Monday, September 6, 2010

Riding the Edge

This summer has been a great one. The weather has been downright stunning, especially here in the Great White North; hot, dry, sunny. But isn't just the weather, it is the confluence of our kids' lives, our home life, our goals, our hopes. It is a little weird to know that, no matter how great the future might be, this simple time of beauty, growth, love, laughter, and peace in our family has set a new high water mark. Even when we didn't get along, it was civil and understandable. Pinch me, but the Odds family has been surfing the crest for months. Crap, I just jinxed it!

Years ago, I said pretty much the same thing to a friend of mine in Puerto Rico, how our life was bucolic, happy, even mundane. Then we were robbed, our dog died, Mrs. Odd's grandmother passed, and my mother and brother died. I spent a year or three wishing I said, "Naw, life sucks." Truly, for awhile I irrationally thought my big mouth had brought down the Big Hurt. I'm yankee enough to be hardwired that you don't get too up, and that being down is a normal, common part of life. I don't like being down, but I do like climbing back up. Having stated that, Mrs. Odd has taught me over the years that it is okay --maybe even normal -- to be happy with little things, to have simple distractions, and that there is no such thing as jinxes.

See, I can't help feeling that I've run this streak of happy luck all the way out. Yeah, even though I don't believe in jinxes, curses, fate, or design, I can't escape completely from my foundation, my inner self. I can't but feel that God or Death or the Three Sisters tapped me on the shoulder last weekend, as if to say, "Yeah, we see you. You seem a little too happy, brother boy." Tap, tap.

Why the worry? Why the glance over the shoulder? Let me set the stage. I took up road biking again, after years off. Mrs. O hooked me up with an entirely sweet (...expensive) bike, and I took to it like cheese to macaroni. Starting in late May, I started riding hard, often, and every day out, a little faster. I was good wearing my helmet, and maybe not so good cranking my i-pod with motivational tunes. A few weeks into my new pursuit, I set two goals; a thousand miles by end of the summer and break forty miles per hour. So all summer, ride-train-ride. June passed by, and I saw it happen from the road. July passed by, and I saw it from behind the bumper of tourists visiting my town. August arrived, and my miles count was edging past 800, but I was having trouble breaking thirty-eight miles per hour. And then we took a weekend in Vermont.

If you have not been to Vermont, imagine a world that is always tilted 5 - 10 degrees. I lived there for nine years, but didn't really notice. But the first day out on my bike, and it became the key feature I cared about. The state should change its name to plain old Mont. But with the hills and mountains came the extra boost I needed, and on that first ride I broke forty three times. Wahoo. Hair on fire. Indestructible. "I'm flying!"

And so it went. Gathered up the miles, built up the legs, and started thinking, "Can I break fifty?" It really never occurred to me to ask, "Should I break fifty?" So now it is last Saturday, and we are in Vermont again, way up the big hills. I get geared up, and ride uphill for awhile. Delayed gratification, you see. And then I aim the handle bars downhill, and "Whoooooosh." Thirty. Thirty-five. Forty. Forty-one. Forty-two. Curve. Shitfuckshitfuckshitfuckshitfuck...

Tap, tap. My sweet bike has breaks. I began to gently pump the breaks. Shitfuck. Tap, tap. Pump the breaks, stand on the pedals. Shitfuck. Wobble. In my head, I yelled, "What the fuck was that?" Tap, tap. Pump the breaks, stand on the pedals, lean back. Wobble, wobble. Shitfuckshitfuck. Wobble, wobble,wobble. SHAKE, SHAKE, SHAKE, WOBBLE, WOBBLE, WOBBLE. Aloud, with a resigned voice, "Oh, SHIT!"

