Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Greeting, 2010

Merry Christmas, December 2010

Last Christmas was my hardest Christmas ever.  Two weeks before Christmas, Bethel University administrators told me they were cutting my job due to budget cuts.  At my age, that almost certainly would mean the end of my career as a college professor.  I felt like a deer in the headlights.  I was pretty numb for quite a while.  I applied to about 140 jobs.  Five were senior-level faculty positions; I was a finalist at one (they hired an inside candidate), and the other four withdrew their searches.  Twenty-five were beginning level faculty positions; none of them showed interest in me, in part perhaps because I was a senior candidate.  About twenty were in non-academic careers: sales, marketing, fund-raising; a few showed a little interest, maybe just because of the peculiarity of a Ph.D. in Philosophy applying for those jobs.  Over eighty were in lower-level academic administration positions at smaller colleges or community colleges: chairs of departments, deans, provosts, vice-presidents for academic affairs.  A handful showed some interest, for example by asking for more information, essays, administrative philosophy statements.  In April I had a telephone interview for a dean’s position.  In May I had an interview for a chairperson position.  After the chairperson interview, I got a call-back for a second interview.  By around July 4, I got an acceptable job offer as Chairperson of the Humanities and Performing Arts Department at Lansing Community College.  I started my new job August 2.

Beth and I left Vadnais Heights, MN on July 26, leaving behind Kevin and Jayne.  For just over two weeks we lived in a travel trailer behind my sister’s house, 145 mile round-trip commute to my job in Lansing.  We moved into our house on August 13.  Just like three years ago, we are paying two mortgages, waiting for our house in Vadnais Heights to sell.  We hope it sells soon, and for more than we owe on it.  We love our new house, location, and job.  We miss our kids terribly.  When the house sells, they will likely stay in Minnesota.  The job situation there is much better than in Michigan (MN unemployment rate is 7.1%, MI is 12.8%).

We now live within about an hour’s drive to most of our relatives.  That is wonderful.  Being in Michigan, I know some good places to fish and hunt.  I am just over a two hour drive from one of my favorite places in Michigan:  Hoxeyville and the Pine River.  I have a 16 mile round trip commute to work; I commuted by bicycle all fall, up until our recent snow storm which made the roads icy. I will be back on my bike as soon as the ice is off the roads.  I play hockey with my brother and nephew on a team Sunday nights.  We found a good church, just over 2 miles from our house.  We are blessed.

My job is fully administrative, no teaching.  I loved teaching, it was my passion.  But that career was ended for me.  Not being a professor, the time I used to spend reading for my classes and for research I now spend reading good fiction and a lot of Michigan history.  I like my new job, and have good people to work with.  It is meaningful and important work.  I am grateful.  A year ago, I could have never imagined things working out so well.  It isn’t perfect.  Because of the two moves over the past three years, with trying to sell houses in a declining market, we find ourselves pretty much broke, living paycheck-to-paycheck.  And we are grateful, because we are living pretty well.  My standard of living is in the top 1% of the world’s people.  I’d like to think that the quality of my life is also in the top 1%, but there is still a lot of work to do to get there.  I yearn for Thoreau’s “simplify, simplify,” or Dick Proenneke’s wilderness, except that I want access to books, to be with Beth, to have good food and health care, to spend time with family and friends, to have a reliable vehicle to drive to Hoxeyville, maybe even to have a cell phone to talk to my kids regularly, a good bike, and the list gets long.

You probably know what I mean.  I want it all, and the all I want is often not the all I need.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Can Ride Meditation

It was in the mid 30s, with patches of snow across the medium brown clay and sandy dirt out back.  There was less than an inch of snow covering the small pond behind the house.  The morning was quite hazy, warmer air above the colder ground.  The haze lifted just before noon.  Initially I got my mountain bike ready to ride, then realized I wanted to pick up cans on the ride and it would be much better to take my single-speed commuting bike with saddle bags.  So I switched the heart rate monitor to that bike.  The temperature was such that I could wear knee warmers under black tights; I didn’t need to wear my more insulated and completely wind-proof tights.  I could also wear my thin, blue windbreaker, not the warmer black jacket.  Under my helmet, I could wear a thin skull hat, not a full balaclava.

