Sunday, October 31, 2004

Culling and Kissing

Although I was a geography teacher by education, training, and experience, I also spent a few years teaching high school English. Those were some of the best teaching years of my life. It wasn't all due to the subject, I'm sure, but part of it certainly was. It was also the stage of my life or career, the school, the students, and the staff that all converged in a kind of synchronicity to make it a memorable and fulfilling time.

I got as far as team-teaching a large, senior, university-bound, writers class (or writers' class if you prefer the possessive). The course was ostensibly designed to supply some of the better and more dedicated student writers with the opportunity to hone their fledgling skills without getting involved with all of the other distractions that become part of the traditional English course. What really happened was that a lot of weak students took the course, mistakenly seeing it as a sort of remedial opportunity or because they thought that it would be a bird course. (Do they still use that term?)

Early in the course, we examined some material from an accomplished, premiere, Canadian author: various drafts and edits of a small portion of his work. This absolutely amazed me: to see how much effort he invested in revising and editing. You see, I had never been trained to do this: either that or I was too preoccupied with kissing frogs in my juvenile years. All of the way through university, for example, I would write a paper and submit it: wouldn't bother to proof or edit in any way. Now, I can't even do that with a blog, but, having said that, I am probably still quicker and less careful than some of you are. I get an idea, and, if I have time, I sit down and pound out a blog — like now for instance.

My wife blogs from time to time. Her style is different; her blogs are longer; and, she ruminates and fusses over them. She writes a bit, puts them away for a while, and writes some more. Not me: not often anyway.

Another note, I think from the same author but perhaps not, was a statement something like this: "One of the hardest things for a writer to do is to kill his own children." By that, of course, he meant that you can expend quite a bit of energy on project, task, or even a chapter, and have to toss it on the heap because of some deficiency that you just can't get past. The pieces that we write become, in a sense, our children, but we sometimes have to part with them regardless, and that can be hard to do.

So it is that I noted last night that my blog count was getting up there, hovering around eighty. It seemed to me, if you'll pardon the metaphoric shift, that it was time to cull the herd. Actually, it wasn't hard to find about twenty blogs that begged to be put out of their misery. A few others barely made the cut.

Part of it is in the nature of the beast. Sometimes, we (or I) post a blog primarily because it feels as though our time is up: like it's just time to post something, indeed anything, if we're really going to keep a blog going. Sometimes, I post a bit a trivia about some little thing that occurs on a given day. Sometimes, my topics simply have a short shelf-life. Whatever the reason, I certainly had some less than stellar blogs that simply didn't deserve to occupy their cyber-space, even if the space is free and even if Google has tons of both it and money to spare.

I don't venture into politics much, but any blog of that ilk became a casualty last night. The blog preceding this one is a prime example of one that has a short shelf-life and must shortly be sacrificed. I kept all of my essential blogs — those that contain a modest modicum of reflection — and most of my photo blogs. The time to part with some of the photos will come, but I can't bring myself to shoot them yet: if you'll pardon the unintentional pun.

Speaking of photos, following is a picture of one of the many frogs that I kissed in high school (see paragraph three above) when I should have been paying attention to my lessons but seldom was. Sadly, my kisses lacked fantastical powers, and the amphibians remained confined to their lowly states of being. I kept hoping that a royal transformation would occur, but frogs remain frogs in my world. Kind of a cute little thing, but I have grown up, attend to my lessons, and don't kiss frogs anymore.

Sad that!


Wednesday, October 27, 2004

A Parting Shot

This blog almost takes on different personas (for want of a better word) at different times. For a while, like an old record player, my needle seemed to get stuck on Lessons from the Saddle, we have since moved onto into a plethora of autumn photos.

After the last photo of the trail in the woods, I thought that I was done, but we went for a little walk in the gloaming before supper. Due to the time of day, and the nature of our quest — to try to spot a deer — we kept to the fields rather than the forest. Of course, the deer were most uncooperative — they have been doing that well lately — but I did find a few subjects worth photographing. One of which I present to you, dear blog addict.

