the whiff of bubblegum that breezes by me in patches.

Blackberries grow wild and I know what the flowers look like before they turn to berries – first green, then red, then a deep black with a whisper of purple. Mushrooms grow just as wild and there are parts of my ride that smell like newly turned earth, dirt and growth that can just as easily smell like a mushroom pizza just delivered to your door. This time of year, there is always the smell of fresh mowed grass or Boy Scout mulch that’s just been put on the lawns.

The birds sing in the bushes, creating a steady music for my ride that, at the more swampy areas, becomes serenaded by the deep-throated love calls of the bullfrogs in our area.

Tonight, there is a Gibbous moon.  I’m an incredibly amateur astronomer and remember seeing that word for the first time when I was trying to figure out what you call the moon on its way to being full or on its way back to new again. Now, I can size up the moon without an Almanac and tell you that we can expect that big yellow ball in just a week or so. And in fact, the stars at night are big and bright many nights in my city if I can get away from the big city light pollution.

After work, I try to choose my ride time to get in enough miles for good exercise but to be coming home down a specific, tree-lined path where I frequently see fireflies. If I’m lucky enough, “lightning bugs” as I called them as a kid, will pop out in twos and threes for my last quarter of a mile of my bike ride. It makes me feel magical, transported and otherworldly.

It’s when the fireflies at dusk light my way that I sometimes see a white sweatshirt weaving through the bushes away from the concrete path that bikers, joggers and dog-walkers take. I’ve seen this sweatshirt before and often, once having been a bit disturbed by the spooky vision. But I now have come to believe it’s a bit of a cosmic visitation from an old friend who lived in this neighborhood before her death at a young age. When it was happening pretty frequently, I faced it like I do most of my fears — head-on. I sat down on a bench at the crossroads and waited out the vision. I prayed and talked and got over my fear of the unknown. Because that’s still what it remains, unknown.

The sequence of events typically starts with a memory of my friend. Her name pops into my head, Carol, and I know to look around for a vision, coming and going quickly and easily just out of sight.  It’s something or someone who could be her, could be someone else or could simply be a trick of my imagination.

If it’s a vision of the long lost Carol, I know she’s a benevolent spirit because we were great friends when our kids were young together. We remained friends through phone calls from my several moves and we got reacquainted when I returned to the area, our kids much older and her marriage on the brink of divorce.  Of course, being the smart ass I am, I can’t say that I never said a tacky word about her because, if I know you, I’ve typically said something at least remotely critical and what I consider pretty funny. I’ll do anything for a joke. I like to tell my friends that I never say anything bad about people I don’t know that well or don’t like. I save my true sass for true friends.

And Carol was a friend with big stories that I believed until I didn’t. But she remained my friend until the unexpected end.  That’s why I guess I worried, at first, that her restless spirit may have something to settle with me. Could I have been mistaken? Could everything she told me possibly be true? How about the one when she came home from the grocery store with more money. “A put-pocket,” my husband suggested when I was naïve enough to believe her. Or the escape from a fiery building in the rolled up carpet of a firefighter. Or the Queen’s parade that was halted by the delivery of her first child. All interesting enough but a bit fabulous when added together or compared with notes from other friends.

These visitations usually begin when I least expect them. My mind is numb or busy and suddenly something unexpected pops into my head. Typically, and in the past, it’s been Carol. Her name, suddenly entering my consciousness. It has been a signal for me to look around and see her or the slight vision that’s quickly out of sight. The only reason I’ve believed it had anything to do with Carol is that the idea pops into my head unbidden. The vision itself is nothing but a woman in a white sweatshirt with uncertain features, floating more than walking away. with the knowledge that pops into my head unexpectedly.

As I bike the last leg of my ride tonight, that’s not truly what happens. And,  now that I think about it, I don’t think it was true the last time I saw something strange on my bike ride.

I saw the white sweatshirt and now I’ve seen it again today and I don’t have an inkling of an idea of what it might mean, who might be there or if this is a bad or a good sign. Nothing popped into my head. The vision came with no warning and no “feeling.” I’m back to being concerned, worried. Is there something in the road ahead? Good or bad? Tough or easy? Clearly, it’s not going to be a smooth ride.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

March 12, 2014 at 7:03 pm

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