Posts from the ‘bicycle’ Category
The beginning of 2013. New ideas, new projects, new roads to discover.
I’ve taken some time to think about blogging, biking, photographs, the whole narrative. About what I do and why I do it. Early last year I read a post by one of my favorite artist/illustrators, Tommy Kane (who is often on his bike, looking for things to draw). When I read the post, it felt as if he had pulled words right out of my head … he said:
“Why do I keep going, you might ask? Well, the answer is simple, I just can’t stop. The truth is, when it comes to my art, I have no real goal in mind. I’m not really heading anywhere. I’m not sure what I’m trying to achieve. Maybe I’m just searching for a brick wall to run into. Once I do that, then I can take a long needed rest. … So for now I ‘m going back to what I do best, making drawings of buildings and objects for no apparent reason whatsoever.”
While I hesitate to think of myself as an artist, or even a “photographer” (in that official label-y kind of way), I know that I am compelled to create, like Mr. Kane – “for no apparent reason whatsoever”.
My family can attest to this habit that often drives them nuts; I have to make things, I have to have a camera at hand, I have to take photos, I have to write down little bits of thoughts, observations and ideas. Some of it has appeared on this blog, much has not.
Keeping a diary was something I started when I was a child, and I’ve never outgrown the habit; the format has just evolved. My great-grandmother was a diarist, my grandfather was a painter and prolific letter-writer who kept carbon copies of every page he ever mailed. I am now custodian of these things. I suspect I have inherited a genetic component.
My photos and other “bits” (including this blog) have just been added to the archives, and my now hoard includes of boxes of prints, shelves of journals, notebooks and albums, clouds and hard drives filled with digital files – evidence of an addiction to creating and recording, and a compulsion that I am sure some psychologist might have a field day analyzing.
There are likely as many reasons to start a blog as there are individuals. I think it is often a combination of exploring a topic or subject, and the urge to create something. “Putting it out there”, so to speak, may be inherent to the creative process; it is the voice of the creation.
In the beginning, I think I justified my own decision to “go-public-and-blog-about-it” with the the idea that maybe I could inspire someone to get on a bike. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want to ride a bike, you will; if you don’t, you won’t. I don’t think pretty bikes, pretty pictures or just the right words will change a mindset. If you happen to be leaning over the fence of “could I/should I?”, there are many vocal and more effective advocates and cheerleaders out there who can provide advice, reviews, instruction and analysis on every aspect of cycling to help you decide. There are groups and clubs to join (real and virtual), lists to subscribe to, pledges to sign, rides and events to partake in … it’s a very bike-y world out there.
Whenever I find myself in very bike-y cities – places with lots of people on all sorts of bikes – I most admire the everyday-ness of the cyclists I see. It’s just a way (granted, sometimes a necessity, but usually a more enjoyable one) of doing something, getting someplace.
When I have watched cyclists in these places, or when my husband brings home photos of people on bikes in China, I always think: I seriously doubt this guy writes a blog about schlepping big loads of stuff on his rickety old bike, even though I find it incredibly fascinating. To these people, it’s nothing extraordinary. To these everyday cyclists, to photograph or write about it would seem as ridiculous as writing a blog about doing laundry or brushing your teeth. (Although I have no doubt someone could put an incredibly creative and artistic spin on either of these… and find a way to blog about it).
Over time, my enthusiasm to get a message across through blogging transformed into, well … whatever it is now. Kind of a jumble of photos, thoughts and personal narrative on the beauty of what I see out there; an extension of this lifelong habit (obsession?) to create and record.
Most bloggers, artists, photographers, writers, etc., want to have their work noticed. Most want to be known, at least to some degree or within some social or professional circle. They want their work to be recognized for an endless range of reasons – from being able to make a living, to personal or professional validation, to inspire change or action, or simply (and sadly) for personal notoriety and self-promotion. The irony for me is that I have always been averse to much of this. I have no agenda and recognition typically makes me uncomfortable. I don’t need validation; I could care less whether it’s good work or complete crap – I just need to do the creating, the recording.
All of this makes it pretty ridiculous for a person like me to even have a blog in the first place.
So. Maybe I have found my brick wall. I have decided that I simply want to ride my bike.
I will always take pictures, I will always be fascinated by bicycles (and cows and old barns). I will always be compelled to create “stuff”, and will continue to fill boxes and bookshelves with my cycling (and my life’s) flotsam to be entertainment for some future curious grandchild who may be induced to become the new custodian. But I don’t need to publicly blog about it or illustrate it, or to advocate, review or analyze something that is ultimately so simple and so basic – just riding a bicycle.