Despite the old saying that "pictures don't lie," they do. They lie very much, and sometimes that's good. The sky that I saw this evening was beautiful but it was lighter and bluer than the version that you see in this photo. One of my pictures did turn out a little more realistically, assuming that my eyes see things realistically, but I like this one better. The foreground is darker, well I guess the whole thing is darker, but it's much more dramatic, and for my money, or at least for my blogging time, it's a better photo.

I hope that you like it too.


Soul Food

This path through the woods has provided much of our spiritual daily bread for the past several weeks. It must almost go without saying that it has been refreshing to be here. The autumn weather has danced about in madcap fashion: from frost to warmth, from sun to rain, from clear skies to thudding clouds, from hail to calm, and from wind to tranquility. Through it all, through every whim of weather, we have walked this trail — our friend — and have felt the bond and the balm.


Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Kindergarten Failures

Two summers ago, my nephew was married on this vacation property, Riverwood, owned by my brother-in-law, George. He (my nephew, not my brother-in-law) married a lovely girl who escaped from an Eastern European nation with her family when she was young. That evening, among other topics, the father of the bride, Herb, and I talked about the good and bad in Canada. Strike that; let's rather say that we talked about that which was good in Canada and that which could be better.

Where he comes from, and I believe that this concept holds in a number of European countries, the public has a certain right or freedom to walk across some corners of private land. What I understand that to mean, for example, is that if one wants to go for a walk in the countryside, he or she may have the right to walk through bits and pieces of private property in order to facilitate this, perhaps to connect with a public trail for example. I don't understand the intricacies of this arrangement, since it is obvious that people can't go rambling willy-nilly all over the place and drop in for tea when you and the missus have just donned (or doffed) your jammies. According to Herb, ramblers seem to appreciate and respect the privilege and are generally at pains to behave appropriately.

He mentioned that when he first came to Canada he decided to treat his family to a summer's day outing by taking them to a lake. When he got there, he found the lake almost impossible to access. Perhaps it was impossible; I don't recall the exact upshot of that adventure, but you take my point, I'm sure.

Take this property, Riverwood, for example. A river forms the eastern boundary. On the other side of the river are vast acres of forest. From aerial photos that I have seen, I would venture to say that there exists well over a thousand acres of uninhabited land. When brother-in-law, George, granted some of his local friends, who are hunters, permission to erect a little footbridge from his side of the river to the other, reaction was swift. I don't even know how the absentee owner found out, but shortly after the bridge was built, a chain appeared on the other side to effectively barricade and safeguard yon wilderness from who knows what.

With all of that primeval forest , I can barely fathom how anyone was able to discover that a bridge had been erected, but they did. And why do they really care whether someone put his or her tiny foot on a small slice of such a vast landholding? But they do. If they are simply anti-hunter, I would have much sympathy, but, rather, it appears that they become apoplectic over the prospect of any lowly commoner setting foot upon their domain.

This isn't suburbia, you understand. We are not talking about somebody having a wild party on your front, postage-stamp lawn. This is wilderness, rather vast wilderness. There is no evidence of human habitation anywhere near the part of the property of which we speak. I can't see any sort of dwelling over there for many a mile when I take magnifying glass to the aerial photo.

Why are they, and why are we all so protective? Is it fear of lawsuit? Is it selfish greed?

Do you think there something just a wee bit skewed with our North American values?

George informs me that landowners worry about giving up a right of easement, that if people freely use your property to access something or other for a certain period of time, that they eventually establish some sort of legal right to continue to use it in some kind of perpetuity. I can understand that, but such prompt reaction seems rather excessive to me. Can't people talk to each other for goodness sake? And although I understand it, and admit that I might be similarly protective if it were my land, the whole thing still saddens me to some degree. Why are we more concerned with private rights that the public good? Why are we fearful by nature rather than generous of spirit?

