Sunday, June 19, 2016

Defy gravity

Compared to most places on the planet, where I live is fast and stressful. It's not a big city by population, but it's part of a large urban area and the environment is man-made, high-speed, competitive. Maybe even disrespectful. In general, it's not normal to be glad to see another human being.

This is the theme in many settings: the freeway derby, the way people walking on a sidewalk see each other as obstacles, the way in the supermarket we hope you'll just move along. Even on a recreational trail, the humanoids can be rude and self-righteous.

There's a reason that in the Bay Area, you're never far from a cup of coffee, whether Starbucks, Peet's, or independent roaster. My dad used to joke that if you fall one cup of coffee behind the crowd, they'll run you over. The vibe is definitely not relaxed or laid back. And it takes its toll.

Maybe it's an introvert thing, but for balance I need regular dips into a quiet, natural, peaceful environment. It's the only way to to reset my blood pressure, cortisol, adrenaline back to sustainable levels. I can actually feel the muscles in my body relax. It's an electro-chemical reaction.

Sometimes, that environment is the road (on a bike). Continuous movement, flow, is a real place of its own. And exercise is a powerful way of managing stress. But exercise itself is not enough. Working out inside in a gym day in, day out, or riding in the shoulder of a busy highway, those wouldn't work.

Fortunately, there are other ways. The fringe of the urban boundary is 3 miles from home. On the other side lie some of the most beautiful cycling roads you'll find anywhere.

Of course when I can wrangle it, you'll find me even further afield...

Here, all the lead weights in my diver's vest just vaporize. There's a giddiness to defying gravity. Like that, I can breathe again, I'm OK. I'm on the surface.

So it's a little humbling, daunting, to face that I have a real need to periodically recharge. There's an extra requirement, a tax on awareness, time, and effort. In the rat race where faster is always better, it can be a weakness. A vulnerability.

On the other hand, I'm lucky to have access to these places. A worthy bike. The gate in the driveway, four days from my house. This is Northern California. A visitor once said that in 20 minutes in any direction from any freeway, you'll find yourself in the middle of beautiful nature. The land of plenty.

Writing this post has made me wonder: might there be people in the world who are not as lucky? Who do not have a way to renew themselves?

DIY Father's Day

Though hundreds of miles separate us, the whole day is saturated with memories and appreciation of my dad.

Email is impersonal, easy, superficial. Also fast and convenient. Being together, sitting together at the table, that would be ideal. A card would be good. Email is better than nothing.

So I write the most ordinary-looking email about an experience that pushed to the front of the line, a vivid, simple, happy memory. First grade, parent show-and-tell. He brought a flute he'd made from a stick of bamboo. What I really cared about that day is he showed up in front of my class. I can still feel his hand, warm and muscular, accommodating. All I could bring myself to say was 'this is my dad'.

For no apparent reason one day he'd gone in search of a piece of bamboo (who carries bamboo in northern California? And why?). Someone had it. The taper was very long and awkward, green at one end. He sawed off a chunk of 12 inches or so with a firm short saw, probably the one from the mitre box. There were had to be a particular length.

The details of the process are quite fuzzy: how the finger holes got drilled, what tool was used. Design was important. spacing was important. Placement and diameter. 

I remember the end product well. It looked a little ordinary. Brown and green, irregular stripes. It looked very much like an unfinished stick of bamboo. But if you held it and blew just so, sound came out. A little rough but an original voice. No one else's dad did that.

I've come to recognize that voice as extraordinary. To appreciate other voices that are rough and surprising and true. What's even richer, at this point, is knowing I belong to someone, having a hand to hold onto. Even if some days it's all I can do to stand here, holding on.