Keeping a blog has been a wonderful exercise; I have learned much and I have grown. But it has also taught me that the narrative I am compelled to keep can be archived in a less public space. It is enough for me to write privately on paper, to stash the results in journals and albums on the bookshelf, and I think it may ultimately be more liberating, more honest, more creative.
I now understand the things that will always be a part of me – and those I can let go of. This is the beginning of a new chapter for me – as just a cyclist, a person with a camera and a notebook, and not as a blogger. I’m retiring. I’ll leave the site up … until I don’t. For my friends who still want to see bike-y and other pictures, I intend to continue with my Flickr stream and you are welcome to come and look; it’s a convenient repository and organizational tool (and remains a compulsion).
To my friends and family who have read and looked at these posts over the years … thank you all for all of the kindness you have so generously shown to me. Thank you for seeing things in my pictures that I had never noticed. Thank you for understanding my words even when I didn’t always know what I was trying to say.
Thank you for riding along.
We’ve been flirting with rain. The wintertime landscape is clouds and pale light, the grey skeletons of trees, the dull gold of winter fields. Today the temperatures dropped, and it finally feels a little bit like winter.
It must be the light on days like these, but I love riding home in the late afternoon in the fading grey-ness. It is windless and silent. And I feel like I have fallen into some vintage photo, the colors are so subdued – grey, buff, steel blue and hints of ivory and amber. Almost monochrome. (With the exception of my very red, red bicycle, of course.)
My “good” cameras have been left at home on these rain-risk days … for now, just some of the iPhone snaps.
Hard to believe it is December. Even harder to believe when the temperatures are in the 70’s (F).
Christmas decorations are on mailboxes, trees and houses as we pass by … in shorts and short sleeves.
The Sandhill Cranes have started to arrive on their annual migration. Many of them won’t even continue on to places further south; huge numbers are now wintering here at our nearby Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge.
It all feels strange. But I will enjoy the warm days on my bike, and on my back porch. Snow and cold feel like some kind of fantasy.
Everyone has been there at some point in life. You’re dealt a bad hand – a very bad hand. Maybe you lose everything you own in a natural disaster. Maybe it’s a personal loss, a health crisis, a job loss or financial catastrophe. A death. Or some unfathomable combination of the above – but always something unexpected and completely un-welcomed. We’ve pretty much all been there, and I think we can all relate to the sense of despair and even the darkness it brings.
I say this in the same breath in which I give thanks that my own life, at the moment anyway, is safe and secure and at peace. Where all is well. Where I am healthy, well-loved, and surrounded by those I love in the same circumstances – and completely conscious of how truly fortunate I am.
I made the decision to opt out of deploying with Red Cross for the disaster relief efforts in the wake of Sandy. Personal schedule commitments made it impossible for me, but I have been glad to support several friends who are out there working hard to help. I can’t do much, but sometimes a brief conversation by text or email provides a much-needed release from the stress in the field, and I am glad to listen and offer up some encouragement – maybe even a dumb joke.
Within days of my decision, I learned of a disaster that had struck a little closer to home – one that involves a beloved relative, aging and the cruel agonizing illness of a partner, and accompanied by its own form of hopelessness and breaking points reached. I am not yet sure how, or if, I will be able to help. What I have to offer may not provide the relief that is ultimately needed.
Somehow, what always circles back into my mind as I think of all of my friends and family in circumstances where life feels impossible is this: I want to take you for a ride on a bicycle. It may be ridiculous I know. But when dispair and frustration envelop you, when you become trapped in the tunnel-vision of despondency and desparation … I want to get you out of scenes of devastation and hospital rooms, away from beds and doctors and ruin, and I want to take you out in wide-open space with blue sky and clouds above.
I want you to feel the rest of the world and all of the beauty it still holds. I want you to see that it is possible to move forward – even if it is only to the top of the hill – and to experience the effortless sensation of flying down the other side. I want you to feel your breath and your heart still at work, and understand how miraculous it really is. And even if it is only a brief intermission from the bad drama that will still be played out, maybe it will be just enough time to sort some things out, to unravel the tangle of knots that bind you – and to see that there is a way out of even the darkest tunnels.
For my friends, for my dearest M … I would take you for a ride if I possibly could. Life is still beautiful. Please believe.
Cool, crisp weather and turning leaves are the only performance enhancing substances I need …
Leaves turn and the weather churns up the East Coast. I ride and wait. I’m unsure at this time whether or not I will deploy if called up by the Red Cross. The Client Casework function typically hits the ground later on, after the Disaster Assessment and Mass Care teams – and at this point, the coming month, timing could be tough for me. So for now it is a game of wait and see.
