Bicycle Cliche’

Growing up in 1950s upstate New York a common theme in my private mental meanderings was the safe or comforting place. I would often day dream about some secret location or shelter where I would feel at ease, at peace or at least be in a pleasant/enjoyable setting. I even had locations I would go to for no other purpose than to reflect or day-dream.

As an adult I would call places where I felt at peace or “centered,” “Alephs.” An Aleph is a place where if you position your self just right you can step back from your life and see the whole universe and your place in it. To be in or at an Aleph was a pleasant, reassuring experience.

My family would often go on outings—to a cheesy little amusement park called “Sylvan Beach” or to one of two local parks—Chittenango Falls State Park or Pixley Falls State Park.

We’d usually leave town on the same route and a few miles out of town there was this old farm—probably a dairy farm judging from the barn. Off behind the barn was this beautiful, lush green field and a magnificent tree—probably an Oak from what I remember of the shape.

As we drove by I’d study that idyllic scene and imagine myself sitting or lying in the deep, sweet green grass under that beautiful Oak watching the clouds go by. It was a place of comfort—a place to be alone and soothed by the special beauty and apartness of the setting.

For years—every time we drove by I’d have the same thought—“this is a beautiful, comforting, safe place where I can soak up oneness with nature and the cosmos. I’ll just ride my bike out here one day when the weather’s nice and find peace, beauty, completeness, redemption…”—or something.

Every time we drove by—same thought—over and over. I’d look at the scene as we drove by and I’d think—“You butthead—just get on your bike and go—next weekend or whenever.”

Finally one day when I was probably 12 or 14 I got on my bike and went.

It took a lot longer to ride out there than I thought it would—it was good I started early. By the time I got there my legs and butt were pretty tired and sore. The day was clear with blue sky, puffy white clouds and cool temperatures when I left home.

The farm was vacant—no one living there—that was probably part of the reason I finally decided to go that particular time. After a very long—not-much-fun ride—I got there with a very sore butt—I wasn’t used to riding real distances. I usually just rode around the neighborhood and that end of town we lived in.

As I said–I finally got there, got off the bike, rolled it down the lane past the empty house and barn, into the field and over to the magnificent tree to claim my hard-won comfort, beauty, peace etc. I was really looking forward to lying in the lush green grass and resting my tired legs and sore butt.

What I found under the tree was hard, bare earth with dead, dry sticks lying around, weeds, thistles, rocks and dried-up cow-pies—with thin patches of grass here and there. Seen from the low angle of a car passing on the highway some distance away, it just appeared to be a thick lush meadow.

Once off the bike without the cool breeze the bike movement provided—it was hot standing there. The ground was definitely not something you’d want to lie down on. It smelled a bit, I saw several snakes—one fairly good-sized. But mostly what I remember over a half-century later was it didn’t seem peaceful at all so much as lonely and somehow—rejecting.  I felt anxious—like I wasn’t supposed to be there. Really I guess I wasn’t—I was trespassing on private land though I don’t remember any “Posted” signs.

The trip back was not very memorable. About all I recall is arriving back in town with a tail so sore I had to walk the bike the last few miles and it was almost dark when I got home.  But it wasn’t a complete wash—I did learn something.

Sometimes the search for peace and beauty turns out to be just another pain in the ass.

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