Maybe Alone on My Bike
I listen, and the mountain lakes
hear snowflakes come on those winter wings
only the owls are awake to see,
their radar gaze and furred ears
alert. In that stillness a meaning shakes;
And I have thought (maybe alone
on my bike, quaintly on a cold
evening pedaling home) think! –
the splendor of our life, its current known
as those mountains, the scene no one sees.
Oh citizens of our great amnesty:
we might have died. We lived. Marvels
coast by, great veers and swoops of air
so bright the lamps waver in tears,
and I hear in the chain a chuckle I like to hear.
- William Stafford, 1964
Most mornings I phone my brother on my way to work. He lives near Bellingham, Washington and works in British Columbia. His commute is crowded and long. For an hour he winds along the cold waters of the Northwest’s rocky coastline on the way to the giant bridge he is building. I drive just three short miles to campus following the snowy peaks of the Bighorns through town. Our conversations are brief, even perfunctory: we check in with each other, sip coffee, and prepare for our work day. It’s a ritual that right now is as important to me as my morning caffeine.
But this week my commute changed: I phoned Mathers from my bicycle. Spring weather in Wyoming is by definition variable; yesterday it was nearly seventy degrees – today my son’s soccer games were canceled because of snow. But my favorite spring transition is when the bikes come out of the garage. My brother had all kinds of questions about my spring commute: How far is it? Three miles – I can make it in 15 minutes if I hustle. What about the traffic? Our little town has big trail aspirations; I can ride nearly all the way to campus on the community pathway system. What’s the trail like? Quiet, I tell him. I see Canadian Geese and pronghorn and cattle and urban chickens. I pass my neighbors and their dogs. I see my running friends and the same sweet couple on their walk every morning. When can I move there, he asks.
Yesterday I got my boys up early and biked them to school. We rode through alleys to avoid the busy street that is the most direct route to their neighborhood elementary school. Luca flashed his toothy devil grin – he loved going to school the “secret way.” Frank jabbered and peddled circles around both of us. Most mornings we are the picture of modern busyness, shouting at each other and rushing out the door at the last minute. But this was a magical twenty minutes; we had so much fun just getting to school.
Our daily commutes are a necessary evil. My brother tolerates the miles between his home and his beloved job. The drive is made bearable by technology – he has guaranteed time to connect with family. I don’t think much about my commute; when I’m in my car it’s too short. But sometimes the best part of my day is my bike ride to and from school. In the morning it’s cold. I wear gloves and my down jacket. By evening I need to stow my puffy in the panniers next to my computer and textbooks. Sometimes I push earbuds under my helmet and listen to the news or loud, nostalgic music. Other days I listen to the silence and the woosh of the creek as I cruise by. It is twenty minutes of concentrated effort with a clear result. I don’t feel tired or taxed, but I do feel strong, energized, and somehow clearer. I do not feel like there is something else I should be doing. I don’t worry about the papers I need to grade or the laundry. I feel like I’ve found stolen time.