And so I ride … while I can. Fingers crossed.
Cycling along the shores of Lake Bled, especially on a day when low clouds tease the mountain tops and mist drifts through the spruce forests, you can easily become convinced you have ridden into the pages of a fairytale. Out of the corner of you eye, veiled in eddies of mist, small white petals of woodland flowers – like tiny wings – tremble as a drop of water falls from a spruce tip. Something stirs the forest floor. A medieval castle, impossibly built high on a rocky cliff, rises above the steeple and stairs of an ancient church that sits, isolated, on its own small island.
You suddenly believe in fairies, dwarves, legends, and kings.
This is where our cycling adventure began, and where I first began to fall in love with the country of Slovenia. It was impossible not to.
Just to give some clarification and perspective on the cycling, we once again used trip planning services of VBT (Vermont Bicycling Tours) as we had such a wonderful experience previously on our trip through Tuscany. They supplied us with our bikes, arranged our lodging, moved our off-bike bags, and provided us with two of the most wonderful Slovenian guides – Damjan and Matej.
Each day, our two guides would provide maps and suggestions of things to see, places to stop, additional cycling routes and loops – and translation help when we needed it. On several days, they would appear en route, bringing us wonderful picnic lunches.
As lifelong residents raised and educated in Slovenia, Damjan and Matej had extensive cultural, geographical, political and historical insight – information that they shared openly with us, providing context to the often-dramatic changes the country has endured. On bikes, they let us customize our own trip to our own desires, and at our preferred pace – yet were always there to help when we needed it. Even though we were part of a larger group of 19 cyclists, we were free to ride on our own (as Mark and I did), choose our own route options, and make our own adventures. On several evenings, a number of us gathered to enjoy a beer and some engaging conversation and stories from the day – it was open, genuine, fascinating and enjoyable, and the friendships we made were one of the trip’s greatest gifts for me.
Upon leaving Lake Bled, we headed to the area around Kranjska Gora and Podkoren, and the stunning mountains in the region of Triglav National Park. The mountains here are breathtaking, with profiles and colors different than any other mountains I have seen – from Alaska to the Rockies. They are stunningly vertical and dramatic, their luminous granite peaks rising out of deep blue-green forests. Icy mountain streams, with beds of white stones, are pristine and crystal clear – and it is claimed they are safe to drink from (altho we did not – but I did stop and wade in).
In the village of Mojstrana, Mark and I made a side visit to the Slovenian Alpine Museum. Here we learned about the area’s mountaineering history, along with hiking, trekking and climbing opportunities within the region, and the network of mountain huts that are available to the public. They also cited the fact that over 75% of the Slovenian population are members of the Alpine Association of Slovenia – a testament to how beloved and culturally significant the mountains are to Slovenian people.
While our cycling was mostly along the valley, we did cycle up to site of the World Cup ski jumping area and did a brief stint on the Vrsic Pass – a popular and challenging cycling route, climbing nearly 1200 meters over 11 km, with 24 switchbacks up to the summit. We arrived rather late in the day, and I am not ashamed to confess that my legs fell off well before the summit. But it’s a ride I have added to my bucket list, and I definitely plan to return.
We also rode up to Lake Jasna – where a bronze statue of an Ibex stands over the stunningly clear turquoise lake, surrounded by mountains peaks. It made me think of a story Matej shared with us, the Trenta folktale of one of the most well-known and symbolic figures of the region – the legend of Zlatorog, the golden-horned chamoix. Rich in detail, filled with old taboos and enduring truths, is basically goes something like this…
Zlatorog is the name for a majestic white chamoix with golden horns. He roamed the mountains with the White Fairies, helping humans who ventured into the mountains, guarding the treasures hidden deep within the mountains, and keeping the valleys green and beautiful. In a valley village below, an innkeeper’s daughter was being courted by a local hunter, who professed his love and brought her flowers from the mountain meadows.
One day, a Venetian merchant arrived in the village and tried to win the heart of the young woman with gifts of gold. The hunter, in his jealousy, decided the only way to win back his love would be to kill Zlatorog and take the gold that was hidden beneath the mountains – treasure that was dutifully guarded by the golden-horned chamoix.
The young hunter left on his mission, managed to track down Zlatorog and took aim at him, killing him. Drops of blood fell from Zlatorog, and magically turned in to beautiful blooms – the Triglav roses – that still flourish to this day. Zlatorog nibbled at a few of the flower petals and miraculously came back to life – only to take his revenge on the hunter, steering him into a deep abyss and to his death.