Old fence posts

What brings this all freshly to mind is that we were out walking the property line today: the northern boundary this time. With the aid of a GPS and ancient, rotting fence posts, we were able to accomplish the task although, mighty explorers that we are, we had to forge through and around some difficult patches and thickets at times. Well, you can see some of the boundary in the photo (left). This was a relatively thin spot, so don't please don't think me too hyperbolic by referring to thickets as I did above. Although it's difficult to spot in such a tiny thumbnail image, I have put red dots on three fence posts for your elucidation. Two are wood, and one is a metal post. These three were standing, but many of their comrades were fallen.

If you are wondering why there was a fence through the forest, I believe that it is old, probably at least fifty years and possibly even older. I believe that it was erected when it wasn't all forested here: that, in the dark past, it was there to keep cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, mules and what-have-you contained.

All Halt!

Regardless: while walking this boundary line, we came across the newly-erected barrier that you see in the second photo (to your right). The owner of that land is clearly doing his best to discourage nasty, would-be trespassers. Does that mean me because I have walked or snowshoed over there once or twice a year, or is he trying to discourage snowmobilers or ATV riders who can be noisy and heedless of the hour? Or perhaps it's because deer-hunting season is almost upon us and he simply doesn't want nasty hunters doing their foul deeds on his land (this, I understand!)? Perhaps he frets over easement rights?

I guess I can grudgingly accept that he not only has a right to do this but probably has reasons which are valid — valid to him at least. But I don't have to like it, and I am free to wish that we could all be more generous and open-hearted with our bounty.

Don't they teach us to share in kindergarten after all? If sharing is good for the kiddies, why isn't it good for the adults?


Ordinarily Extraordinary

I was minding my business, quietly reading Expecting Adam by Martha Beck when I chanced to look out the window. The westering sun was lighting the garage and throwing the shadow of an apple tree upon its side. I grabbed my camera and raced outside.

Naturally, that photo didn't turn out well. But I took a few others and decided that I rather liked this one of a tall stalk of grass being lit up by the sunset.

The simple, ordinary things of the world are really quite extraordinary if you look at them in the right light.

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Power of One ...


Do you have any idea of the Power of One ... of one log? You read right LOG not BLOG!

I put one log in the furnace early this evening and declared that would be it until tomorrow. Even given the fact that there was still a burning log already in there, I am surprised to still find, many hours later, the house temperature up to a toasty 70°F or about 21°C. It's 11:30 pm, pushing five hours later, and the heat continues to blow.

I know these temperatures do not register as heat-wave material to the common reader, but I have been living with a woman of a certain age for too long now. In short: she's acclimatized me for cold. I could probably be toasty barefoot in the Arctic in January — a cold January — at this point. So, I'm just a trifle warm right now, thank you very much.

Truthfully, I believe there's a male menopause too. We even have a name — andropause — so it must be real. There are nights when the ambient-household-air (say 60°F/15°C) is too cold for flimsy pyjamas to cope with adequately, but any sort of extra covering flips my inner thermostat onto boiler mode. I toss and turn: kick the covers and freeze; pull the covers up and swelter.

Not every night is like that, but too many are. Drives one to the brink of insanity. Sends one to the keyboard to write silly blogs that will be regretted by morning light.

Oops. Kind of lost track there, but here it is:

Isn't it amazing what one little log can accomplish? What comfort it can bring. Let's hope we can all find some log power and generate warmth to our fellow humans tomorrow ... okay today for most of you.

Algonquin Jays

In just a few short days, we will bid adieu to this region of rock, trees, and lakes and head back toward suburbia. To quote Will, "parting is such sweet sorrow," and it is especially true at this glorious time of year. However, there's always something good about getting home too — such as high speed Internet access. <smile>

In the interim, we continue to enjoy autumn in the country and are trying to make the best of the few days that remain. In addition to a wonderful walk in the woods today, we were blessed to able to also sneak a little bicycle ride. Rain and/or wind and/or cold had thwarted us for over a week, but it was it a dry, over 10°C, and not terribly windy today; so we took advantage of Mother Nature's serendipitous offering.