The roads were clear and mostly dry.  There were occasional wet spots where trees on the south side of the road shaded snow that had been blown onto the road.  As I headed east, intending to turn north after half a mile, I felt a strong east wind, enough to make it difficult to go much faster than 13 mph on the flats.  I was going to head north for a mile, and then west for seven or more miles.  That would have meant having to come back into the headwind.  I decided to continue on eastward into the wind.  I find it easier to go out into a headwind than to come back into a headwind.  I went five miles into the wind before turning north.

Since I decided to pick up cans and bottles, my focus and thought when riding was on the side of the road and the ditches.  I was attentive to glimmers of silver, blue, red, and green.  Most beer cans are blue, medium to light blue.  Many also have significant amounts of silver.  Plus when they are sitting on their top or bottom in the grass or snow, the ends sticking up are silver.  Only a few beer cans are red; Coke cans, of course, are red.  Mountain Dew are green.  I get a few bottles, rarely a brown glass beer bottle; more often a Coke or Mountain Dew plastic bottle, and about a third of them had been used for chew spit juice.  Most cans and bottles had contained beer.  Almost all of them still contain an ounce or two.  When it is freezing cold, the beer becomes chunks of ice or slush in the can.  I try to get it out, but some is too frozen.  They make a mess of my panniers.  I did collect 36 over a 100 minute ride, and all but six were beer cans.  My saddle bags, or panniers, were full.  I don’t think I could have collected one more.  Over the last two miles on dirt roads, they rattled and clinked together, almost bouncing out.

Usually when I ride my bike, I think about people, work, events, tasks.  During this ride, I was focused on only one thing: sighting cans in the ditch.  Sure, I heard traffic coming up behind or approaching from ahead.  That seemed significantly in the background.  My attention was on one thing.  My attention was focused.  It was meditative.  One meditation technique involves focusing on a single idea, word, thought, image, phrase, sound.  The aim is to still the mind; it is mental exercise.  When I awake at night and my mind is racing over events, difficulties, challenges, things I need to get done, and planning on how to get things done, I cannot get back to sleep and get frustrated by it.  One image that has helped still my mind and enable me to get back to sleep is to focus on a grain of rice.  Not a bowl of rice.  A single grain.

Riding my bike focused on trying to catch glimpses of colors that might indicate a can seemed very relaxing and meditative.  Instead of my mind wandering all over my life, it rested.  By concentrating on one thing, it rested.  I have heard people talk about being “fully in the moment,” and I thought it was woo-woo new age religious code language that made someone sound profound when it seemed to me they were just goofy.  It is analogous to what I take to be the sometimes empty church-talk, for example when someone tells me they had a quiet time, or spent time in the word, or communed with the Lord in prayer, or am under conviction, or that the joy of the Lord is their strength.  Imagine someone who had never before hung out with church folk going to a church and hearing people talk like that.  What images might come to their mind?  Had they hung out enough with church folk, and acquired a cynical edge, they might think that “having a quiet time” is a way to indicate particular piety, much better than saying that you read some religiously meaningful paragraph or two and spent some time thinking about how you hoped to conduct yourself that day.

Being fully in the moment.  What is that?  Given my experience on my can ride, I think it might be to be fully focused upon, fully attentive to, and fully given to one thing.  To be undistracted.  When done right, I think a lot of sport and athletics is like that.  So too is making love, when done right: fully focused upon, fully attentive to, fully given to one thing.  Perhaps the fullness of focus, attention, and giving is why one seeks silence and solitude in order to meditate.  For me, silence and solitude usually do not lead to meditation.  They lead to thoughts about all that distresses me, all that I need to get done.  But there are times when silence and solitude can put me “fully in the moment.”  As I think about it, as I scour my memory, I recall times fishing when, if someone were to ask me what I was thinking about while I spent three or six hours wading in a river and casting for trout, my answer would have honestly been “nothing.”

