DT in Louisville, KY -
Surprised into Flight
Having once tasted freedom – wind-howling, heart-blasting, soul-soaring freedom – how now shall I return to the cell? For twenty years I had been caged like an animal. Cramped within four walls. Two tons. Heavy metal and plastic and wheels. I entered my prison daily and worse, I did so of my own free will. My heart's desire was to be caged within my car. I longed to drive, even if it was only around the block.
Worse yet, I paid for the privilege to enter my prison. Month after month, I'd make payments to the insurance company, to the loan company and to the parking lot. I paid for gas. I paid for oil. I paid to have the oil removed and replaced. I paid for antifreeze, for windshield wiper fluid, for air conditioner coolant. Poisons, all. I'd daily shill out my contributions to the oil industry and yearly to my government. I paid to build more and more roads on which my rolling concentration camp might lumber along. I paid to protect the oil on which I was dependent.
Daily. Yearly. Dearly, and in ways I hardly realized.
You see, I didn't realize I had been caged. No one told me. According to all the advertisements, personal liberty and beautiful women could only be had by owning and driving a car. The cage was a necessity. Thus I was told and thus I believed.
Or perhaps I knew it was a lie all along. After all, it has never been a secret that cars vomit smoke and oil and all manner of noxious muck, that they cost personally and societally.
Whether I knew or was deceived, whether by my fault or society's, the fact remains: I had become a captive of my car. It determined my path and separated me from the great outdoors.
But now, now I am free. And it was a bicycle that led me to liberty. My cage door has opened and outside, amid the sunshine, trees, grass and fresh air, a $20 beat-up bicycle bade me come into the presence of this world and share in its pleasant grace.
Now, when I need to get from home to work, I open my house door, roll my bike out into my neighborhood and greet the little girl next door waiting to go to school. I pedal along the streets of my city, enjoying the tree-lined urban setting, old brick houses on either side, history rolling past.
As I head north through downtown, I can make my way down to the river and bike along the riverfront. I can zoom along rapturously embracing the glory of the day, moving at just the right pace. I can get to work just as quickly as I could in a car, but the journey is entirely different.
When cycling, I move at a speed that gets me where I need to go promptly enough and yet slowly enough that I can watch the mallards swimming in pairs on the Ohio River. I can watch downstream as an elegant great blue heron slowly stretches and leaps to the air, filling the city with feathered grace unknown to all but me.
When I travel by bike, I know the earth in a way that was lost to me while driving blindly around in my car. I can truly know the delight and challenge of each season as the year spins like a grand wheel.
On my bicycle, I can embrace the coming spring, and revel in the newborn daffodil and crocuses as they colorfully bid winter goodbye. I can laugh at the tickle of a sweet honeysuckle-scented shower.
On my bicycle, I can know fully the heat of a humid August day and accept it as evidence that I am alive in this world. I can appreciate the cool escape of an early morning ride through Louisville's summer, mocking the fever of the soon-rising sun.
On my bicycle, I can rattle through autumn leaves lying on the street, scattering crisp joy as I ride. I can race the sparrows, darting out of bushes as I surprise them into flight.
On my bicycle, I can breathe deep frigid winter breaths, exhaling my own clear clean exhaust into a bright December sky. It can be cold and I can dress warmly and it is okay.
As I've become a bike commuter, I've discovered that I do not need to isolate myself from this earth for comfort or safety. In the past, I tended to view The Environment as some separate thing, the good stuff of this planet that needed us to protect it. I have found, instead, that the environment is us all; the oaks, the river, the mallards, the squirrels and me. By biking, I've found my place in this beautiful fragile wild world and been made whole.
I've entered into the community that I was never truly apart from except in prisons of my own creation. In traveling this path, I've had to move deliberately in a direction opposite from the norm and accepted wisdom, but I've not been alone. I ride upstream with all of nature and the goodwill of friends who wish to break away from the foolishness of man.
On my bicycle, I've found freedom and more. With my two-wheeled connection to the world, I've no reason ever to be caged again, and that's been my salvation.