This is only the fifth time that we have been able to get out in the three weeks or so that we have been here, but I finally seem to be finding the hills easier to ascend. If I pop the bike into a low enough gear and take my sweet time, I seem to be able to now make it up moderate hills without being completely overcome. Believe me; that's an improvement.

I took the above photo(s) last Monday at Algonquin Park and got the urge to play with it(them) a bit tonight. It's actually three photos of the same blue jay. I think that anybody can tell, but I like the result anyway. I also replaced the background; those are blurred trees from the same area.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Passing By

The other day, the weather cleared enough for us to take the little daytrip that I mentioned last week: to Algonquin Park. It's a rather huge provincial park about an hour and half drive from here. You can only access a small southern portion of the place by car, but it offered more than enough to satisfy our spirits.

Although the leaves were past their peak, and although there wasn't much red, there was still enough yellow colour to look smashing on a sunny day. The drive to the park and then through the park was quite inspiring. Sue and I were snapping pictures like a couple of demented fools, but we had fun. Both the photos posted in this blog are from her camera. She had the better pics that day. In theory, I may have the better camera, but she often gets the better results.

The unrivalled highlight was a little walk that we took along Lookout Trail: not a long trail but, as it turned out, quite a spectacular one. There was quite an incline to walk up — and down — that was strewn with rocks and tree roots. Actually these helped more than hindered because, at times, they made almost natural steps for us.

However, at the end of the trail there was a spectacular view across a wide valley. We stood high on a bedrock outcrop and gazed at lakes in the distance and a huge expanse of sparkling trees way below us and stretching all of the way to the other side. Pictures never capture these views properly, but perhaps you can get an idea from the two that I have posted.

I thrill to serendipitous moments and experiences such as this. We mainly just wanted to go for a drive, visit the Park and see some colour, and we weren't at all disappointed with that. Quite the contrary. But we decided to walk this trail at the last moment. We didn't expect to stumble upon anything quite so grand — a walk in the woods would have been fine really.

This has happened to me before, this stepping off the beaten path to discover something quite wonderful. I think of the time that we detoured off the Trans Canada Highway in flat Saskatchewan and found ourselves in the scenic Qu'Appelle valley. How many people drive the Trans Canada, eager to get to The Rockies or wherever, but never see this glorious river valley? How many cars zoomed past us yesterday, in their hurry to get to who knows where: cars that never stop to explore any of what they are passing?

There's a little more to it than "stopping to smell the roses" although that is rather grand notion too. If we exercise just a little bit of a willingness to extend ourselves, to be open to opportunities, and/or to expend a little bit of initiative and energy, there's no telling what wonderful things that we can experience in our little lives.

Sometimes, it's not opportunities that are passing us by but we who are bypassing opportunities.


This is Progress?

Today I stacked firewood. What a remarkable thing for a lifelong city boy to be doing in October.

At this cottage that we visit from time to time, they have a unique — to a city boy such as I — furnace. It has two chambers: one for oil and another for wood. Especially now, but every winter really, wood is cheaper to burn than oil. So, they use both here. The oil furnace stays on low to prevent freezing when there's nobody here for long, cold stretches. It's also wonderful to have it on standby in case the wood fire dies out in the middle of the night. However, when the place is occupied, everyone seems to prefer wood. Yes, it's cheaper, but, more importantly, it's also much more cozy. When I walk down the lane and see the smoke wafting lazily out of the chimney, or when I first come in the door and smell the delicious aroma of the burning wood, it kind of sets my inner embers aglow too.

With the cottage owners down in the city just now and with a disorganized heap of wood strewn haphazardly about the shed after being hurredly hurled on the weekend, I got all ambitious today and took it upon myself to stack it. Having never really done this before, I was a little anxious about the whole thing because we don't want the thing to come tumbling down on someone's foot on a cold winter's day. Do we? However, I soon got the hang of it, or so I think — only time will tell for sure. Some pieces are cut once with a single flat edge, so I started with those on the bottom layer. Other pieces have two cut edges and, therefore, are more wedge shaped. I tried to fit these wedgies into the grooves between the logs of the bottom layer ... and so on. It took a while to get it sorted in my head, but I kind of got on a roll after a while. Let's just hope that the logs don't go on an unscheduled roll.