Or the twenty-five hours I spent inside a 42” x 42” x 72” wooden deer blind in mid-November.  From the outside, the blind looked a lot like an outhouse with a six inch high opening all the way around at eye height.  I walked out to the blind in the dark, an hour or more before sun-up, a moonless predawn, clear sky revealing more stars than one deserves to see.  Open the door and flip on my headlamp.  Set my rifle barrel on one opening with the butt of the maple stock on an opposite opening.  Wiggle out of my backpack.  Set my thermoses, one containing coffee, one containing onion soup, on the floor in a corner.  Set my water bottle in another corner.  Set my pee bottle in another corner.  Hang my rattling antlers and grunt call on a nail.  Unbutton my shirts to cool off.  Replace my hunter orange stocking hat with a dark blue wool hat.  Take a seat on the stool.  Flip off my headlamp, take it off, and hang it on a nail.  Raise my binoculars to see if anything is visible: it is too dark to even focus the binoculars.  I sit back, resting my back against one wall, staring out into the dark.  Every five minutes or so I look to the eastern sky to detect the first hint of coming daylight.  Coyotes yelp and bark.  Cooled off from the walk to the blind, I button up and add a layer.  After thirty minutes or more I stand for thirty minutes, then sit and repeat.  Daylight comes.  I might see a deer, or a part of a deer moving through the woods.  The first noisy blue jay announces itself an hour after sun-up.  Nuthatches scoot head-first down a tree, and land on the window sill of the blind.  A couple of crows, and a raven appear around 10 am.  A few hours after noon the Pileated Woodpecker passes through.  I see a Flicker, and a Downy Woodpecker.  I hear cars and pick-up trucks carrying others to and from hunting locations or work.

I was in the blind, never exiting (except to search an hour for the buck I shot), Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday 6:15-11:30 am, and Monday and Tuesday 2:30-5:30 pm.  70 cubic feet of space of a monastery, voluntarily confined for twenty-five hours.  I recall that I thought about nothing; I was only attentive, straining to hear anything audible, and to see anything visible.  My mind was still.  I belonged to the world.  Put me in a shopping mall and I am exhausted after an hour, two at the most.  Put me in a river or a deer blind, and I seem to grow into it.  I become part of it.  Separation from it is an amputation.

Too, this time of year a 60 minute bike ride is about as long as I ride.  I was out 100 minutes.  Apart from the full, almost over-flowing panniers, I could have gone another hour or more.  The average effort I put out was not easy.  I wore my heart rate monitor.  Average heart rate for the 100 minutes (the heart rate monitor was actually running about 110 minutes or more; I didn’t stop it when I stopped to pick-up a can) was 129 beats per minute.  In the summer, that heart rate during a 100 minute ride on my road bike would allow me to average over 20 miles per hour.  My can ride was not easy, in spite of making 36 stops and getting those short rests.

After heading east five miles and turning north, I went four miles north before turning west.  Now I had a tailwind.  Riding my single speed, I was spinning at a high rate.  There were a couple of good hills where I could stand and pedal, give my sit bones a rest, and grind up the hills.  I continued west for eight miles.  Along the way I stopped at the St. Francis Retreat Center in DeWitt.  I had driven by it several times in the car, and ridden my bike by it a few times.  I rode in and rode around it. It looked quite peaceful there.  They host contemplative retreats.  The grounds have several tall and large pine trees.  I used the seclusion of the large pines to stop and pee downwind.  After heading west eight miles, I had four miles to go south, and three miles east to get home.  It made for a very peaceful, relaxing ride.  Contemplative, attending to one thing.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Hemingway Story Telling

I read a book last week Hemingway in Michigan published in 1966.  In it the author explores aspects of Hemingway’s biography as it relates to Michigan locations in his stories.  The biography part was fascinating.  I learned much.  For example, I thought he lived in Petoskey quite a while.  He only lived in Petoskey a short while (much less than a year, if I remember correctly).  His family had a cottage on Walloon Lake, just south of Petoskey.  He had spent several summers there growing up.  After his short stint in the ambulance corps of the Italian army in World War I, where he had gotten blasted with shrapnel (the author seems to wonder if he took one in the weenie, and if so whether that was a motivation for the manly bravado Hemingway often exhibited in his life and writing), he rented a room for a few months in Petoskey.  I also learned that he had been a newspaper writer, before the war in Kansas City, after the war in Toronto.

