Monday, October 6, 2008

The Family That Bikes Together ...

Shortly following the escapades of my trip to Japan back in August (literally a day and a half after arriving home) we loaded kids and bikes into the trusty Subaru for a drive down to Preston MN. There we joined April's parents, sisters and our nephew Julian for a long weekend of riding and relaxation.

The riding was good. Those who know me know that I tend to vacillate on the topic of bike paths. The experience of riding paths can, after all, be a blessing and a curse. If you're looking for solace or quiet enjoyment of river valleys and countryside sometimes the bike trail system is the wrong place to be. Still, paved trails that are relatively flat and very easy to navigate are accessible by folks of all skill levels. And that's not a bad thing for kids, families with Burley trailers and the like. Or folks who look as if they haven't been on a bike since they were kindergarteners -- the ones who weave and bobble and generally don't know WTF a bell dinging from behind and a polite 'On your left' means. At least they're on bikes and who knows, maybe they'll be hooked. But I digress.

A nice shot of April and me (and Sylvia, as usual trying to butt into the picture) in Lanesboro.

Willa is belly up to the table and ready to chow down.

As far as bike trail systems go, the Lanesboro/Preston/Harmony area is top notch. Even though the paths in and around the towns are frequently congested with gawkers, the outlying portions of the trail can make you think you're really out there. Often on the way to another town one sees few if any other cyclists.

Hannah gliding through the bluff country of SE Minnesota.

Willa's toothless grin. How can you not smile, too?

Stops at city parks make cycling day trips way more bearable and enjoyable with the kids.

We all shared a house in Preston, so that was a bit challenging for a privacy loving introvert like myself. Still, it was great to spend time with the family and to watch the kids play together, to eat communal meals and view the opening spectacle of the Olympics on the satellite TV. (Cable? You're lucky to get a cell signal in Preston.) I'm not a fan of the Olympic games, marching bands, dance troupes, acrobats, Shriner parades, etc. but even I was blown away at China's efforts in the ceremony. Now, if they could apply one-tenth that diligence to their human rights policies.

Group photo around the fire.

Julian was very proud of the knife I bought him on the trip. I was busy fixing a flat.

In all this trip was another excellent adventure. And like many trips you realize how special it was a couple months later when you go back and view the photos again. I have to send out a hearty "thanks" to Dad and Sabra for keeping the family bike vacation going for the fourth year in a row.


Why am I prattling on about this stuff? I dunno, maybe just 'cause I haven't had much time to prattle of late. I've been traveling a lot -- gone more than 3 weeks out of the past 8 -- to places that were another part of the world or felt like they ought to be another part of the world. Upon my return each time, inevitably Willa has achieved some new developmental milestone and Sylvia's personality has grown by leaps. All the while April has been holding it all together on her own, being the amazing mother and resilient, cheerful partner she is. She never seems to balk when I announce my next big trip. Thinking about the family and these happy times together has been a constant source of comfort while I'm away.

Things have also been a bit heavier lately. We've been in our new home long enough to have discovered a few of the dark patches of its underbelly, long enough to realize we gotta work at this thing. And that's cool -- we're not afraid to work. But the news headlines hardly make one feel at ease about supporting a family and retaining faith in a positive future for our kids, for our nation and its people. The illusion of comfort is just that, an illusion, so I try not to stake too much on anything especially a philosophy of worry and anxiety. The pettiness of an election year, the big money that runs our government, financial woes, folks getting kicked out of their homes, "our nation's" war, the cries of petroleum dependent fools ... these things add up. That's not to mention how someone like Sarah Palin can be regarded as remotely qualified for high office in our country. Is anyone else losing any sleep over this shit? I think you are.


Last night I took a break from the endless hours I've spent in the garage developing my personal microcosm of order and shifted attention to the spare room in our house. It also will function as our office. Problem is it looks much the same as when we unloaded boxes back in July. When we moved we chucked all our files in banker boxes and weeded out nothing. I began separating the chaff last night. Foolishly perhaps, I started with the box that contained folders full of old letters from friends and family, some photographs and cards. I guess I would have had to go through it at some time.