I feel a sense of connectedness when I do something like this. I know that one of my great grandparents lived in an area somewhat similar to this, just a few hours to the east. Great grandfather Robinson probably cut and stacked many a cord in his day. Now I have done at least one cord and have another to do tomorrow, and I feel a tiny bit of kinship with a man who was long gone before I shed my first tears.

They worked hard and long back then, over a century ago. I hope that they enjoyed their lives. I think they did, maybe more than we do today. They were their own bosses to a large degree: could drop their activities as they chose and take an hour to discuss the topics of the day with any neighbour who happened to dropped by. They answered to no foreman or supervisor who impatiently clocked their breaks.

Winters were, to some degree, the season of rest back then, often the favourite season of the year. There were no fields to be ploughed, no wood to be cut: just wood to burn after summer's and autumn's hard labour. Life isn't like that anymore. We continue to commute to our jobs through snow storms and along slippery roads. We live in slushy cities where the snow begins to taint into dullness almost immediately upon impact. We drive to work in the dark, and we drive home in the dark.

No wonder we bitch and complain about it. It just isn't natural for us to live like that in winter. We're supposed to sleep longer, read more, and enjoy the heat and aroma from the burning, crackling logs.

This is progress?


Thursday, October 14, 2004

Lemons and Windows

At the end of Halls Road

"God never shuts a door, but he opens a window."

"When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade."

I think those two old sayings amount to pretty much the same thing, perhaps different sides of the same coin. Close enough anyway.

Today, the weather prevented us from doing what we had intended to do: drive to Algonquin Part. That was a little disappointing. However, the morning was still dry, if cloudy, so we seized the opportunity to — you guessed it — go on a little bicycle ride.

The things about a bicycle is that you stop hurrying, and life stops hurrying past you. So it was that we turned down a country road, about three kilometres south of us, that we had hitherto ignored in our myriad car-passings. The road, if it could be called that, was rather a nice ride in its own right. At one point, we, in effect, found ourselves riding under and through an arbour. Pretty nice stuff that!

The grove behind the house

The real treat, however, awaited us at the end of the trail. There was a wonderful view of the lake, the kind of view that I had searched for in vain yesterday. It was down a hill, and there was just enough of a clearing through the bush to see the water and the autumn-coloured shored on the far side (see the first photo above).

We got off our bikes and trespassed onto private property, just far enough to take a picture or two. Someone was home and asked us what we were doing but seemed comfortable with our answers and suggested another picture to take: of a grove of trees just behind the house (see the second photo). We even chatted amiably with the owner for a few moments before heading back home — just in time to beat the rain as it turned out.

So, I guess we made lemonade by doing something proactive to replace the big trip (we could have moped), and I guess that God (in the real or abstract — whichever your theological preference) opened an unexpected window. How satisfying!

How delightful life can be if we choose to take delight in it.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Autumn Pics

I did bemoan the lack of good photo-ops yesterday, but I do have a few that I have taken recently. Except for the last, they speak for themselves. The final photo is a reflection in the river.

It's cloudy this morning, and the rain is scheduled to begin this afternoon, so I think we'll stay put. Too bad: I would have liked to have seen Algonquin Park again. Maybe we'll get another chance soon, but poor weather seems to be looming for the foreseeable future, and the colours will soon be past their peak.

Frustrating Glory

Down by the Riverside

This has been a glorious day that has had its moments of frustrations. One frustration had to with Blogger. On the whole it's a great service, so I really can't complain, and the price is certainly right, but there are moments ... well, there are moments.