Part of the book was annoying to me.  At times the author seemed concerned to discern which parts of Hemingway’s fiction were factual, which parts were factually-based fiction, and which parts were “pure” fiction.  Some of the factually-based fiction seemed to have deeply annoyed folks, thinking that “Ernie” was telling lies about them.  They failed to grasp that he could only be telling lies if he was meaning to do something like newspaper reporting.

One section that was quite fascinating was where the author was hinting at Hemingway’s transition from reporting to story-telling.  The author dissected a report Hemingway wrote for the Toronto newspaper about his camping and fishing trip to the Fox River near Seney, Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.  She put parts of it in one column, then dissected  parts of “Big Two-Hearted River” and put them in the second column, with the aim to show two things.  One was how the newspaper report, or at least the events it reports, seemed to have been the basis of the events narrated in “Big Two-Hearted River.”  The other was to show the transformation in Hemingway from report-style writing to imaginative narration.

For the past 35 years I have regularly written a letter to my parents.  Over the past half dozen years or more it has gotten to be a weekly, two-page single-spaced letter.  I think that my letters used to more tell stories.  They were factual stories, but still stories.  Over the past few years, it seems the letters have become more journalistic reports of what I did on Monday, on Tuesday, on Wednesday, and so on.  Or for variety, I sometimes start at the most recent day and work backward.  Or I might report something my son had done, then something my daughter had done, then something my wife had done, then something I had done.  Actually, I probably usually started with ME FIRST, then gave a passing notice about their lives.

So now I am thinking about telling stories again in my letters.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Driving North for Deer Season

Driving north out of Lansing on US 127 the day before opening day of deer hunting season, one gets a lesson on economics and ethics.  It is also a time of great anticipation.

Of course there are the $60,000 four wheel drive trucks and SUVs that are not designed to be used in four wheel drive down muddy two-tracks.  Inside those are well-heeled sportsmen with $1000 hunter orange suits from Cabela’s.  They carry $4000 custom-bedded bolt action rifles, with $1000 Zeiss scopes.  They have $1500 Swarovski binoculars.  They are probably packing along Laphroaig scotch, not available in liquor stores between Lansing and Petoskey (who could afford it?).  Don’t forget the Saeco espresso maker and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale.

On the other hand are the 1988 Buick Centurys or 1990 Ford F-150s.  Those vehicles will see more two-track in a week than the $60k vehicles will see in a lifetime.  Two buddies riding together, at least one with a flannel shirt on, at least one with a hunter orange hat.  Their hunting clothes are faux Carhartts, the obligatory square inches of hunter orange supplied by a hat and gloves.  They shoot a $400 stock gun with a $100 scope, and carry $80 binoculars.  If they haven’t been unemployed the past month, they might splurge for Jim Beam (instead of Old Crow) or Jack Daniels (instead of Ezra Brooks), and Budweiser (instead of Schaefer).

They all watch hunting shows where guys whisper as if at a golf match about whether the deer (plural) coming toward them are “shooters.”  “That third one might be a shooter” he whispers in a Southern accent (even if he was born and raised in North Dakota) facing the camera or facing the field and talking out the side of his mouth.  By a “shooter” he means at least eight points, at least an 18 inch spread, brow tines five inches long, a massive G3 (whatever that is), and possibly stickers (not the things grandparents give to their grandchildren, or the things that stick to your socks when walking through a sandy field).  But for these guys heading north on US 127, a shooter is any deer with at least one antler at least 4” long.  When you go north of US 10, every legal buck is a shooter.  While they wish and dream for a six or eight point buck to walk past them, they hope they at least see a legal spike.