The curve was coming for me. My bike was breaking apart. I was going forty miles an hour. And in a brief flash, I thought of Little Odds and Buttons, and wondered, "What didn't I teach them?" Pump the breaks, stand on the pedals, lean back, navigate the curve. Wobble, wobble, wobble. Pump. Wobble, wobble. Pump. Look for soft landing area. Pump. Wobble. Pump. Smoother. Smoother? Pump, smoother, pump, smooth. Pump, pump, stop. What happened to "Tap, tap" I wondered? I found myself in parking lot, standing astride my most excellent bike. I wasn't dead. I didn't wipe out. I was gonna go home in one piece. Huh, didn't see that coming.

So Sunday, Mrs. O and I spent the first part of the day at the pool. She picked me up from that very parking lot Saturday and I decided to take Sunday off. Sunning. Reading. Eating. Swimming. Checking my balls. Pinching myself. As the day went along, Mrs. O suggested we take a Alpine Slide ride. Sure, I said. What could go wrong? Tap, tap.

So up the hill we went. Tap, tap. And I sought out the fastest cart. Tap, tap. And I bragged that no one ever gets hurt on these things, those signs are for insurance purposes. Tap, tap. Brakes? Who needs brakes. Tap, Tap. Off we went, swoosh! Faster, faster, faster. Tap, tap. Faster, faster, faster, CURVE! Tap, fuckin' tap!

So how did it end? I stayed in the track. The cart didn't. Funny thing how skin reacts to friction on cement. Tap, tap. We got you, sucker! And strangely, as I ripped down the track and felt my skin flay, and saw stars as my jaw cracked on the track's edge, I thought to myself, "This isn't as bad as yesterday would have been. I really got away easy this time!" Tap, tap.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Summer Falling

Spring's eternal hope bursts upon the Earth with exuberance, energy, and boundless optimism. A seed breaks from its winter husk, and reaches for the sun, a new, slender sprout. It twists and turns, reaching higher and higher. Its company is other gentle flowers, only just beginning to grow, each beautiful, simple, fragile. The attentive Gardener gently weeds the soil, watering when the flower is thirsty, fertilizing to encourage growth and strong roots, The flower and her companions know no frost, for the the Gardener covers them when its cold. The flower and her companions know no blight, no pestilence, nothing more harmful than an occasional strong gust of wind. Around the flower buzzes life, heard in the joyful voices of the birds and crickets and bees. What for so long is seen as simple sprouts begin to show buds, each young flower similar but none the same. Awaiting their blooming, there is nothing but happiness in spring.

Soon spring gives way to summer. Almost overnight, the flowers' buds burst into the the air, bright colors and complex shapes. They shine nearly as bright as the sun, enlivening their surroundings, to the envy of the old oak and stone wall. The Gardener takes time to admire, knowing the flower did more work than he. The garden is so full, so dynamic, so alive, even a small patch such as this surpasses most works of man. But the garden is not one thing, but many, many hundreds. The Gardener focuses on the one lovely flower, and his heart swells with joy. He sets aside his trowel and rake, and rests from his labor.

And later, some time later, the Gardener is working a new patch of garden, coaxing more flowers to bloom. Upon his knees, he focuses on the young, immature stalks, knowing how fragile and exposed they are. A quick, unexpected gust of wind rocks the old oak, and a loud crack splits the air. The Gardener looks up, and at first everything seems in order. He stands and covers his eyes, shading his view from the strong summer glare. Almost instantly, his hands drop to his sides. He walks quickly to the flower bed, a gnarled branch from the oak driven into the soft soil.

For a moment, he naively thinks all is well. Most flowers' colors remain bright, as they sway gently in the breeze, reaching for the sun as ever. But alone on the ground lays a lone flower. While still beautiful, it is painfully, heartbreakingly clear the flower is broken, lifeless. The Gardener forgets for the moment the rest of the garden, and thinks only of the fallen. Surrounded by life, this loss feels so much more poignant. Some time later the Gardener returns to his toiling, but he thinks not of what is to come, but of what might have been. Soon his latest plantings will need his full attention, but for now the lone flower stands alone in his memory.