But I am here neither to bury Blogger nor to praise it. Rather, I am here to praise the day. When you get a sunny, shirtsleeve day in Canada after Thanksgiving, you've got to love it. We biked, drove around to enjoy the colours, and then walked around the property until we were sated.

So, what's the problem you ask. What could possibly frustrate you so on such a fine day?

Well, it's not a big frustration, but it had to do with our car ride. We decided to make a circuit that took us past several points on a lake. I wanted to take pictures to share with you and also to preserve something of the day for me. Would you believe that whenever we say a photo-worthy scene, we couldn't find a spot to get off the road? And whenever we could get off the road, there was no decent photo to be had: either because of the site or because a cloud had just passed over the sun.

Oh, I'm not really that frustrated, but I did want to share a photo today's glorious colour with you. I took the one above yesterday from the back of the property. I think that it will do, and I hope that you like it, but it isn't exactly what I had in mind.

If tomorrow is as nice as today, we'd like to drive to Algonquin Park. I haven't been there since I was a teenager, and Sue has never had the pleasure. From our present location, we are probably less than two hours away, so, weather permitting, that's what we'll do tomorrow.

Lessons from the Saddle: Part 4

… and to Everyone’s Relief — The Final Part

I fear that the bike-riding season wanes rapidly. You are probably grateful, and I wouldn’t blame anyone for wearying of my fascination. Please indulge me in one final sermon from the saddle, however.

You see, daughter #1 gave me a nifty bicycle-gadget for my birthday: a speedometer/odometer type of thing. It’s great for tracking accumulated mileage, average speed, whether you are going faster or slower than average, and so on. Really a nifty little gadget that I am pleased to own.

On the plus side, it helps to keep me on track. I am a wool-gatherer by nature and easily zone off into a semi-conscious state. I am the type who can get lost in a daydream, pedal mindlessly forward, miss critical turns, and find myself in a strange location. I do that less with the little speedometer there to help bring me back into focus.

On the other hand, I find it altogether too easy to allow the little contraption to become an end unto itself — a boss of sorts. “Oh, I’m not going as fast as I was yesterday. I’d better remedy that and pedal faster.” But maybe it’s windier than it was yesterday, or perhaps I am just sluggish today. What I am saying is that I have, to some extent, let the speedometer dictate my pace. At times, I have senselessly pushed myself just to reach a certain number on the gauge.

In my last few outings, however, I have begun to realize that I could use the speedometer without ceding control. What a novel idea! I can use it for information but not be a slave to it. I can check my speed, but If I am finding it difficult to maintain my normal speed on any given day, there’s nothing wrong with slowing down a little. I have found that dropping down just a kilometre or two per hour can ease the strain considerably if I happen to be labouring and straining.

What’s the rush anyway? I am never going to be sixteen again, and, even at sixteen, I didn’t have the stuff to be Lance Armstrong. What’s wrong with getting some exercise without making myself miserable by imposing some arbitrary threshold? Why needlessly turn joy into labour?

Isn’t it possible to make some sort of general application from this little thought that I somewhat pompously call a Lesson from the Saddle? For example: isn’t it altogether too easy to enslave ourselves to life’s meaningless treadmill: the unsatisfying job promotion, the overtime hours, the entrapment of things? Am I measuring my success in life with the right yardstick? Or am I mindlessly doing what I think is expected of me? Am I so caught up with improving against some meaningless measurement that my spirit is left desert-dry?

Well, it’s a nice day, and there won’t be many more, so I think I should get off my soapbox and onto my bike. But I promise to stay within myself: to be guided by my own spirit and not by a dumb digital display.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving ...

... from the Canadian Shield
View from the new trail
What a fine Thanksgiving weekend! We visited with family, feasted on turkey, and drank-in the glorious fall colours.

We spent Saturday helping the kids celebrate their first Thanksgiving as a new married couple and as new homeowners. The girl did well at taking the lead-hand in preparing our feast on Saturday under Mom’s ever-watchful eye. The boy and I did our parts by devouring helpings aplenty and by frequently grunting and groaning our pleasure and gratefulness.