Some of these guys pack along portable tree stands, some have portable pop-up tent blinds.  They might have scouted out a location over the past couple of weekends, in between bow hunting and bird hunting.  They plan to get there the day before opening day and set up their portable stand, trying to memorize how they will find it in the dark the next morning.  Those who sit in the tree stands hope for dry weather.  Rain and temperatures below 40 make for a cold and miserable sit in the stand.  The ground blinds with a roof make for a more comfortable sit.

Some of the guys have fixed or significantly less portable blinds, made of wood and scrap materials, the size of an outhouse, maybe even a two-holer.  Those are much more work to set up the day before.  Those are usually only found on private land, where one can set them up permanently, and hunt out of them season after season.  The roof keeps you dry.  The sides keep the wind off and conceal your movements.  With the right clothing, a comfortable seat, enough food and hot liquids, one can spend twelve hours in such a blind, from 45 minutes before the first crack of dawn until 45 minutes after sundown.  Some people pay good money to go on weekend religious retreats to experience silence and solitude.  Deer hunters have their monastic temples.  They can spend a dozen hours in silence, broken only by surrounding gunshots, blue jays, and their own flatulence.  Put them in church and they are clock-watching if the sermon goes longer than 20 minutes.

Every once in a while you see a car with a couple of women heading north.  Some of them will be looking for work.  The taverns make brisk business the day or two before deer season, and the first few nights of deer season.  Like lumberjack towns one hundred fifty years ago, it is almost all guys.  A woman can make a big load of cash fast.  They aren’t looking for a mate, so no need to be flirtatious.  One just has to be blunt.  Find a guy who looks to have had a few drinks and still some money left, and just state it: “suck your dick out back for $25.”  If the hunter has taken his moral lessons from a recent President, then spending the $25 would not constitute adultery since it is not sex.   In the few days before deer season and the first few days of deer season, a person can make several hundred dollars a day, all tax free, all non-adulterous.

Of course there is not as much of that as the wider public sometimes imagines.  I have been in a few bars, and have never been asked.  In all my life I have not wittingly met or seen a prostitute.  I have seen attractive women looking at me.  At least I thought they were looking at me.  They were probably looking past me to find the “Restrooms” sign.  When attractive women look at me, or I see them first, I tend to avert my eyes.  Not that I am a moral saint.  Beauty would put me like a deer in the headlights.  So as not to stare trance-like, I avert my gaze.  I have to admit that I do the same thing with the other end of the spectrum of attractiveness.  I avert my gaze.  I am not one to gawk at a car accident as I drive by.  Again I am no saint.  It is not that I consider ugly women like a car accident, not wanting to look upon another’s pain.  No.  I just don’t want to give them any impression that I find them interesting.  As if the thought might even cross their minds.

The mind wanders with anticipation and imagination on the drive up north.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

To the end of a road

I can recall three times I have driven to the end of a road.  That seems very un-American.  You get there, then you have to turn back and retrace your steps.  Roads are via, ways to places.  The end of a road isn’t exactly no place.  It is no place important.  If it were important, there would be additional roads to it and out of it.  If it is important, it is a place you can pass through.  Two of the ends-of-the-road I have been to are ones that probably not more than a couple hundred different folks go to in a year.  Perhaps a few of them, and certainly billions of others, should they arrive there would think “that is it?”

The one that is less like that is the end of the Gunflint Trail.  Officially it is Cook County Road 12, beginning a few blocks north out of “downtown” Grand Marias, Minnesota, ending 57 miles later at Saganaga Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  The stunning image of that trip, especially after the Ham Lake fire in the Spring of 2007, is the moonscape appearance suddenly after you pass by the west end of Gunflint Lake.  Many people travel that road for fishing, camping, backpacking canoe expeditions, and hunting.  An odd story is from a family that lives near the end of the Gunflint Trail, 57 miles into wilderness.  A public school bus driver has her route to drive the trail morning and night during the school year to take kids to and from school in Grand Marais.  A young mother who lives at the end of the trail, half a step from wilderness, drives once a month the nearly 170 mile trip (one way!) to Duluth to get her hair done.  You live where the wolves howl, bears bang your trash cans, you see moose on the highway, you don’t see many other folks except your family and a few neighbors, and you have to burn a tank of gas to get your hair done.