After this, Zlatorog – in his fury – used his horns to gore through the mountainside, carving deep channels and tearing up the beautiful green hillside, leaving the steep dramatic rocky landscape and deep mountain lakes that exist today . Zlatorog left the valley with the White Fairies and has never returned…
On the edge of Lake Jasna, looking up at Mt. Triglav, and in love with this beautiful, friendly and magical country, I can’t help believe it is all true.
Summer is sweet.
With their summer research projects wrapping up, the boys briefly returned home for a couple of weeks before heading back to university life. It’s been pleasant days of biking and playing around – morning runs for coffee, paddling on the river, family bike rides, catching up with old friends, dinnertime humor around the table. Summer is sweet.
But eventually, as the sunsets come a little earlier each evening, it begins to feel like time to return to familiar routines. Back to school, back to friends and regular schedules … all as it should be. And as much as I love them and will miss them as they leave, I think we are all ready to turn the next page, to return to the story.
I have enjoyed the break of being away from things – putting down the camera more often, leaving the computer to sleep, and spending more time in one-to-one conversation rather than cyberspeak. I’ve loved the warm, lazy days with my family … and yet as the weather begins to cool, and the books and bags are packed for the semester ahead, I happily anticipate rides yet to come, and the return to routine.
Meanwhile … scenes from summer days.
My summer days tend to follow a different rhythm. Morning swims. Evening rides. Abbreviated daytime trips to avoid the air that feels like being stuck in a convection oven, or avoiding the heat-induced thunderstorms.
Daytime hours have been filled with books, reading, and the other (often ignored) exercises in creativity. While I miss long daytime rides, the wandering and exploring, I feel good about the time I’ve spent on these other things, the expanded productivity … all while waiting for cooler, dryer weather to return, and resuming my more rambling ways.
And – as evidenced by my lack of posts lately – I have enjoyed taking some time to unplug and disconnect. I’ve been reading a fascinating book, Fast Media, Media Fast, by Dr. Thomas Cooper, professor of visual and media arts at Emerson College in Boston. It’s about making a conscious choice to disengage – to fast – from the barrage of always-on mass-media, the distractions of the e-world, and the devices that we are increasingly becoming dependent and even addicted to.
I appreciate that he does not take an “anti-” or negative approach; he does not want eliminate media any more than someone fasting from food wants to eliminate food. Rather, he wants to use the break – the diet or full-blown fast – to re-evaluate and examine how we approach and use media. The goal behind the experience is to examine our thinking and opinion-forming process without the influence of 24-7 breaking news and 1,000 channels of cable television; to take stock of our lives outside of e-mail, text messaging, twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube and blogging – and to physically experiencing the world directly rather than thru secondhand sources and without an electronic screen in front of us. Which for me, would eliminate the use of not only my television, radio, and iDevices but also my camera. My bike stays.
While I have not yet started a full-blown fast, I have gone on some degree of a media diet, and plan to attempt a full, fasting, disconnection – if only for a week or two – within the next month. I just want the experience, even briefly or temporarily.
I want to hear myself think again. I want to re-evaluate the “ratio, quality, enjoyment and originality of what I ingest (as a consumer) versus what I express (as a creator)”. I want to lose some “unneccessary mental weight”. And I guess I want the challenge of finding “a Walden in my own mind.” I want my daily off-bike routine to have more moments like those I experience while on my bike – the direct experience, the mental clarity, the sensory balance, the perspective.
Wish me luck…
Day after day, year after year, I ride past an old grandmother. She is greying and stooped, her old bones are weathered and tired – yet she is sill beautiful, even sacred. At least to me.
For many years she stood … tall and proud, solid and steadfast, quiet and imposing, yet welcoming and kind. She was a dependable storehouse, a nursery, a warm and fragrant embrace for man and animal. She is a landmark, a sentinel, a piece of the landscape as much as any creek or any mountain. She has seen many years, and she is filled with her own stories.
I have known her for only a small portion of her life. I have tried to listen for her stories. I have touched her bones. I have felt her embrace.
When the tornadoes of April 2011 set upon her quiet valley, it was more than she could bear in her old age; she submitted and bowed down. I confess that I cried when I first saw her afterwards.
Yet still, even in collapse, she sits; her skeletal remains are always a comfort to me when I ride near. I stop. I see her, decaying in her bones and stories, settling gently down in the quilt of her soft field. Slowly, slowly, she sinks into the land, taking her stories with her.
She is an old grandmother. She is most beloved.