On Sunday we spent about five hours in the car as we drove forth to and back from Riverwood, the country cottage that we frequent. Our in-laws were there, preparing their own feast. We were more than happy to indulge in turkey dinner number two. Between dinner and desert we all walked the new trail (see the photo) which snakes its way along and near the banks of the river. We chatted aimiably, took photos, breathed the pure air, and digested our meal well enough to make room for dessert. Both the apple pie and blueberry pie were wonderful: so wonderful that one just had to have a helping of each.

After more chatter, we hit the road for the return trip, and we spent today relaxing. The boy and I cooked the traditional big breakfast that we try to do at least once when we all get together. I do the eggs; he does the bacon; and, we all enjoy the results. For supper, we feasted on turkey leftovers. Love those turkey leftovers.

I hope that you all had as fine a weekend as we, whether it was your Thanksgiving or not. We have so much for which to be grateful. Even the poorer of us (for the most part) live incredibly well by current-world and historical standards. At times we all tend to become consumed by our troubles, and they are real enough to us, but we must school ourselves to see the big picture.

We, of the first-world, are pretty darn well off and have much. Our wants, for the most part, are non-material. With thought and planning, most of us can find ways to fill those kinds of voids. It may not always be easy, but it’s almost always possible. May you find your path to fulfillment and be thankful because of it.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Lessons from the Saddle: Part 3

Sue about to go uphill
We knew that we had it pretty easy biking the flat roads and trails of home, but I don’t think we truly appreciated just how easy we had it. We have just hauled our bikes via two rooftop carriers across province to cottage country. Having never biked here before, we hadn’t really noticed how hilly the terrain is. Well, you don’t when you’re walking or driving, do you? I mean, you do, if it’s extremely noticeable, but you normally take undulations for granted. We are not so dumb as to think that this area is flat, but seemingly little gradations have a habit of becoming magnified when you are trying to pedal up them.

Yesterday, we found ourselves being unrealistically adventurous by taking a semi-familiar route to some nearby lakes. We didn’t even make it up the first hill, a hill that we have nonchalantly traversed on numerous occasions by foot or automobile. This pushing of the bikes became rather the norm than the exception yesterday as we encountered rise after rise. I frequently found myself sucking air big time while my aging legs quivered like so much jelly and copious quantities of sweat gushed from every pore. Silly fools that we are, we foolishly and ignorantly kept on plodding forward (or upward) and ended up pushing the bikes up many a hill which we hadn’t truly known existed.

Because it was a rather nippy day, I began our adventure layered in a tee-shirt, with a sweatshirt over top and a light bicycle jacket forming the first layer of defence. Exertion soon provided all of the heat that my body required. In short order, I doffed the jacket, and very shortly afterward I peeled off the sweatshirt. But the sweat still poured.

John on the trail
To make matters worse, we decided to take a forested trail back to the cottage. There were a number of stops and starts as we had to get off to walk the bikes over or under fallen limbs. At one point, I was seriously abused by a branch that ambushed me when I didn’t duck low enough. I should have just lowered my helmeted head, and I did, but I also turned my head to the side thereby exposing my neck to assault. Score one for the tree which found the naked and tender spot and exploited the vulnerability ruthlessly.

Let me tell you, when I got home, I was somewhat pleased that we had done it and survived but vowed a very serious vow, to never make that particular trek again. Evah! Given my advanced years and non-svelte physique, it was just a tad rash of me to undertake that particular adventure. I might have been up to it had I been training modest inclines all summer, but riding the plains of home in no way prepared me for yesterday’s ordeal.

No serious Lesson from the Saddle today: just a light and obvious one … or maybe two. One: have at least a tiny little think before you pedal off madly in all directions. Two: when your resource-base shifts, re-evaluate your plans accordingly.

Well … I had to think of some lesson. Give me a break on this, will ya?