I have been to the end of the Gunflint trail only once.  But my two other ends of road I’ve been to numerous times.  I don’t want others to go there, so I won’t reveal their exact location.  Like a good fisherman, I cannot reveal my good locations.  These roads are short, perhaps two miles long, one on the north and one on the south side of what I’ll call Beaver Creek.  I’ve never seen a beaver there, but I’ve seen evidence of beaver around there.  So close enough.

Back in the 1970s, those roads, two-tracks actually, took me back to within 50 yards of a river, not too bad for fishing in.  The last quarter mile or so led down a hill steep enough to get badly rutted with rain and snow melt.  Sometimes it was not worth the risk trying to get my 1967 Pontiac Tempest Custom (two-door coupe with a 326 V-8 and a two-speed automatic transmission) down there.  Getting down would not have been the issue; getting up would be the challenge.  Sometime in the 1980s, state officials determined that vehicular traffic was too destructive of the ecosystem near the river.  A gate was put up a half mile from the river.  Now you can drive back that far, park, and hike the remainder of the way to the river.  Good decision.  Nobody thought of such measures in the 1800s when that area was logged for its white pine, with logs rolled down the hills into the river and down the river to the sawmills on the Lake Michigan coast.  What might the river banks, and river itself, look like had there been a quarter mile boundary on the river back then?

The trail along the sound side of Beaver Creek was always in better shape than the one on the north side.  The north side trail cut through some swampy areas.  Depending on the rainfall or snowfall that year, the trail might be impassible for my Tempest.  That Tempest rode low.  If the crown between the two-tracks was a bit too high, I risked ripping off the exhaust system.  Big four-wheel drive pick-up trucks could get down the road.  But they tended to put the road in worse shape.  There were some years I could not get down the north side at all.

One of my best experiences being down the north side was with my son, when he was just an adult.  We were back there to go fishing and camp.  After fishing in the evening with a small campfire, we enjoyed some good Scotch.  Sipping Scotch that might cost as much or more than new fly line.  It was peaceful.  The fishing had been fine, but nothing great.  It was very typical of my visits to the north end.  The worst experience was the time we were up there just before a July 4th weekend.  As we had our camp set up, the little fire going after dark, three loud pick-up trucks showed up with at least eight people.  They got out battery powered flood lights to light the area.  The doors of a truck were open with loud music playing.  Had it been Wagner, or Mozart, or Rachmaninov, or even Billy Holiday, John Coltrane, Patsy Cline, or Hank Williams, the music might have been suitable for the setting.  At a lower volume.  But the not-very-talented early 1990s popular rock surely desecrated the area and sent the sprites and other faeries to the next county.

I had no bad experiences on the end of the south side.  I would often head there as close to summer solstice as I could.  On a clear evening, I had enough light to see for fishing until 10:30 or 11 pm.  One of those evenings I was in the river casting.  A raccoon was on the opposite bank digging for larvae and crayfish.  A large dark object swam under water from downstream up just past the end of my rod.  I thought it was a salmon, except salmon aren’t in the river late June.  Then it surfaced, a beaver, about 15 feet upstream from me.  It was all peaceful.  I belonged there.  I didn’t see another person the day before or the next day.  I could fish in the morning until it got warm, take off my fishing get-up and clothes and take a swim and clean off in the river, lie in the grass to dry off.  After a lunch of some fresh fruit and a peanut butter sandwich, I’d read a few chapters, then nap until 6 pm.  On my way back to the river, I’d sequester a bottle of cheap but tasty wine in a spring to chill, fish until I couldn’t see to cast, return to my tent collecting the chilled wine along the way, fix an almost mid-night meal, and get six good hours of sleep before dawn was calling me to return to the river.

Some people find their home at the end of a road.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Cold weather bicycle commuting

I had mentioned on my facebook page earlier this week that my ride into my office in the morning was in temperatures in the mid 20s, the coldest since back in March or April.  I mentioned yesterday that my ride home might be in rain with temps in the low 40s.  Someone commented that his own "couch potato lifestyle" (his words) was looking good to him now.  Two thoughts occurred to me almost immediately, and they are complementary to each other.  The first is that you do not become an avid bicycle commuter in a day or a season.  The second is that you do not become a couch potato in a day or a season.