I pulled out a piece of kid art that had the name 'Dustin' written across the top. It was a photocopied tree trunk that had colored paint splotches for leaves applied by a very young hand. The person, my nephew, who painted it is a young man in his 20s now, a young man who was indicted a few weeks ago for attempted manslaughter because he stabbed another man at a bar. I pulled out another hand-drawn piece of crayon art, immaculately colored within sketched pencil lines. The scene was a backyard with a fence and apple tree. A cat leisurely walks the fence top while jolly worms harvest some fallen apples strewn among bright flowers. A dog tied to a house seems unperturbed. The rays of a yellow sun shine down upon all. My niece, Angel, who drew it is now in her mid 20s, a single mother who married early. Her baby was taken at birth because it was so premature it needed care in a different city. I've never shaken that image of profound separation from my mind. In the same folder was a one page short story written by my oldest nephew, Chris, when he was in grade school. The essay was about Sam the cat and how great he was and the pain Chris felt when he found out Sam had died. Chris is now the father of two. His marriage to a hometown sweetheart went south a few years ago and he was left with the kids. I haven't heard news of him lately.

Different lives. Different times. But I remember holding all these young people when they were infants the size of Willa. I remember seeing them grow. I grew myself and moved from town and acted out dramas of my own. Somehow I thought to hold onto a few little momentos. Funny how things swing 'round.

I quickly flipped through my old letter file and discovered a copy of the letter I sent to my father in January 2000 telling him I no longer desired his manipulative and destructive presence in my life. He passed away a few years ago. We never really reconciled any of our problems. I think I'll never understand how he thought and said many times we had such a "close" relationship. There was a photo of my mother and her last husband taken at least 15 years ago when she still had a spark in her eyes and the flush of health and happiness in her skin. Her health has not been stable for many years now. I spoke with her on Sunday and she told me her doctors are relatively certain she's developed Alzheimer's disease. She'll undergo tests in a couple of weeks to assess how advanced it is. She's living in Memphis with my youngest sister. We're planning a visit, with the whole family hopefully, sometime around the holidays. My mom who sacrificed much of her health for the benefit of many others can't remember her grandkids' names or even where she is a lot of the time. Yeah, that's kinda heavy and I have to admit I had no fucking clue how to talk to her about it when she got me on my cell phone Sunday morning fresh from the frenzy of a tradeshow in Las Vegas. Yeah, that's kinda heavy.


So, why do I prattle on about family stuff and gatherings and bike vacations? I commemorate, I suppose. I can go on about my favorite bike and the short list of epic rides I've completed on it. I can tell you the merits of my favorite shop tool or kitchen knife or gadget du jour ad nauseum. I can extrapolate the beauty of my favorite thing or possession that has lasted me a decade or more. Some people might actually like or appreciate that. But I think I have always been and will always be a poet at heart. I'm not trying to imply one can't wax downright poetic about material things. However, I return throughout my life to moments that beg abstract incapsulation in words, moments that are both painful and pleasurable, moments that make me wince but from which I could no sooner turn away than die. I tend to move, as I think do many, through my friendships focused on good times and parties and comaradery. But I am struck dumb when I fathom the ocean of pain we're all steeped in, the waves of fear and hurt and inevitability that surround us all. We move and rock and bathe in its tides. Sometimes we surf; mostly I think we merely tread; eventually we all drown.

Sorry to brood on the doom and gloom. I have to admit though I don't shy away from thinking about pain and death from time to time. I consider it a highly grounding, motivating meditation -- even if it is disorienting, frightening and surreal. But I figure why avoid the obvious? Why shut out the hidden knowledge, the obscure truths?

How else may one so fully appreciate the beautiful images of life?


Blogstyle said...

This is the sound of me calling out a team building exercise in SE MN next spring.

The Dude [LFoaB] said...

Hey, you have a place to live... we are officially 'Homeless' this Sunday.

Long Story that I don't have the heart to even touch upon currently.

Great entry by the way [Life is The details, all the rest is bullshit & noise].