Friday, October 01, 2004

Lessons from the Saddle: Part 2

The first lesson from the saddle (please go back two posts), could be summarized approximately like this: The more that you strive to do better, the more that you can expect to meet resistance. That isn’t exactly how I said it then, but it will do.

A second lesson is emerging from my cycling; it’s related to the first and perhaps is a corollary of it: At some point, most activities shift from being mostly fun to being mostly work. In the end the work brings its own rewards (i.e. fun), but it can be damn hard just the same. Nevertheless, you’ve got to do it. It’s the only way.

Although I have been thinking in this direction for some time, my thoughts began to jell a little more when I read Freelance Monk recently. In one of his blogs, Monk discusses his waning interest in karate. Although he appreciates the benefits, he dithers about continuing. (Dear Monk: I hope that I have summarized more or less correctly.) I think that he has to weigh the work against the rewards and make his decision. In his case, the rewards may not compensate the effort; I don't pretend to know.

Although I said that my thoughts have begun to crystallize, you may find me wandering a little in this blog as I haven’t exactly nailed my thesis to the church door. I’m not one hundred percent crystal clear yet, but getting these thoughts down will help.

Many things are fun when we start them. When I first got back on a bike early this summer, I was hooked and wanted my own bicycle. Of course, the first few rides on our spiffy new bikes were tons of fun as we began to discover where our legs would take us. The more that we ride, however, the more work it becomes; it isn’t pure fun any longer. There’s still fun to be had, but it’s more of a mixture now. That’s because the more that we ride, the more effort we tend to want to pour into our endeavours. We want to go a little faster or to stop for breathers less frequently. Isn’t that how you build fitness and endurance after all?

That’s when it becomes work. Almost everything become work at some point. In our case, we need to keep exercising, and, being human, we want to keep improving. You may want to play hockey (or any other sport) because you enjoy it, and maybe you’re good at it. But do you enjoy the practices, the drills, the travel, the early mornings, and being soundly defeated by hated rivals? Probably not a lot. You do however still enjoy many aspects of the game: the thrill of scoring the winning goal, or the joy making a good play that nobody else might notice. You work long and hard for your moments of reward, but in the end the momentary snatches of fun make the mountain of preparatory work all worthwhile.

Isn’t life like that? You slave at your job to earn enough money to enjoy a home, provide for your family, or take nice vacations. You work at your problem-relationships for the breakthrough moments of blissful understanding and communication. You exercise and watch your diet to improve your fitness level and quality of life. At the end of your labour comes the reward.

In my case, my rides all too often are sweaty grinds that I choose to endure for their benefits. For example: I almost always feel some sort of endorphin afterglow. Don’t mistake me altogether; I still find a degree of fun in the process of cycling. On some days, for example, both nature and my body converge to be at their best, and it feels good to be alive and riding the trail. Other days are cloudy and windy outside, and my body groans, creaks and protests during every blessed leg pump. And, life being life, it’s more often the latter rather than the former.

That’s what you do in this life. You revel in the good times, but you grind your teeth (or pump your legs in this metaphor) and just keep on pedalling when the trail get windy or bumpy. The pedalling is more often hard work than not, but you pedal for a reason. You pedal for a loved one; you pedal to earn your degree; you pedal to pay the mortgage; you pedal to feed and clothe your family. Your efforts are indeed mighty; it’s bloody hard slogging sometimes, but in the end there is usually reward (i.e. fun). In my example, it’s the endorphin afterglow, health benefits, being outdoors, coffee and lunch overlooking a beautiful lake, time to think, being with my loved one.

What are you pedalling to obtain? Maybe you’ve yet to discover your passion and aren’t really pedalling very hard. When you do find a reason to pedal, the going will be very tough at times. It usually is. The reward at the end of the trail, however, is worth it, and there are also some blessings to be savoured along the way.

I didn’t write this blog to promote exercise, but that’s certainly one application that you could make. Whether it’s exercising, blogging, knitting, or taking a class, go proactive for goodness sake. Do something. Work at something so that you can obtain your reward at the end. Life is passing; don’t let it pass you by.