I have been bicycle commuting for about 30 years.  Even eight years before that, before I had a drivers license, I used my bicycle to get around.  I lived in a rural area, ten miles to the nearest small town.  It was a mile and a half to the lake where I'd go fishing, two miles to a corner store where I could return bottles I'd find along the side of the road for deposits to buy candy and ice cream, ten miles to girls I was interested in.  We, my dad and mom and us seven kids, were poor (never hungry poor), had one car which dad used to take to work.  Usually he had a motorcycle which he could take in good weather so mom could have the car.  Good weather meant anything but snow, ice, and bitter cold.

It was when I was in graduate school that I became more serious about bicycle commuting.  My wife and I had one car, which she used to get to work.  I would ride my bike the two to eight miles (depending on where we found the cheap apartment) to campus.  It was in Nashville, so there were few winter days too miserable to ride.  When I got my first faculty position after graduate school, we purposely found housing within a mile of my office so that I could ride a bicycle most of the time, and walk in bad weather.  There I was for 21 years, a mile from my office.

My second faculty position was in St. Paul, MN.  Our home was over four miles from campus.  The Twin Cities area is well-designed for bicycle commuting (lots of wide paved shoulders, lots of bicyclists).  I bicycled to my office into November.  Usually my Thanksgiving, it was getting tough, partly from the snow (which would be plowed into but not out of the shoulder) and the cold.  The Twin Cities, contrary to many folks' assumption, does not get a lot of snow; it gets about the same amount as Detroit.  But the snow the Twin Cities gets the end of November is usually still on the ground the end of January.  It does not get back above 32 degrees much, if at all, between Thanksgiving and Valentine's Day.  I could walk to my office in just over an hour at a brisk pace.  I'd start bicycle commuting again in mid-March.

My most recent job has me in Lansing, MI, with my home less than eight miles from my office.  Over the years I have acquired clothing that enables me to ride my bicycle in a wide range of weather, not just fair weather.  I have also acquired bicycle handling skills, and road savvy, to enable me to be reasonably safe in a wide range of conditions, including heavy traffic, low-light and night-time riding, rain, and snow (as long as it is not a heavy snowfall with accumulations).  Norwegians say "There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing."  I had an elderly cycling friend who often reminded us that the rain won't hurt, "you do have a water-tight asshole" he'd say.

How my facebook friend became a couch potato probably has a parallel story.  How did he move from a 6'1" 150 pound senior in high school three dozen years ago to a 220 pound couch potato now?  Not in a day or a season.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two Words about Tuesday Night Ride in Mason

About 16 riders, head out at 5:30, after 1/4 mile warm-up the pace is up to 25.  First rider dropped after 4 miles; we wait two minutes.  First flat at 30 minutes; we wait eight minutes.  Second flat at 42 minutes; we wait ten minutes.  32 miles in about 1:40 twenty minutes after sundown, but riding less than 1:24 (maybe less than 1:20).  Two words: Bontrager Hardcase.  As the weather gets colder, the days are shorter, and you are trying to get a ride in before dark, ride a tough tire less prone to flatting.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

First blog

The title.  From when I was around 14 or 15, and especially after getting a driver's license at 16, I would spend many weekends near the Pine River near Hoxeyville.  It is about 30 miles straight north of Nirvana.  I've been to Nirvana before, but when I was there I didn't realize it because I wanted to be there.  My desire to be there got in the way of my realizing I was there.  One of my most transcendental like experiences was around summer solstice about 20 years ago, around 11 pm fishing on the Pine River.  I could still see well enough to cast.  A raccoon was searching for food along the shore opposite me about 25 feet.  A beaver swam under water up stream from my right to left, about 8 feet from me, surfacing about 15 feet upstream.  In the words of Aquinas, it was almost as if my "appetite was lulled altogether."  For that reason, I consider Hoxeyville North of Nirvana.