Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Better Way to Recover

It's a fine spring day, the brilliant sunlight is beckoning, the big horse is seemingly shaking in its boots, er, tires in the garage. I can hear it saying "Lets go for a ride, you've put me through all those cold, rainy, muddy, sleety, road grit rides all winter long, now lets go burn up some pavement in the warm sun!

But it's not be. The docs explicit instructions say, DO NOT:
  • Drive
  • Drink Alcohol
  • Travel alone
  • Sign any legal papers
  • Be responsible for the care of another person

Further it says, for the next two weeks:

  • Avoid nose blowing
  • Straining
  • Heavy lifting
  • ... (there's more, but you get the idea)

It does not say anything specifically about riding a bike but I'm pretty sure that would be on the no-no list if I had asked.

So, instead of a ride out South Bank road, or the beautiful climb through the Capitol Forest over Bordeaux, we'll have to settle for a spin down memory lane.

I wrote this a couple years ago, reading it again, I can easily recall the feeling of the late summer sun warming me as I lazed about, halfway through an easy century down to Winlock and beyond. It will have to sustain me for the next couple weeks (two weeks, that seems like an awfully harsh sentence). Anyway, happy reading.

Late Summer

I was riding along a couple days ago and was over flown by a really big flock of crows. They just kept coming and coming. That the crows are starting to flock up is one of the first signs that the end of summer and the start of fall is not far off, perhaps already here.

Autumn’s entry can be hard to see, it slips in behind that lower hanging sun. It doesn’t bowl us over with a shocking freeze or snowstorm; no blast of 100 degree heat. It’s subtle, tiptoes in.

There were other signs. As I pedaled along in the late afternoon heat I decided to stop and take a brief rest. I found a patch of grass in the shade of a tree, out of the site of the road, and stretched out with my water bottle for 20 minutes of relaxation. I closed my eyes and the dappled sunlight that filtered through the tree leaves danced across my eyelids. I heard the occasional car pass on the road. In the distance a dog was barking, and far off a small plane droned out of my hearing. I was at peace as I dozed in and out of consciousness

A breeze rustled the leaves, cooling my sweaty body just a bit. The slight chill felt delicious, and gently stirred me to the edge of wakefulness. The breeze brought with it something else, very distinct and very familiar: The heavy scent of wild blackberries. Thick on the air, like the heavy perfume the ladies wear at the senior center, but far more intoxicating. This smell flooded my mind with images of a childhood in the northwest, where every year, the bounty of vacant lots, and far field corners was always loaded heavily with wild black berries.

One of my earliest memories of picking blackberries was going in a car trip with Uncle Hoot to one of his favored ‘secret' berry patches. Hoot was a bear of a man, the kind of person that Hollywood tries to create when they need a back woodsman. A broad plaid flannel shirt, suspenders and Frisco jeans, a big bushy grey beard, wire rim glasses, and always a dirty white painters cap with a stub of a Lucky Strike stuck in the corner of his mouth.

I went with a bunch of cousins, for a long, exciting trip across the Lake Washington floating bridge out to Mercer Island. The idea of being way out on an island itself was pretty exciting. Once on the dirt roads Hoot stopped and we got to pile into the back of the old pickup, giggling and screeching as we bounced along from pothole to pothole. Through patches of timber and open fields, pastures with horses, we were way out in the country!

Of course, once there the berry patch looked pretty much like any other; blackberry canes soared ten to fifteen feet in the air, propped here and there by the rusting hulk of a long abandoned car. It was an old clear cut, maybe 20 years old, there was thick dried yellow grass in the openings, and a few scraggly trees left behind, lots of stumps, and of course the area was nearly over taken by blackberry bushes. They were thick, impenetrable to all but the skinniest alley cat. Hoot passed out the Folgers coffee cans, all rigged up with clothes hanger bales and admonished us not to eat any; we were all to pick our cans full or Nana would not be able to makes us pies, cobblers, jellies, and of course that famous blackberry syrup for pancakes.

Of course by the end of the day the cans were maybe half full, and we were exhausted, thirsty and each incriminated with black berry stains from tongue, to chin, to belly, to purple stained Tee shirt. Hoot mock scolded us and let us know that we were good for nothing knuckleheads and he had a mind to let us all walk back to town as, now he’d get in trouble for not bringing enough treasure home. We of course laughed, and couldn’t wait to get into the old aluminum cooler for the iced Cokes, Seven-ups an Nehi’s that were our reward for being such great hunter/gatherers.

Other times I recall dawdling on my way home from a late summer little league game. A vacant lot with an old tumbled down house almost entirely covered by blackberry canes. The more industrious berry pickers had dragged boards out of the house and precariously balanced them in, and in some cases on the blackberry bushes, the better to gain access to the deepest parts of the bushes where as we all know the biggest, ripest, juiciest berries hung (and the biggest sharpest thorns waited!) just out of reach.

I recall the feeling of those teeny tiny prickles that came from the berries, lodged in your finger tips. How sticky your fingers would get, how the yellow jackets would buzz, attracted by the over ripe fallen fruit. The taste of those juicy, tart berries, the purple tongue, teeth and finger tips. My glove served as a makeshift container and at the end of the day there would be purple berry stains in the gloves 'pocket'. I'd have the inevitable purple berry stain down the front of the baseball jersey …..ooooh boy, gonna catch hell for that!

An occasional misstep would lead to an encounter with those razor sharp black berry thorns, more vicious than playful cat claws, and showing no mercy. Old JC Pennies jeans, worn thin by a summer of wash and wear, caught in the grip of the blackberry cane monster provide pitiably little protection.

My 20 minutes of wistful reminiscence is up. The sweat is drying and my old legs are just gone stiff. As I lie here in the shade, an old man by most peoples standards I am grateful to have these memories of my childhood, and still have the fitness to ride my bike another 100 miles on a late summer day.

How many more times will I be granted this privilege; to be on the face of this beautiful earth, alive and healthy enough to move myself along, to be alert enough to bring my memories back to life, a little surprised that so much time has passed seemingly so quickly?

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